Incident Response A Comprehensive Guide to Online Security Incident Response


In today’s digital landscape, organisations face a constant threat of cyberattacks and data breaches. To effectively mitigate these risks and protect sensitive information, it is crucial for organisations to have a well-defined incident response plan in place. Incident response (IR) refers to the steps taken to prepare for, detect, contain, and recover from a data breach or cybersecurity incident. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the importance of incident response, the key components of an incident response plan, the steps involved in incident response, and provide practical tips and examples to help organisations enhance their online security incident response capabilities.

What is Incident Response?

Incident response (IR) is a proactive approach that focusses on preparing for, detecting, containing, and recovering from cybersecurity incidents. It involves a coordinated effort by an organisation’s incident response team to effectively manage and respond to security breaches or incidents. The goal of incident response is to minimise the impact of an incident, restore normal operations, and prevent future occurrences.

What is an Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan is a documented set of procedures, guidelines, and responsibilities that outline an organisation’s approach to incident response. It provides a roadmap for the incident response team to follow during an incident and ensures a coordinated and effective response. An incident response plan typically includes the following elements:

  1. Mission Alignment: The plan should align with the organisation’s broader mission and objectives to ensure that incident response efforts support the overall goals of the organisation.
  2. Approach to Incident Response: It should outline the organisation’s approach to incident response, including the key principles, methodologies, and strategies to be followed.
  3. Phases of Incident Response: The plan should define the activities and tasks to be performed in each phase of incident response, starting from preparation, detection and analysis, containment and eradication, and post-incident recovery.
  4. Roles and Responsibilities: It should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the incident response team members and other stakeholders involved in the incident response process.
  5. Communication Pathways: The plan should establish clear communication pathways between the incident response team and the rest of the organisation, including reporting structures, escalation procedures, and communication channels.
  6. Metrics and Evaluation: It should define metrics and measurements to assess the effectiveness of the incident response capabilities, identify areas for improvement, and track the progress of incident response efforts.
  7. Documentation and Reporting: The plan should outline the documentation and reporting requirements, including incident reporting templates, evidence collection procedures, and post-incident analysis.
  8. Continuous Improvement: An incident response plan should be a living document that is regularly reviewed, updated, and tested to incorporate lessons learned from previous incidents and to adapt to evolving threats and technologies.

The Incident Response Steps

The incident response process typically consists of four key phases, as defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

1. Preparation

The preparation phase involves establishing a solid foundation for incident response. It includes:

  • Developing an incident response plan, as discussed earlier.
  • Identifying and prioritising critical assets and systems.
  • Implementing preventive measures, such as security controls and monitoring tools.
  • Conducting risk assessments and vulnerability scans.
  • Training and educating the incident response team members and other stakeholders.

2. Detection and Analysis

The detection and analysis phase focusses on identifying and assessing potential security incidents. It involves:

  • Monitoring and analysing network traffic, logs, and security alerts to detect anomalies or suspicious activities.
  • Collecting and analysing evidence to determine the severity and type of the incident.
  • Conducting forensic investigations to understand the root cause and impact of the incident.
  • Categorising and prioritising incidents based on their criticality and potential impact.

3. Containment and Eradication

The containment and eradication phase aims to prevent further damage and remove the threat from the affected systems. It includes:

  • Isolating the affected systems or network segments to prevent the spread of the incident.
  • Implementing temporary or permanent remediation measures to eliminate the vulnerabilities or weaknesses exploited by the attacker.
  • Removing malware or unauthorised access from the systems.
  • Restoring the systems to a known good state.
  • Verifying the effectiveness of the containment measures and confirming the eradication of the incident.

4. Post-Incident Recovery

The post-incident recovery phase focusses on restoring normal operations and learning from the incident. It involves:

  • Conducting a lessons learned meeting involving all relevant parties to analyse the incident response process and identify areas for improvement.
  • Updating the incident response plan, policies, and procedures based on the lessons learned.
  • Conducting post-incident analysis and forensic investigations to gather additional insights and evidence.
  • Communicating with stakeholders, including customers, partners, and regulatory authorities, as necessary.
  • Implementing long-term remediation measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Continuously monitoring and reviewing the incident response capabilities to ensure ongoing effectiveness.

Why is an Incident Response Plan Important?

An incident response plan is crucial for several reasons:

1. Minimising Damage and Downtime

Cybersecurity incidents can have severe consequences, including financial losses, reputational damage, and legal implications. An incident response plan helps organisations minimise the impact of incidents by enabling a swift and coordinated response, reducing the time taken to detect and contain the incident, and restoring normal operations as quickly as possible.

Many industries have specific compliance and legal requirements related to incident response. An incident response plan helps organisations meet these requirements by providing documented procedures, evidence of due diligence, and a framework for reporting incidents to regulatory authorities and other stakeholders.

3. Learning from Incidents

Incident response plans facilitate post-incident analysis and lessons learned meetings, which allow organisations to gain valuable insights from incidents. By analysing the incident response process, identifying gaps or weaknesses, and making improvements, organisations can enhance their overall security posture and minimise the likelihood of future incidents.

4. Demonstrating Responsibility and Accountability

In the event of a cybersecurity incident, organisations are expected to demonstrate that they acted responsibly, diligently, and thoroughly in response to the incident. An incident response plan provides a documented record of the organisation’s actions, decisions, and responses, which can be used to prove due diligence and demonstrate accountability to stakeholders, including investors, shareholders, customers, auditors, and regulatory authorities.

Most Organisations Lack a Plan

Despite the importance of incident response, many organisations still lack a formal and mature incident response plan. According to a survey by Ponemon, 77% of respondents reported the lack of a consistent incident response plan across their organisation, and only 32% described their incident response initiatives as “mature.” These figures are concerning, considering the increasing severity and frequency of cyberattacks.

To effectively respond to online security incidents, organisations need to invest in developing and implementing robust incident response plans. These plans should be regularly reviewed, updated, and tested to ensure their effectiveness and alignment with evolving threats and technologies.

Incident Response Plan Templates and Examples

To help organisations develop their incident response plans, there are various templates and examples available that can serve as a starting point. These templates provide a framework for structuring the plan and can be customised to fit the specific needs and requirements of each organisation. It is important to note that these templates are meant to be used as a guide and should be customised to suit the unique characteristics and risk profile of each organisation. Organisations should work closely with their incident response teams, IT departments, and other stakeholders to develop comprehensive and tailored incident response plans.

CrowdStrike’s Incident Response Service

For organisations that lack the in-house expertise or resources to develop and execute an effective incident response plan, partnering with a trusted incident response service provider can be a valuable option. CrowdStrike is a leading provider of incident response services, offering organisations control, stability, and organisation during a security incident.

CrowdStrike’s incident response service includes:

  • Developing tailored incident response plans aligned with the organisation’s structure and capabilities.
  • Analysing existing incident response plans and capabilities to identify areas for improvement.
  • Developing standard operating procedure “playbooks” to guide incident response activities.
  • Conducting exercises such as penetration testing, red team-blue team exercises, and adversary emulation scenarios to test and validate the incident response capabilities.
  • Providing expert guidance and support during security incidents to ensure a swift and effective response.

By leveraging CrowdStrike’s incident response service, organisations can enhance their incident response capabilities, improve their security posture, and effectively respond to online security incidents.


In today’s digital landscape, organisations face an ever-growing threat of cyberattacks and data breaches. Developing and implementing a robust incident response plan is crucial to effectively mitigate these risks and protect sensitive information. The incident response process involves preparation, detection and analysis, containment and eradication, and post-incident recovery. By following these steps and continuously improving their incident response capabilities, organisations can minimise the impact of incidents, restore normal operations, and prevent future occurrences. Remember, an incident response plan is not just a technical matter but a business imperative that ensures responsible, accountable, and effective handling of online security incidents.

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