Best Practices for Cybersecurity Threats Response Planning

Published October 2, 2023
by Jordan Hickam

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” the old adage goes, and it’s especially relevant regarding cybersecurity threats and incident response planning for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There’s been a marked rise in cyberattacks and breaches targeting small businesses in recent years. Research compiled by Firewall Times reveals they’re the targets of 43% of all cyberattack data breaches. Meanwhile, 42% of owners have no response plan, and another 11% aren’t sure whether there’s a plan in place. Cybersecurity breaches can cost companies with 500 employees or fewer an average of $3 million per incident, and 60% go out of business within six months of a cyberattack. With the increasing frequency and sophistication of targeted attacks and cybersecurity incidents, it has become crucial for organizations to put in place firm incident response plans.

What is a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan?

A cybersecurity incident response plan (IRP) is a comprehensive set of guidelines and procedures designed to help organizations respond effectively to cybersecurity incidents. It includes a documented set of instructions to help SMEs sufficiently react and recover in the event of a cyberattack or data breach.

Time is of the essence during a cybersecurity incident. Quickly implementing response and recovery measures can save millions of dollars and prevent further devastating disruptions to essential business operations. With a comprehensive IRP in place, SMEs can minimize damage caused and decrease exposure to potential compliance violations, legal consequences, and irreparable consumer trust.

An effective IRP should not only cover the full range of incident response activities, from prevention and detection to investigation and recovery, but it should also provide clear guidance on the roles and responsibilities of various organizational stakeholders, guidelines for collecting and preserving evidence, and procedures for reporting incidents.

The 4 Stages of NIST Incident Response

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its Computer Security Incident Handling Guide, (NIST SP 800-61R2) there are four essential phases to cybersecurity incident response: 

  1. Preparation. Establish the necessary relationships, assess your risks, and train your team on the proper cybersecurity response protocols before the need arises. An organization’s incident response methodologies should emphasize incident prevention by ensuring all systems, networks, and applications operate with sufficient cybersecurity measures.
  2. Detection & Analysis. For many organizations, it can be challenging to determine whether an incident has occurred and, if so, the type, extent, and magnitude of damage. This phase involves gathering all applicable information from relevant sources and identifying anomalies or indicators of suspicious and malicious activity.
  3. Containment, Eradication, & Recovery. The goal of all containment efforts should be to halt the effects of the incident before it overwhelms company resources or increases damage to critical infrastructure. Strategies must be varied depending on the type of incident. For example, containing a network-based Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack is unique from email-borne malware. Once successfully contained, lingering elements of the incident must be eradicated across all affected hosts. The response stage may include removing all traces of malware, disabling or resetting breached user accounts, and identifying any other exploited vulnerabilities.
  4. Post-Incident Activity. A cybersecurity incident should be a valuable learning experience. Hosting a “lessons-learned” meeting with all parties involved in the days following an incident’s resolution can help improve security measures and the response process itself. Post-incident analysis reports benefit new-employee training efforts and often highlight insufficiencies, inaccuracies, or missing elements of prevention, detection, or response strategies.

Best Practices for Developing an Effective Incident Response Plan

  • Conduct a risk assessment to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities. Include a thorough evaluation of all SME systems, networks, and sensitive data. Organizations can prioritize their response efforts by understanding the potential risks and then allocate resources accordingly.
  • Establish a team of stakeholders to develop and maintain the plan and its communication strategies. Building a team that includes individuals from various departments—senior management, IT, HR, legal, etc.—can be beneficial because each offers different areas of experience and expertise. Create clear guidelines for who needs to be informed of cybersecurity incidents, what communication channels should be used, and the level of detail appropriate to share over specific internal channels before alerting law enforcement, media, and customers outside the organization.
  • Create a response playbook of simple, well-defined processes. Amidst a cybersecurity crisis’s potentially chaotic sense of urgency and confusion, incident response plans should include simple language and well-defined processes. Keep explanations and details to a minimum to ensure staff can easily follow the plan and instructions on detecting, responding, and recovering from various types of incidents. Ensuring the incident response plan is well-documented and effectively communicated to all stakeholders is essential. Regular communication and awareness campaigns can also help ensure that all employees understand the importance of the plan and their role in its execution.
  • Conduct realistic drills and exercises to put your plan to the test. Incident simulations allow organizations to test the plan’s effectiveness in a controlled environment and identify gaps or weaknesses. By practicing different scenarios, staff can become familiar with their roles and responsibilities, and the organization can refine the plan based on the lessons learned.
  • Regularly review and update your response plan to reflect changing needs, new technology tools, and evolving threats. Due to cybersecurity’s constantly shifting landscape, incident response plans must be living documents. By conducting regular reviews, organizations can identify any changes in their risk landscape and update response plans accordingly to ensure they remain robust and aligned with the organization’s needs of today and tomorrow.

The midst of a major cybersecurity incident is the worst time to discover that your SME’s response plan lacks sufficient solutions. A proactive approach is every organization’s best bet to thwart cyberattacks, with “an ounce of preparation worth a pound of response,” as another old adage touts.

The RAMPxchange marketplace offers connections and opportunities to meet verified and trusted cybersecurity service providers for SMEs unfamiliar or inexperienced with establishing robust incident response plans. Contact the marketplace today to learn more and join our coalition dedicated to a stronger worldwide cybersecurity posture.