Using Incident Response Plans to Minimise Damage and Maximise Recovery

Cybersecurity Plan button on a keyboard

Cybersecurity incident response planning gives organisations an iterative framework for mitigating threats quickly and effectively. Widely used by enterprise-level organisations, this strategy can be deployed by businesses of any size to reduce risk by minimising damage and maximising recovery.

As security measures evolve, so do the capabilities of cyber criminals. As a result, no security preparation or protective coverage can ever be perfect. Incidents can and will happen, so preparing for them is essential.

An Incident Response Plan (IRP) is designed to help your business detect, respond to, and recover from incidents that affect business operations and data security. These incidents typically result from a cyber attack but may also be caused by physical theft of devices or even fire or flood damage.

In this article, we’ll discuss Incident Response Plans in detail – what they are, why you need one, and how to create one.

Why is an Incident Response Plan necessary?

The UK cyber threat landscape is clear: small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are increasingly becoming prime targets.

According to the UK Government’s 2024 cybersecurity breaches survey, over half of small businesses (50%) and around a third of charities (32%) reported a cybersecurity breach or attack in the last twelve months.

The number of attacks is even higher for medium businesses (70%), large businesses (74%) and high-income charities with £500,000 or more in annual income (66%).

70%. The percentage of organisations that don't have a cyber incident response plan in place and are unprepared to respond to a cyber attack.

Attacks can be opportunistic or meticulously planned, with threats emerging from external actors or even disgruntled insiders. Regardless of the source, one crucial factor determines how well your business weathers the storm: preparation.

What is an Incident Response Plan?

Key components

The most important components of cyber incident planning include:

  • Basic guidance on legal and regulatory requirements
  • Basic incident management processes
  • Key contacts
  • Contact numbers
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Escalation criteria

Where do Incident Response Plans fit into the bigger cyber attack picture?

An IRP is considered part of the holy trinity of cybersecurity, alongside Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans. These are the essential tools required to identify, mitigate, and move on from an attack.

An IRP is the first step to take when dealing with a security event before invoking more costly and complex Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans, aiming to handle the incident quickly so they aren’t necessary.

Benefits of an Incident Response Plan

An effective IRP can significantly minimise the damage caused by an attack. This translates to tangible benefits:

Early threat mitigation

A well-organised incident response team with an effective and appropriate IRP can mitigate the effects of unplanned security and data loss events, preventing a major incident and greater damage.

Lower the financial impact of an incident

An IRP can reduce the time and money required to address a security event by reacting fast enough to avoid invoking more costly Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans.

Improve decision-making during a crisis

An effective IRP ensures the response team identified in the plan can react quickly and appropriately to most threats. During an especially severe incident that may be beyond their capabilities, they can quickly relay the information they know to emergency organisations.

Reduce downtime and financial losses

A well-rehearsed plan helps you respond to an incident quickly and efficiently, minimising downtime and the associated financial losses. This includes costs associated with business disruption, lost productivity, and forensic investigation.

Protect your reputation

A security incident can damage your company’s reputation. An IRP helps you communicate the incident effectively to stakeholders, reducing reputational harm.

Build trust with customers and partners

Customers and partners are more likely to do business with businesses that take cybersecurity seriously. An IRP demonstrates your commitment to protecting their data.

Improve compliance with relevant UK data protection regulations, including GDPR

Many regulatory and certification bodies require organisations to have an IRP. Having the proper protection in place also bolsters your efforts to protect the data belonging to your customers and employees. Under Article 32 of the GDPR, organisations are obligated to restore the availability of and access to personal data in the event of a physical or technical breach.

Building your plan

You don’t need to develop an Incident Response Plan from scratch. Several frameworks have been developed by leaders like NIST and The SANS Institute in this area. Broadly speaking, these frameworks agree on the following steps:

  • Preparation
  • Identification/detection and analysis
  • Containment
  • Eradication
  • Recovery
  • Post-incident activity, including lessons learned

The IRP development process can be broken down into these actionable steps:

1. Create an Incident Response Policy

An Incident Response Policy is a high-level document outlining all the core information your business needs about responding to incidents. This foundational document serves as the basis for all incident-handling activities and gives incident responders the authority to make crucial decisions.

This policy should include:

Scope and objectives

Clearly outline what constitutes a cyber incident and the overall goals of your IRP. This ensures everyone understands when to activate the plan and what a successful resolution looks like.

Prioritisation and escalation guidance

Establish a risk assessment framework to prioritise incidents based on severity and potential impact. Define clear escalation procedures for situations exceeding the designated team’s capacity.

Critical assets

Identify the assets you need to prioritise when planning for and recovering from an incident, including:

  • Data (customer information, financial records, intellectual property)
  • Systems (IT infrastructure, applications, communication channels)
  • Public-facing assets (websites, apps, social media)

Not all critical assets are equal. Rank your assets based on their impact on core business functions, legal and regulatory compliance, and potential reputational damage. This helps guide response efforts and resource allocation during an incident.

Roles and responsibilities

Identify your incident response team or teams (depending on the size of your business). Assign key personnel for tasks like containment, investigation, and communication.

Communication protocols

Define your plan for internal and external communication with customers and emergency services during an incident, including relevant contact information.

Regulatory requirements

List the specific laws and regulations that your business needs to comply with in the event of a cyber incident and any specific requirements for notifying relevant authorities and individuals in case of a data breach.

2. Develop playbooks

Develop detailed playbooks outlining steps to contain an incident, minimise damage, and eradicate the threat. This may involve isolating infected systems, shutting down compromised accounts, or deploying anti-malware solutions.

A playbook for each incident type and severity will help tailor the response to the specific threat, for example, a data breach, malware attack, theft, flood, or fire.

3. Create an investigation and recovery plan

Define procedures for forensic investigation to understand the scope of the breach and identify root causes. Include clear steps for data recovery and system restoration.

4. Roll out your incident response training

Ensure your employees are adequately trained regarding their incident response roles and responsibilities in the event of a data breach.

5. Practice makes perfect

Schedule regular drills and test your IRP to identify weaknesses. Conduct mock data breaches to evaluate your plan fully.

6. Identify lessons learned

Each incident is a learning opportunity that puts your IRP to the test. It’s crucial to run a lessons-learned session after each major security incident to identify security control gaps and possible improvements to the response plan.

Evolving your plan

Your plan should evolve just as the threat landscape evolves. Reassess and validate your response plan regularly to account for lessons learned, changes in IT infrastructure or the business, and updates to regulatory or compliance requirements.

Conclusion

Incident response planning gives your business an iterative framework for quickly and effectively mitigating threats, minimising damage, and maximising recovery.

Investing time and effort into developing a comprehensive Incident Response Plan with a clear Incident Response Policy and detailed playbooks will significantly lower cybersecurity risk and improve incident preparedness within your business.

Get in touch for expert support and advice about creating your Incident Response Plan or to discuss how our team of security experts can provide highly effective cybersecurity coverage and protection for your business.

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