An incident response team is a group of professionals who are responsible for responding to cybersecurity incidents within an organization. They work to quickly identify, contain, eradicate, and recover from incidents like data breaches, malware infections, phishing attacks, and more. The services provided by an incident response team can be invaluable for minimizing damage and restoring normal operations after an attack.
One of the most important services provided by an incident response team is identifying potential incidents or abnormal activities within an organization’s networks and systems. They use various tools and techniques to monitor for unusual behavior that could indicate a security incident is occurring or has already occurred.
Some examples of identification activities include:
– Reviewing log data from firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, antivirus software, and other security controls for signs of malicious activity.
– Analyzing network traffic patterns to detect anomalies that could suggest an attack.
– Receiving and validating alerts or complaints of suspected malicious behavior.
– Performing threat intelligence gathering and monitoring emerging threats that could impact the organization.
– Conducting vulnerability scans and penetration tests to proactively identify security weaknesses.
– Encouraging employees to report unusual activity or suspected incidents through awareness training.
Early and accurate identification of incidents is crucial for minimizing damages. It allows the incident response team to initiate containment and eradication measures before attackers have time to expand their foothold in the environment.
Once a potential incident has been detected, the incident response team begins an analysis process to determine whether it warrants a formal response. This involves thoroughly investigating the activity to validate whether it is malicious, gauge the scope and impact, and assign a severity level.
Analysis tasks may include:
– Reviewing technical evidence like system logs, network traffic captures, and forensic artifacts.
– Conducting malware analysis on suspicious files.
– Determining the attack timeline and which systems/data were accessed.
– Identifying compromised user accounts.
– Tracking the attack vector and entry point into the network.
– Assessing the impact on confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems and data.
– Documenting all findings and evidence thoroughly for later reference.
The goal of the analysis phase is to develop an understanding of the nature of the incident, who is responsible, how it occurred, what was affected, and the resulting business impacts. This informs the containment, eradication, and recovery plans.
After completing the initial investigation and analysis, the incident response team shifts focus to containing the attack to prevent further damage. Containment involves taking steps to isolate and neutralize the threat in order to stop the spread of malware, block attacker access, or prevent data exfiltration.
Common containment measures include:
– Blocking suspected malicious IP addresses at firewalls and other security devices.
– Disabling affected user accounts.
– Isolating or shutting down compromised systems.
– Stopping affected services and processes.
– Securing backups and unaffected systems.
– Changing passwords and credentials that may have been exposed.
– Implementing heightened monitoring of systems and data flows.
Timely containment is essential for preventing an incident from expanding and limiting impacts to business operations. However, care must be taken to avoid overly disruptive containment actions before the analysis phase is complete.
After the initial containment, the incident response team begins eradicating the threat from the environment. This means eliminating any components of the attack such as infected systems, backdoor access by attackers, and means of persistence.
Typical eradication steps include:
– Reinstalling operating systems on compromised systems.
– Removing malware, rootkits, and other attacker tools.
– Patching vulnerabilities that were exploited.
– Permanently blocking attacker access points.
– Tightening system configurations and security controls to prevent reinfection.
– Identifying and mitigating phishing attack vectors.
– Strengthening credential policies and password practices.
– Updating antivirus software and signatures.
– Performing additional network sweeps and threat hunting to uncover any remnants left behind.
Extensive eradication is necessary to ensure the organization’s environment is free from the security threat and properly secured against similar future attacks. This process may take substantial time and resources.
Recovery is the process of returning systems and operations back to normal levels after an incident. The incident response team coordinates these efforts to safely restore business functions after containment and eradication activities.
Recovery actions may involve:
– Rebuilding systems from clean backups.
– Conducting data restoration from backups where needed.
– Reactivating temporarily disabled accounts and services.
– Rolling back malformed data and transactions.
– Retesting affected systems before reconnecting to the network.
– Monitoring systems for post-recovery issues.
– Resetting passwords for enterprise-wide systems and services.
Proper recovery is essential for resuming business operations as quickly as possible while ensuring security risks are not reintroduced into the environment.
After the incident response process concludes, the team conducts a comprehensive lessons learned exercise. This post-incident analysis looks at each phase of the response to identify areas for improvement in detection, analysis, containment, eradication, and recovery activities.
The team may analyze factors such as:
– Effectiveness of detection systems and rules.
– Thoroughness of the investigation and analysis.
– Timeliness of containment measures.
– Completeness of the eradication process.
– Efficiency of recovery and restoration of services.
– Any other gaps or shortcomings in the response.
The goal is to glean important lessons that can be used to improve incident response capabilities, policies, and procedures. This strengthens the organization’s overall security posture against future attacks.
Detailed reporting is generated at each major stage of the incident response process so that leadership and other stakeholders are kept informed. Status reports and metrics are critical for aligning the response efforts with the organization’s priorities and business needs.
Common types of reports include:
– Initial incident notifications when a high-priority event is detected.
– Ongoing status reports during lengthy incident responses.
– Containment and eradication summaries.
– Recovery metrics and outage duration reports.
– Executive briefings and summaries for leadership.
– Comprehensive post-incident reports documenting details and key learnings.
– Cyber insurance or regulatory compliance reports when necessary.
Clear, concise reporting is vital for coordinating response efforts across the organization. It also provides valuable data for improving processes.
Strong forensic capabilities are necessary during the analysis and eradication stages of response. The team collects, preserves, and analyzes forensic evidence to determine how the attack occurred and what attackers may have done within the network.
Forensic activities may include:
– Imaging compromised systems and safely storing forensic copies.
– Capturing network traffic and logs leading up to and during the attack.
– Performing memory analysis on affected systems.
– Analyzing file systems, registries, artifacts, and more for evidence of compromise.
– Reverse engineering malware used in the attack.
– Tracking Indicators of Compromise observed on systems.
– Documenting the chain of custody for all evidence.
Thorough forensic investigation provides details that allow the team to completely remove threats from the environment and pinpoint security gaps that were exploited.
Incident responders stay up-to-date on the latest threat intelligence to enhance detection and response efforts. By studying the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) of known threat actors, they can better recognize new attacks unfolding.
Intelligence activities include:
– In-depth research on new attack methodologies.
– Monitoring feeds from Information Sharing and Analysis Centers.
– Maintaining awareness of exploits circulating in the wild.
– Studying trends in attacker behavior.
– Understanding the latest malware campaigns impacting the industry.
– Tracking infrastructure and tools commonly used in targeted attacks.
– Mapping threat actor groups, motives, and targeting.
Ongoing threat intelligence informs indicators, detection rules, containment strategies, and employee education to bolster the organization’s security posture.
The incident response team maintains frequent communication and collaboration across key departments throughout the incident lifecycle. This includes IT, security, legal, communications/PR, human resources, business continuity planning, and executive leadership.
Communication activities involve:
– Notifying stakeholders when an incident is detected.
– Providing regular status updates as the situation progresses.
– Involving departments like Legal for guidance on investigations, notifications, and potential liabilities.
– Coordinating containment plans with IT to minimize disruptions.
– Working with HR regarding investigations and disciplinary actions.
– Collaborating with executives to align the response with business objectives.
– Keeping employees informed of any actions they should take.
– Crafting public communications and disclosures with PR.
Clear communication ensures alignment across teams while responding effectively and minimizing business impacts.
Education and Awareness
An incident response team helps shape the human element of information security across the organization through education. Training and awareness activities may include:
– Educating employees on cybersecurity best practices through presentations, videos, posters, and more.
– Conducting phishing simulation campaigns to improve user discernment.
– Providing cybersecurity tips and news in email updates and newsletters.
– Advising departments on vulnerabilities unique to their systems and data.
– Offering cyber training modules mandatory for all employees to complete annually.
– Promoting proper cyber hygiene regarding passwords, web browsing, email security, and more.
Ongoing user education and evaluation help cultivate a security-focused culture and reduce risk.
The team is involved in assessing and managing risks associated with third-party vendors and partners. This may entail:
– Reviewing access control policies and practices for vendors.
– Conducting risk assessments of critical vendor relationships.
– Evaluating security controls for third-party tools and services that handle sensitive data.
– Negotiating incident response responsibilities in contracts.
– Developing plans for responding to incidents involving vendors.
– Closely monitoring and auditing vendor access.
Third parties greatly expand attack surfaces. Careful oversight minimizes potential Blind spots.
During quiet periods between major incidents, the team focuses on preparedness. This involves:
– Reviewing and updating incident response plans and procedures.
– Expanding the knowledge base with threat intelligence.
– Assessing internal skills and capabilities to identify gaps.
– Pursuing professional development and certifications.
– Stockpiling equipment, software tools, backups, and other materials needed to respond.
– Conducting incident response simulations and tabletop exercises.
– Exploring potential improvements to processes, tools, and team organization.
Preparedness helps ensure the team can handle complex incidents smoothly and effectively.
Incident response teams provide immense value for securing the enterprise against advanced and emerging threats. Their specialized expertise in threat detection, containment, remediation, forensics, recovery, and education enable organizations to build resilience against cyber attacks and to return to normal operations more swiftly. By following proven incident response best practices and continuously improving, organizations can reduce their risk profile and minimize business disruption during inevitable security events.