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Cyber Incident Response Plan :
Your Complete Guide

October 31, 2022

As a business owner, you know that protecting your company’s data is essential. Part of protecting your data is having a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan in place in the event your company suffers a security breach. A cyber incident response plan can help you act quickly to minimize the damage as well as aid in investigations and help prevent or minimize legal risk. If you don’t have a cybersecurity incident response plan in place, now is the time to create one. 

What is a Cyber Incident Response Plan? 

A Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan (CIRP) is a formalized process for responding to a cyber security incident. A proper incident response plan contains sets of procedures and protocols for handling a variety of types of security breaches and cyber-attacks. 

A CIRP should be tailored to the specific needs of an organization, but every plan should generally include steps to help identify incidents, assess the impact, take corrective action to eliminate threats, clean up, and recover. A proper plan includes knowing who needs to be involved during an incident, what role each person plays, and what resources are required to recover from the incident as quickly and efficiently as possible, while minimizing damage. 

Having a response plan in place can help reduce the cost and disruption of a cyber incident, limit damage caused, and improve an organization’s overall resilience.  

Why Your Business Needs a Cyber Incident Response Plan 

Cyber crime continues to grow in volume and frequency, and the attacks are becoming more sophisticated. This means cyber incidents are becoming more and more common, and it’s important for businesses to be prepared. Taking precautions and properly securing your business is a crucial first step, but there’s always a chance you may suffer a breach due to any number of factors. 

There are many reasons to have a cybersecurity incident response plan, and the most important reason is that it can help you minimize the damages of a security breach. By having a plan in place, you and your team will know what to do if an incident occurs. This can help limit the damage and get your business back up and running as quickly as possible. 

A cybersecurity incident response plan can also help with investigations. If you need to contact law enforcement or file an insurance claim, having a plan in place will make the process easier.  

Additionally, some areas may legally require you to have a proper plan in place due to data privacy regulations such as the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law if you have customers or clients in the EU. Some frameworks and certifications, such as the ISO 27001, may also require your business to have CIRP in place. 

A CIRP can help protect your business from the financial and reputational damage that can result from a cyber incident. 

Need Help with a CIRP?

The Stages of Creating a Cyber Incident Response Plan 

Below, you’ll find the key steps required to craft a response plan for your business. There are a lot of factors to consider and it can seem daunting, but it’s crucial to do. Fortunately, the experts at Blue Light IT are experienced with helping businesses of types and sizes in Boca Raton and South Florida create and implement a CIRP, and we can help you, too. 

Pre-Planning: Preventing Incidents Before They Occur 

Having a CIRP in place is crucial, but so is ensuring your business is properly protected. With the right security measures and policies in place, you can minimize the chances that you’ll need to execute your response plan by preventing incidents before they happen. 

Security Technology & Procedures 

This includes ensuring your computers are updated and patched regularly, that you have protection such as firewalls, antivirus, data backups, and more in place to improve overall security. If you don’t have an in-house IT team that handles your cyber security, it’s a good idea to hire a managed service provider (MSP) to help implement proper security as soon as possible. 

Information Security Policy 

In addition to having the right security hardware, software, and monitoring in place, you should also have an information security policy that outlines how your company approaches IT security, and how it collects, stores, and handles data. This policy should cover such details as responsibilities (both legal and ethical), outline the rights of customers, and create ways and procedures to respond to inquiries and complaints regarding compliance and non-compliance to these policies. 

Routine Risk Assessments 

You should plan on having routine cybersecurity risk assessments performed on your business to spot any potential vulnerabilities and resolve them before they’re exploited by attackers. These analyses can uncover a variety of useful and actionable data that can keep your business secure, even as cyber threats grow in volume and sophistication. 

With proper security and policies in place, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of becoming a victim of cybercrime; but there is still always a chance your business will be targeted, so having your Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan in place is crucial. 

Step 1: Assemble a Team 

The first step in creating a cyber incident response plan is to assemble a team of trusted individuals who can take action in the event of an incident. This team should include individuals with expertise and knowledge in various areas throughout your company, such as the CEO, other high-ranking members of the organization, IT security specialists, legal advisors, and communications.  

Each member of the team should have a specific role to play in the event of a security breach. The team should also be familiar with the details of the CIRP so that they can respond quickly and effectively in the event of an incident. Ensuring each team member is properly briefed and understands their roles and procedures is crucial. 

By having all of this information pre-determined, you can work quickly and effectively to shut down an attack and recover as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence during and after an incident, and having procedures in place can help avoid hesitation and confusion, leading to a faster resolution. 

Deciding who needs to be on your team and what actions they need to take during an incident can be difficult, but planning ahead can make a substantial impact on how fast your business is able to resolve the issues and recover. The experts at Blue Light IT can meet with you to help you assemble this team and determine roles and tasks, and even act as part of your team should you need to implement your CIRP. 

Step 2: Identify Potential Threats 

It’s almost impossible to identify and plan for every single specific threat that may lead to an incident, so it’s important to have broad plans in place that can work for any scenario, and account for common specific threats. 

Some of the more common attack vectors include: 

  • External Media—Attacks executed when unauthorized or compromised external devices (such as USB drives) are inserted into work machines leading to infected workstations and a compromised network. 
  • Brute Force—Automated attacks designed to bypass authentication systems such as logins and CAPTCHAs, or attacks intended to bring down services such as DDoS attempts. 
  • Email—Attacks executed through email, via malicious attachments or links to install malware or steal credentials. 
  • Websites—Attacks executed through malicious websites or infected websites, with redirects, cross-site scripting, or drive-by attacks designed to install malware or steal credentials. 
  • Phishing—Attacks designed to steal sensitive credentials or data by impersonating legitimate services and websites or trusted colleagues. 
  • Lost & Stolen Equipment—When sensitive data falls into the wrong hands due to loss or theft of computers, phones, and other devices that store private business information. 

In addition to the common attacks listed above, every company has specific vulnerabilities that can be exploited, so it’s important to discover and plan for potential attacks specific to your business. 

Need Help with a CIRP?

Step 3: Detection & Notification 

For many businesses, accurately identifying and assessing incidents is often the most difficult part of implementing a response process. Not only is it important to determine if an incident is an actual threat, but you’ll need to determine what type of problem you’re facing and how severe it may be. 

The quicker a cyberattack can be detected, the quicker it can be mitigated, allowing your company to avoid or minimize data theft, loss, and damage. Ideally, your business has monitoring and alerting systems in place that can notify you at the first signs of suspicious activity (precursor signs). If you start to notice anomalies it could be signs than an attack is under way. 

Some common precursor warnings to watch for include: 

  • Unusual traffic patterns or unusual spikes in network activity 
  • Unusual amounts of invalid login attempts 
  • Other unusual alerts from your firewall or security software 
  • Announcements regarding exploits of vulnerabilities used within your organization 

Automated probes are carried out around the clock, so seeing spikes in unusual activity doesn’t necessarily indicate that your network has already been breached, but it’s important to stay alert and act quickly when you notice potential attacks. 

If your network has already been breached, there are some signs that can indicate an attack is in progress. Some common indicators include: 

  • Alerts from your antivirus that malware has been detected 
  • Unusual file access or unexpected changes to files and databases 
  • Unexpected system changes such as programs or files appearing on systems
  • Changes to system settings, or unusual process activity 
  • Unexpected errors or system crashes 

The above are only a few potential indicators, and they may not indicate that an attack is occurring, so a thorough investigation is required as soon as possible. 

Your response plan should indicate how to properly log incidents and provide guidance on how to prioritize responses. More severe threats need to be dealt with first, so if you have one or more devices that are infected, and are also dealing with a brute force attack, you’ll need to decide who should resolve which issue, in what order. 

You’ll also need to notify relevant parties as soon as possible. You’ll likely need to notify any affected clients and customers, and you may need to notify appropriate agencies or law enforcement branches depending on what information was breached. It’s important to determine which member(s) on your team needs to notify who. Without proper planning and execution, you may run into legal problems—especially if you’re required to comply with GDPR, CCPA, or similar acts. Depending on severity, some breaches may require immediate notification to the appropriate parties, while others may not need notification until the Recovery phase (below) 

4. Containment 

When you’re experiencing a cyber incident, quickly containing the threat is crucial. The longer an intruder is in your network, the more data they can pilfer and the more damage they can cause. 

Efficient containment helps buy your team time to properly analyze the situation, prioritize where to focus attention first, and begin damage control. In your CIRP, you need to have plans for different actions to take based on possible scenarios—i.e. shutting down a machine, disconnecting a device from your network, etc. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for containment, so it’s important to consider a variety of common potential situations and create strategies for each.  

  • Some criteria to consider when creating documentation and procedures: 
  • Potential severity of damages and data theft 
  • Strategies to preserve evidence 
  • Steps, resources, and time required to execute necessary actions 
  • Solution type & duration (permanent solution, temporary solution, one-day solution, etc.) 

While collecting and preserving evidence is very important, it comes second to containing and resolving the incident. Ideally, you’ll have a system in place that can take snapshots, especially if you’re able to manually or automatically capture these snapshots at the first signs of an incident. Whatever methods you determine are best to capture evidence, be sure your team members know what they need to do. 

5. Removal 

Similar to containment, removing and resolving active threats will require different actions based on the type of incident. No matter what steps need to be taken, it’s crucial that the eradication is comprehensive and permanent. 

Depending on the type of incident, you may need to deactivate impacted user accounts, remove malware, adjust firewall settings, lock off physical access to areas where the breach occurred, clean your website, or any number of other actions. 

During this process, it’s a good idea to work with cybersecurity experts who can properly analyze data and logs to determine what all has been impacted and whether or not the threat has been fully eliminated. Ideally, this team of experts will have been involved during the creation of your incident response plan—if so, they’ll already be aware of things to look for and actions to take, which can save valuable time. 

By planning different actions to take based on incident type, you’ll be able to quickly work towards removing the threat so you can get to the recovery phase. 

6. Recovery 

Finally, once the threat has been fully eliminated from your network, you can start the recovery process. The first steps you should take are to review the incident, properly update any outdated software and patch any vulnerabilities that may have been exploited. 

During your review process, it’s important to determine what actions worked well, what went as expected, and what didn’t. From there, you can update and improve your plan to better account for unexpected issues and situations. 

You also need to figure out what caused the breach in the first place—if it was due to an error caused by an employee, it’s a good idea to double-down on training and procedure documentations to avoid a similar issue in the future. 

During this time, you’ll also need to notify any relevant parties to comply with laws and regulations, and to ensure that any impacted individuals or companies are aware of the occurrence so that they can act appropriately to protect themselves. 

Need Help with a CIRP?

Work With Experienced Cybersecurity Professionals to Create Your Plan 

Creating a robust and effective Cyber Incident Response Plan can be a massive undertaking. From choosing the right team members to determining the correct courses of action for different scenarios at the start of, for the duration of, and after an incident, to ensuring that the proper parties are notified at the right times, there’s a lot to consider. 

Without proper guidance from cybersecurity professionals, there’s a good chance you may miss some important steps that can cause complications during an incident. 

The experts at Blue Light IT can help you create a customized, robust Cyber Incident Response Plan to ensure every key contingency is planned for. We’ll work with you to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities, and then develop a step-by-step plan for how to respond in the event of an attack. With Blue Light IT on your side, you can rest assured that your business is prepared for anything, from data breaches to ransomware attacks, and more. 

In the event of an incident, you can count on our team to help you implement your plan and resolve the situation as quickly as possible, while minimizing theft and damage. Not only that, but with our managed IT services, we can help secure your network, devices, and data, and monitor your network for the first signs of unusual activity. With the proper safeguards in place, you can greatly reduce the chance of your business becoming a victim of cyber crime. 

If you’re in Boca Raton, or anywhere in South Florida, contact us today to discuss your needs. We can work with you to create a response plan crafted specifically for your business to help ensure that you’re prepared, no matter what. 

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