The worst situation could be your organisation assuming policies and procedures are in place and such preparations misfiring when you need them the most. Developing a robust cyber incident readiness checklist is crucial to protecting your organisation and mitigating potential damage.
It covers a six-step cyber security incident response checklist to prepare your organisation to manage incidents effectively.
Remember, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to cybersecurity.
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- Organisations should prepare an emergency incident response kit and pre-drafted public relations statements to ensure awareness of breaches.
- Develop a security policy outlining the methodology for incident management, gather situational awareness, securely store plans and document/validate SOPs.
- Leverage industry frameworks such as NCSC Guidance & Blogs and SANS Incident Response Framework to stay ahead of cybersecurity threats.
Why is a cyber incident readiness checklist required?
Businesses benefit from a comprehensive cyber incident response checklist as it aids in efficient response and recovery from incidents, thus minimising potential damage and downtime. Incident response plans address many incidents, such as data losses, cybercrime, hacking attacks, and service outages that may impede daily business operations. These plans, developed by incident response managers, ensure a swift and effective response, thereby improving the efficiency of forensics, recovery time, customer retention, and the company’s overall reputation.
An integral part of an incident response plan, the containment process, aids in mitigating potential security incidents’ impact by isolating the compromised hosts’ affected devices and halting their spread to other network systems. With the increasing complexity of cyber threats and the possible repercussions of a data breach, the need for a well-prepared incident response within the security team to handle such incidents effectively cannot be overstated.
Developing a 6-step Cyber Security Incident Response Checklist
The 6-step Cyber Incident Response Checklist revolves around the following:
- Incident Detection and Analysis
- Evidence Collection
- Breach Notifications and Reporting
- Post-Incident Review
Adopting this systematic approach allows organisations to enhance their incident response capabilities and be ready to handle incident response effectively when dealing with security incidents.
The preparation phase is a critical component of the incident response process. During this stage, organisations must:
- Define the term ‘security incident’ to ensure awareness of any breaches that occur
- Assign roles and responsibilities
- Assemble an emergency incident response (IR) kit
- Formulate public relations statements
An emergency IR kit usually includes:
- An incident response journal or tablet for documenting the incident response report
- Details of all IR team members
- USB drives and a laptop
- Software to restore file systems and other required tools to contain, eradicate, and recover from the incident
Additionally, it contains pre-drafted public relations statements to ensure timely communication with clients, partners, or vendors in the event of a breach.
Draft a security policy outlining the methodology for incident management
Creating a security policy that outlines the methodology for incident management is a crucial step in the preparation phase. This policy should detail:
- The incident response lifecycle
- The roles and responsibilities of the incident response team
- The processes and procedures to be followed during each stage of the incident response process
A thoroughly documented security policy ensures a uniform and efficient response to incidents.
Gather situational awareness
Gathering situational awareness involves understanding the organisation’s security posture, which helps recognise potential risks and vulnerabilities and take the required actions to safeguard systems and sensitive data. To obtain situational awareness, organisations can employ various tools and techniques, such as:
- Monitoring activity on systems
- Identifying normal activity
- Detecting unauthorised modifications
- Monitoring failed login attempts
- Observing high-privilege users
- Receiving alerts from service providers
Awareness of the organisation’s security posture is crucial during preparation, especially during a security breach.
Store incident response plans securely
Storing incident response plans securely is of utmost importance to prevent unauthorised access. Organisations should ensure that their incident response plans are up-to-date and aligned with current threat landscapes and organisational requirements.
Regularly reviewing and assessing these plans are necessary to ensure they effectively address security incidents and mitigate potential damage.
Document and validate SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)
Documenting and validating standard operating procedures (SOPs) ensures consistency and effectiveness in the incident response process.
SOPs provide clear guidelines for all personnel responding to a security incident, ensuring that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities and that the incident response process is followed consistently and efficiently.
By having well-defined SOPs, organisations can ensure that their incident response process is effective, consistent, and streamlined, thereby enhancing their ability to promptly and efficiently address cybersecurity threats.
2. Incident Detection and Analysis
The incident detection and analysis phase is crucial for promptly identifying and addressing incidents. Appropriate security tools, processes, and early detection techniques help organisations detect and analyse incidents effectively. During this phase, organisations must:
- Track all activities on their systems
- Establish normal activity baselines
- Detect unauthorised changes
- Monitor failed login attempts
- Monitor high-privilege users
- Receive alerts from service providers
- Establish incident categorisation procedures
Organisations can rapidly identify security incidents and initiate the appropriate response by implementing a robust incident detection and analysis process. Some key steps in this process include:
- Monitoring system activity and establishing regular activity baselines to detect anomalies and potential threats.
- Detecting unauthorised changes and monitoring failed login attempts as indicators of compromise.
- Receiving alerts from service providers to stay informed about potential security incidents.
- We are establishing incident categorisation procedures to prioritise and respond to incidents effectively.
By following these steps, organisations can create a comprehensive incident detection and analysis process that enables them to respond efficiently to security incidents.
Track all activity on your systems
Monitoring all system activity is crucial for detecting potential threats and ensuring the security of your organisation’s data and systems. Organisations can identify suspicious behaviour and take security measures to contain and mitigate incidents by closely monitoring user accounts, network traffic, malicious activity, and other system activities.
In addition, adhering to privacy regulations when tracking user activity is essential to ensure that user data and sensitive data is handled and used in compliance with the law.
Establish what is normal activity
Establishing a baseline of normal operations within your organisation allows you to identify unusual behaviour that may indicate an incident. Organisations can detect and respond to potential threats more effectively by understanding what constitutes regular activity.
Regularly reviewing and updating these baselines ensures the organisation stays vigilant and responsive to the ever-evolving threat landscape.
Detect unauthorised changes
Detecting unauthorised changes to systems and data is essential for ensuring the security and integrity of your organisation’s IT systems and infrastructure. Unauthorised change detection tools such as file integrity checks can help organisations promptly identify and respond to security incidents.
Proactively detecting unauthorised changes contributes to a more robust and secure IT environment.
Monitor failed login attempts
Monitoring failed login attempts is an essential aspect of incident detection and analysis, as these attempts can serve as potential indicators of compromise. Organisations can identify unusual patterns and appropriately address potential security threats by keeping track of failed login attempts.
Regularly monitoring and analysing failed login attempts ensures that organisations stay vigilant and responsive to potential attacks.
Monitor high-privilege users
Monitoring high-privilege users is essential for preventing insider threats and ensuring the security of your organisation’s sensitive data. Implementing best practices for monitoring privileged user activity can help organisations mitigate the risks associated with insider threats. These best practices include:
- Limiting privileges to what is necessary
- Gaining visibility of all admin accounts
- Closely monitoring USB device use
- Logging detailed user activities
By following these practices, organisations can effectively monitor and manage the activities of high-privilege users, reducing the likelihood of insider threats.
By closely monitoring the actions of high-privilege users, organisations can identify and address potential security incidents more effectively.
Get alerts from service providers
Receiving alerts from service providers can help organisations stay informed of potential threats and vulnerabilities. By subscribing to Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) offered by your wireless service provider or utilising an SMS alerts system, you can receive timely notifications about incidents and other relevant information.
Ensuring you receive alerts from your specific service provider can enhance your organisation’s incident detection and analysis capabilities.
Establish a procedure for incident categorisation, classification and prioritisation of incidents
Establishing a procedure for incident categorisation, classification, and prioritisation is crucial for effectively addressing security incidents. Here are some steps to follow:
- Identify high-level categories for incidents and group similar incidents into categories.
- Define distinct types within each category.
- Prioritise incidents based on their impact and urgency.
Organisations must document and communicate the process to all relevant stakeholders to implement a standardised process for incident categorisation, classification, and prioritisation. This ensures that everyone involved in the incident response process knows the categories and types of incidents and can effectively address security incidents as they arise.
Maintaining accurate and complete records of incidents is essential for regulatory compliance and organisational learning.
3. Evidence collection
Effective evidence collection is crucial for conducting a thorough investigation of a security incident and ensuring that the incident is appropriately addressed and resolved. The following steps are essential in the evidence-collection process:
- Develop SOPs, playbooks, and templates for containment and evidence collection.
- Assign roles and responsibilities to qualified personnel.
- Utilise captured logs and backups to restore affected systems.
By following these steps, you can ensure that the evidence-collection process is effective and efficient.
A clearly defined evidence-collection process equips organisations to handle incidents better and reduce their impact.
Develop SOPs, playbook, templates for containment, evidence collection
Creating SOPs, playbooks, and templates for containment and evidence collection is essential to the incident response process. These resources should encompass procedures for:
- Recognising evidence
- Collecting evidence
- Preserving evidence
- Analysing evidence
This ensures that evidence is gathered securely and consistently.
By having a well-defined set of SOPs, playbooks, and templates in place, organisations can ensure that their incident response teams are equipped to collect and preserve evidence during a security incident effectively.
Assign roles and responsibilities
Assigning roles and responsibilities to the incident response team members is crucial for ensuring a swift and effective response to security incidents. Personnel knowledgeable and experienced in collecting and preserving digital evidence, such as those from the IT, legal, and security departments, should be assigned roles and responsibilities for evidence collection. In this context, the security team supports the incident response process from initial identification to response and recovery.
Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities ensures that everyone involved in the incident response process knows their duties and can effectively address incidents.
Utilise the captured logs and backup to restore the affected systems
Utilising captured logs and backups to restore affected systems is critical in the incident response process. Analysing the logs to identify the source of the incident and using the backups to restore the system to its pre-incident state helps organisations minimise the impact of incidents and ensure the integrity of their systems and data.
Consistent log capture and backups are fundamental for maintaining your systems’ availability and recoverability.
Effective communication is a vital component of the incident response process, ensuring that appropriate authorities and all stakeholders are informed of the incident, that the incident is managed effectively, and that the incident is resolved promptly.
Organisations should develop a media and communications plan addressing stakeholder engagement during a cyber incident, including customers, partners, and the media. This plan should outline a strategy for responding to inquiries, managing potential negative publicity, and providing resources to support the incident response process.
Media and communications plan
Developing a media and communications plan is essential in the incident response process. The plan should incorporate a strategy for:
- Engaging stakeholders, including customers, partners, and the media, during a cyber incident
- Responding to inquiries
- Managing any potential negative publicity
- Providing resources to support the incident response process.
A clearly defined media and communications plan enables organisations to manage their reputation effectively and keep all stakeholders informed during an incident.
Staff training about the communication processes and their roles and also for those not involved in managing incidents
Training staff on communication processes and their roles during an incident is crucial for ensuring a well-coordinated and effective response. This training should include guidance on responding to inquiries, managing potential negative publicity, and communicating with stakeholders.
In addition, personnel not involved in incident management should be provided with direction on how to react to an incident, how to report an incident, and how to stay up-to-date.
Organisations can minimise the impact of security incidents by ensuring that all staff members are well-trained and informed of their responsibilities during an incident and ensure a swift and effective response.
5. Breach notifications and reporting
Breach notifications and incident response reports are essential components of the incident response process, as they help organisations comply with legal and regulatory requirements and ensure that affected parties are informed of the incident. To meet these requirements, organisations should:
- Document processes and contacts for data breach notification laws
- Document processes and contacts for privacy regulations
- Document processes and contacts for other applicable laws
In addition, organisations should establish processes for insurance and recovery response, which include filing claims with their insurance provider, restoring impacted systems, and notifying affected individuals.
Document processes and contacts supporting legal and regulatory requirements
Documenting processes and contacts for legal and regulatory requirements ensures compliance with data breach notification laws, privacy regulations, and other applicable laws. The documentation should encompass:
- Contact information for legal counsel, data protection officers, and other pertinent personnel
- Information regarding the organisation’s data breach notification process
- Privacy policies
- Other applicable laws
Regularly maintaining and updating this documentation ensures that organisations can effectively respond to security incidents and comply with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements.
Documented processes for insurance recovery and response
Establishing documented insurance and recovery response processes is essential for organisations to address the financial and operational impacts of security incidents effectively. These processes should include filing claims with their insurance provider, restoring impacted systems, and notifying affected individuals.
Establishing clear processes for eradication and recovery response allows organisations to lessen the impact of security incidents and ensure a prompt, effective response.
6. Post-incident review
Conducting a post-incident review (PIR) is an essential aspect of the incident response process, as it allows organisations to learn from incidents and improve their incident-handling capabilities.
This review should be objective and factual, focusing on what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent future occurrences.
Sharing the PIR findings with the incident response and the wider security team, senior management, and other stakeholders promotes transparency. It fosters learning, ensuring the organisation is better prepared to address future security incidents.
What happened, why it happened, and how can we prevent it from happening again? Be objective and factual.
Analysing the data exposed by incidents to determine what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent future occurrences is an essential part of the post-incident review process. Organisations can implement more robust security measures and improve their incident response processes to prevent similar incidents from happening again by conducting a thorough investigation and identifying any errors or weaknesses that contributed to the incident.
Regularly reviewing and updating security policies and procedures ensures that organisations remain vigilant and responsive to the ever-evolving threat landscape.
Share the PIR with the incident response team, senior management and other stakeholders
Sharing the post-incident review findings with relevant stakeholders, such as the incident response team, security team, senior management, and other affected parties, promotes transparency and fosters organisational learning. By openly discussing the incident, the lessons learned, and any recommendations for improvement, organisations can ensure that all parties are informed and better prepared to address future security incidents.
It is important to consider the sensitivity of the information shared and use secure communication methods and channels when discussing and sharing the post-incident review findings.
Leveraging Industry Frameworks and Knowledge for Cyber Incident Response Process
Industry frameworks and knowledge can significantly enhance an organisation’s cyber incident readiness. Resources such as the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) Guidance and Blogs and the SANS Incident Response Framework provide invaluable insights and best practices for addressing cybersecurity challenges.
Maintaining awareness and utilising these resources empowers organisations to strengthen their cyber incident readiness and improve their defence against cyber threats.
NCSC Guidance and Blogs
The NCSC Guidance and Blogs offer insightful advice and suggestions on cybersecurity best practices. Staying up to date with the latest blogs and guidance issued by the NCSC and incorporating their recommendations into your organisation’s cybersecurity strategy can help you stay ahead of potential threats and enhance your security posture.
Sharing the NCSC’s guidance and blogs with your team and stakeholders can heighten awareness of cybersecurity risks and encourage a security culture within your organisation.
SANS Incident Response Framework
The SANS Incident Response Framework is a comprehensive structure designed to facilitate incident response operations and improve an organisation’s real incidents and capabilities. Implementing the SANS Incident Response Framework can help organisations create a robust and effective process addressing each incident response lifecycle stage.
Utilising the NIST Incident Response Framework, organisations can boost their incident response capability to detect, respond to, and recover from security incidents promptly and efficiently.
In conclusion, developing a comprehensive cyber incident readiness checklist is essential for organisations to address and recover from incidents effectively.
By following the six-step Cyber Incident Response Checklist and leveraging industry frameworks and knowledge, organisations can enhance their cybersecurity incident response capabilities and better defend against cyber threats. Remember, staying proactive and prepared is the key to minimising the impact of incidents and ensuring the ongoing security of your organisation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the 5 primary checklists you should use to collect information on the incident?
The five primary checklists to collect information on the incident are Preparation, Identification, Containment phase, Eradication and Recovery phase Checklists, plus a Lessons Learned Checklist.
What are the 7 phases of incident response cyber security?
The seven phases of incident response cybersecurity are Preparation, Identification phase, Containment phase, Eradication, Restoration, Learning, and Testing and Repeating. Preparing for a potential security breach is the critical element for successful incident response, as it will allow organisations to be better equipped to identify, contain, eradicate, restore, learn, and test their security procedures.
Why is it important to establish a baseline of normal activity?
Establishing a normal activity baseline is essential for organisations to recognise abnormalities and potential risks quickly.
What is the purpose of monitoring failed login attempts?
Monitoring failed login attempts helps organisations identify potential security threats and detect unusual patterns, providing an early warning of a possible compromise.
How can organisations leverage industry frameworks and knowledge for cyber incident readiness?
Organisations can leverage industry frameworks, like the NCSC Guidance and Blogs and SANS Incident Response Framework, to stay informed of best practices and improve their cyber incident readiness.
Harman Singh is a security professional with over 15 years of consulting experience in both public and private sectors.
As the Managing Consultant at Cyphere, he provides cyber security services to retailers, fintech companies, SaaS providers, housing and social care, construction and more. Harman specialises in technical risk assessments, penetration testing and security strategy.
He regularly speaks at industry events, has been a trainer at prestigious conferences such as Black Hat and shares his expertise on topics such as ‘less is more’ when it comes to cybersecurity. He is a strong advocate for ensuring cyber security as an enabler for business growth.
In addition to his consultancy work, Harman is an active blogger and author who has written articles for Infosecurity Magazine, VentureBeat and other websites.