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Crafting a Simple Incident Response Plan: Laying the Foundation for Security

Crafting a Simple Incident Response Plan: Laying the Foundation for Security

Understanding Incident Response Planning

In the digital age, where data breaches and cyber threats loom large, having an incident response plan (IRP) in place is not just a luxury—it's a necessity. For organizations looking to safeguard their assets, a well-structured IRP can be the difference between a quick recovery and a prolonged, costly disruption. Let's walk through the steps to create a simple incident response plan that can be adapted to specific organizational needs over time.

Understanding Incident Response Planning

An incident response plan is a documented, structured approach outlining the processes an organization follows when a cyber incident occurs. The goal is to limit damage and reduce recovery time and costs.

Incident response plans don’t need to be long or complex. Rather, they should provide clear and succinct direction to their audience. When the IRP is being used, the situation is often chaotic and ambiguous. A well written IRP is flexible enough to account for the unexpected. It provides enough guidance to assist the reader in following directions to qualify the event, escalate and inform the necessary parties, and begin next steps for containment, eradication, and recovery.

One big misnomer about IRPs is that the organization can’t assign response steps to third parties. But many small organizations rely on external partners for IT support, security monitoring, and additional services. Therefore, those third parties should be incorporated into IRP preparations.  

Example of an IRP for a Small Business:
  1. Immediately notify the the Director of Security (or assigned company leader to handle risks) when a severe alert is detected. 

  2. The Director of Security validates the alert and notifies their company leadership. 

  3. The appropriate company leader (e.g. CEO) should call their insurance company to notify of a potential loss.

  4. The insurance company assists the company, if necessary, by recommending a pre-approved third-party incident response company and law firm.

  5. CEO then engages the law firm which engages the incident response company.

  6. The law firm and incident response company assist the CEO through the cybersecurity event.

The above example serves as a very simple incident response plan. It gives the business clear direction on what to do and what will happen next. A more detailed or mature IRP may also provide direction on attempts to contain the alert, collect volatile artifacts from computer and network devices, and initiate eradication plans once pertinent artifacts are preserved. 

Steps to Create a Basic Incident Response Plan
  1. Preparation: The foundation of a robust IRP. This involves setting up the right tools, processes, and policies, as well as training employees to recognize and respond to security incidents.

  2. Identification: When an incident occurs, it's crucial to detect and investigate anomalies promptly. This can be achieved through monitoring tools, alerts, and well-informed staff.

  3. Containment: Once an incident is identified, contain it to prevent further damage. This may involve isolating the affected network segment or taking compromised systems offline.

  4. Eradication: With the threat contained, identify and eliminate the root cause of the incident. This could involve deleting malware, eliminating unauthorized access, or remediating a system vulnerability.

  5. Recovery: After eradicating the threat, restore and return affected systems and services to operation. Ensure no threats remain and monitor for anomalies.

  6. Lessons Learned: Post-incident, conduct a review to identify what worked well, what didn't, and where improvements can be made. This will help in refining the IRP.

A Template to Get You Started

To help you kickstart your own incident response plan, here's a simple template you can tailor to your organization's needs:

SAMPLE 1: Incident Response Plan for [Your Organization]

I. Introduction
- Purpose of the Plan
- Scope of the Plan

II. Preparation
- Team Composition: Define roles and responsibilities.
- Communication: Contact information for the incident response team, management, and other relevant stakeholders.
- Tools and Resources: Inventory of tools, access controls, and other resources.

III. Identification
- Incident Definition: What constitutes a security incident for your organization?
- Detection Procedures: Outline how incidents are detected, escalated, and reported.

IV. Containment
- Immediate Actions: Steps to isolate affected systems.
- Longer-Term Containment: Strategies to ensure that the threat does not spread.

V. Eradication
- Investigation: Techniques to investigate the incident and determine its cause.
- Eradication Steps: Actions to remove the threat from the environment.

VI. Recovery
- Restoration Procedures: Steps to safely restore systems to operation.
- Monitoring: Post-recovery monitoring plan for any signs of abnormal activity.

VII. Lessons Learned
- Review Timeline: Schedule a review within a specific time after the incident.
- Documentation: Keep detailed records of the incident and the response for review.

Remember, this template is a starting point. As you delve deeper into incident response planning, you'll need to customize this plan to fit your organization's specific requirements. Regularly revisit and update your IRP to address new threats, technologies, and business processes. A dynamic IRP is your best defense in an ever-changing cyber threat landscape.

Reference Material:




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Steve Ramey has spent the past two decades helping clients protect, investigate, and respond to events involving their digital interests. He has led hundreds of data breach investigations, assessed incident response and security programs, and successfully advised organizations through extortion negotiations.


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