What is Incident Response & its Role in Cyber Security? Explained with Examples

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On September 6th, 2023
Reading Time 9 Minutes Reading

Incident Response Meaning: It is a collection of information security policies and practices that makes it possible to detect, contain, and eliminate cyberattacks. The incident response or IR aims to promptly identify and stop attacks, limiting harm and averting similar attacks in the future.

The techniques and tools used by an organization to identify and respond to cyber threats, security lapses, or cyberattacks are referred to as incident response (also known as cybersecurity IR).

Incident Response Goals:  The prime goal is to prevent cyberattacks from happening as well as to lessen the cost and disruption to companies that are brought on by any cyberattacks that do occur.

Incident Response Team, Roles & Responsibilities

An incident response team or IR unit is a group primarily responsible for planning & responding to security incidents.

The IR team creates a comprehensive incident response plan (IRP) that specifically explains how different types of cyberattacks should be identified, contained, and handled. An effective IR strategy helps cybersecurity teams identify and contain cyber attacks, hasten the repair of affected systems, and reduce other related costs like lost revenue and legal fines.

For example, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 Study, firms with incident response teams and routinely tested incident response plans experienced data breaches that cost an average of USD 2.66 million less than those at organizations without such resources.

Complete Incident Response Strategy – Understand How IR Team Operates

Let’s understand the ABCs of Incident response. It starts with planning.

Step 1. Incident Response Planning

An IR strategy directs an organization’s incident response efforts, as was already said. An organization’s chief information security officer (CISO), security operations center (SOC) staff, and IT personnel, as well as representatives from executive leadership, legal, human resources, regulatory compliance, and risk management, establish and carry out these procedures regularly.

Typically, an incident response strategy consists of:

  • The duties and obligations of each CSIRT (Computer Security Incident Response Team) member;
  • The enterprise must implement security solutions—software, hardware, and other technologies.
  • A plan for business continuity that outlines how essential systems and data will be swiftly restored in the case of an outage;
  • A thorough incident response methodology outlining the precise actions to be taken and by whom at each stage of the incident response process (see below);
  • Strategy for alerting firm executives, staff members, clients, and even law enforcement about occurrences;
  • Guidelines for recording incidents and gathering data for post-mortem examination and (if necessary) legal actions.

Step 2. Incident Response Exercise

This is one of the important steps. Here the IR team will conduct exercises to verify the functionality of the above plans. And, the exercises vary by the level of time, effort, and resources needed to conduct them.

The IR exercise includes imitating real-world scenarios,  such as data breaches, cyberattacks, natural disasters, or other emergencies, to assess the organization’s readiness and resilience.  

If you ask how often an organization should conduct incident response exercises then experts suggest carrying out these operations frequently. The purpose is simple i.e. to ensure that the incident response team is well-prepared and can collaborate efficiently during a real crisis

Next comes the incident response process. It’s carried out in six phases. Let’s discuss it in detail.

6 Phases of Incident Response

Based on incident response models created by the SANS Institute, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the majority of IRPs likewise adhere to the same broad incident response framework (CISA). The IR life cycle is a structured and systematic approach designed for organizations such that they can easily manage and respond to IT incidents.

The incident response life cycle consists of 6 phases, each has its own set of activities and goals.

1. Preparation 

This initial phase of IR is still being implemented to guarantee that the CSIRT always has the finest guidelines and tools at its disposal to react to occurrences as quickly as possible with the least amount of disturbance to operations.

The CSIRT categorizes the many security incidents that could imperil the network and assigns a priority to each category based on the possibility that it would have a negative impact on the organization. The CSIRT regularly analyses risks to detect network vulnerabilities. In light of this risk assessment, the CSIRT may modify current incident response strategies or develop new ones.

2. Analysis and Detection

Throughout this phase, members of the security team monitor the network for any unusual activity or potential threats. They look over data, notifications, and warnings gathered from network-deployed security technologies (firewalls, antivirus software), device logs, and other sources. The number of false positives is reduced, and the severity of the actual alarms is rated.

Most businesses nowadays utilize one or more security solutions, such as SIEM (security information and event management) and EDR, to help security teams monitor and analyze security events in real-time and automate incident detection and response processes (endpoint detection and response).

The communication plan is also utilized during this stage. Before going on to the next stage of the incident response technique, the CSIRT will first identify the type of threat or breach they are dealing with and alert the necessary parties.

3. Containment

To stop the breach from harming the network even further, the IR team takes action. Two categories of confinement actions exist:

In order to prevent the current threat from spreading, short-term containment tactics focus on isolating the compromised systems, such as by taking infected devices offline.

Long-term containment techniques surround unaffected systems with additional security measures to protect them, such as severing key databases from the rest of the network.

The CSIRT may at this time additionally establish backups of both damaged and unaffected systems to prevent future data loss and to obtain forensic evidence of the incident for further investigation.

4. Eradication

The team then moves on to complete the clean-up and remove the danger from the system once it has been contained in this phase. To do this, the danger must be actively eliminated (e.g., by removing malware or kicking an unauthorized or rogue user off the network). Affected and unaffected systems must also be examined to make sure no evidence of the breach is still there.

5. Recovery

The communication plan is also utilized during this phase. Before going on to the next stage of the incident response technique, the CSIRT will first identify the type of threat or breach they are dealing with and alert the necessary parties. This could entail applying updates, reconstructing systems from backups, and reactivating repaired systems and gadgets online.

6. After-incident Analysis 

During each phase of the incident response process, the CSIRT obtains evidence of the breach and documents the actions it takes to contain and eliminate the danger. So, to better understand the situation, the CSIRT evaluates this data. The primary goal of the CSIRT is to determine the root cause of the attack, determine how it entered the network successfully, and address any vulnerabilities to stop similar incidents from occurring in the future.

The CSIRT also assesses what went well and searches for opportunities to enhance systems, tools, and procedures to strengthen IR measures against future assaults. The post-incident inquiry may also involve law enforcement, depending on the specifics of the intrusion.

Tools & Technology Used in Incident Response

As previously mentioned, incident response plans typically include information on the security solutions that incident response teams should have in place to carry out or automate key incident response workflows, including gathering and correlating security data, detecting incidents in real-time, and responding to ongoing attacks.

Among the incident response technologies that are most frequently utilized are:

1. Security information and event management, or SIEM, collects and correlates security event data from various internal security tools (such as firewalls, vulnerability scanners, and threat intelligence feeds), as well as from networked devices. By extracting indicators of real dangers from the massive amount of notifications these instruments provide, it can aid incident response teams in overcoming “alert fatigue.”

2. Security teams can create playbooks—formalized workflows that coordinate various security operations and tools in response to security incidents—using SOAR, which also makes it possible to automate some of these workflows.

3. Endpoint detection and response, or EDR, is a tool created to automatically safeguard end users, endpoint devices, and IT assets inside an organization against online threats that evade antivirus programs and other conventional endpoint security technologies. EDR continuously gathers data from all network endpoints, analyses the data in real-time for signs of known or suspected cyber threats, and can take automatic action to stop or lessen damage from threats it discovers.

4. Extended detection and response or XDR is a cybersecurity technology that integrates security tools, control points, data and telemetry sources, and analytics across the hybrid IT environment (endpoints, networks, private clouds, and public clouds) to produce a single, centralized enterprise system for threat prevention, detection, and response. By removing silos between security products and automating response across the whole cyberthreat kill chain, XDR, a still-emerging technology, has the potential to assist overworked security teams and SOCs to do more with less.

Incident Response Best Practices

To minimize the impact of IT incidents and maintain security and integrity, organizations of any size should deploy the following 9 best practices for IR.

  1. Have a Clear IR Plan: To respond to incidents effectively, having a well-defined plan outlining procedures, roles, responsibilities, and communication protocols should be the No.1 priority.
  2. Build a Well-versed Incident Response Team: Create a dedicated team consisting of members who have the necessary skills and expertise to deal with any type of security challenge.
  3. Define a Transparent Hierarchy for Escalation: Establish a systematic order for escalating the severity of the incident.
  4. Deploy 24X7 Monitoring: This is one of the essential best practices that involves implementing robust monitoring tools. Such that the team can easily detect security gaps as early as possible.
  5. Test and Exercise: Conduct regular tabletop exercises to make sure the organization’s IR team is well-prepared to take on any security challenges.
  6. Classify and Prioritize Incidents: Categorize incidents based on severity, impact, and type such that it becomes easier to prioritize the response accordingly.
  7. Train the IR Team: It’s a best practice to keep the IR team updated with the latest threats, tools, and techniques.
  8. Keep Records & Documentation In Place: Always maintain detailed records of all incident response activities. This documentation would be crucial for investigations and compliance purposes.
  9. Adapt to Continuous Improvement: Since IR is an ongoing process, having the practice of regularly reviewing and refining your plan would be beneficial in the threat landscape.

Note: For any kind of assistance related to cybersecurity services you can contact our experts.