Key Elements of Every Successful Incident Response Program

Nowadays, businesses face the fact that cyber attacks are part of the overall picture, and will happen at any given moment. Nobody is in doubt about this, and the question has shifted from ‘if they happen’, to ‘when they happen’. Along with this, cybercriminals have become much more sophisticated, raising the costs of fighting back on all industry levels.

Managing cyber security issues can pose a real challenge within a company. The new and complex networks, business requirements for innovation and new ways of delivery of services require new methods and approaches to the way security is handled. Traditional security management methods no longer work. Today, cyber security management should aim towards efficiency when it comes to possible future threats.

Serious data breaches can cost a company hundreds of millions of dollars. Often, what makes a breach serious is the effectiveness and speed of the incident response process.

This being said, creating an incident response program is of utmost importance. It has to excel in the following areas: visibility, incident management, workflows, threat intelligence, and collaboration/information-sharing. Below we’ll take a closer look at each of these areas and discover their importance from a systems level perspective.

Visibility

Having in mind the number of security products in an average company, visibility should be the core of any incident response system – this means aggregating data feeds from commercial and open-source products. When setting up an incident response system, specialists should consider platforms that offer support for security products out of the box. Although not all of them support everything by default, the one you choose should be flexible to add bi-directional integrations with security products not supported by default. But even though bi-directional integrations are important for the support of full automation and orchestration, these are not always necessary for each technology. For example, with simple detection and alerting technologies, unidirectional event forwarding integration will do the work. Just check that common methods of event forwarding and data transfer (such as syslog, database connections, APIs, email and online forms) are supported.

Incident Management

A well-structured incident response program should enable orchestration and automation of the security products that the organization uses. Above everything else, it should include the ability to manage the entire incident response process, starting from the basics, such as tracking cases, recording actions during the incident, as well as reporting on critical metrics and KPIs.

Furthermore, a more advanced incident response system should provide the following:

  • Phase and objective tracking
  • Detailed task tracking, including assignment, time spent and status
  • Asset management — tracking all physical and virtual assets involved in the incident
  • Evidence and chain of custody management
  • Indicator and sample tracking, correlation and sharing
  • Document and report management
  • Time and monetary effort tracking
Process Workflows

One of the key capabilities that should part of the incident response system is the automation and orchestration workflows. The result is more efficient processes and heavy reduction in repetitive tasks for analysts.

These are the core methods for a codification of process workflows: linear-style playbooks or flow-controlled workflows or runbooks.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, and as each is suitable for different use cases, they both should be supported by the incident response system. In both cases, workflows should be flexible and support almost any process, and should support the use of built-in and custom integrations, and creating manual tasks that should be completed by an analyst.

Threat Intelligence

The capability of incorporating threat intelligence feeds is one of the most basic requirements for an incident response system. Moreover, with the ability to correlate threat intelligence, it’s easier to discover attack patterns, vulnerabilities, and other current risks without manual analysis. Adding the automated correlation also helps identify whether an ongoing incident shares common factors with any previous incidents. But even though automated correlation is crucial for analysts to make decisions, visual correlation is also important. Visualizations of threat intelligence and correlated events are particularly useful for threat hunting and detecting attacks/patterns that could not have been detected using other methods.

Collaboration and Information-Sharing

Incident response is never a one-person show. Generally, it requires the participation of many people, and often of multiple teams. To be highly effective in such an environment, an incident response system should support seamless collaboration and information-sharing between all stakeholders and team members.

This means that authorized staff members should have access to the status of the incident and other generated information, including team members actions. Also, all staff members should communicate in a secure fashion, using out-of-band communications mechanism.

Furthermore, information-sharing and cooperation should be a regular practice with external entities, especially with law-enforcement agencies. Information-sharing, such as threat intelligence reports, is vital in the fight against cybercrime.

Conclusion

Most companies will experience data breach sooner or later, and how they respond will affect the future of the business. These essential components will help ensure that an organization’s incident response program can detect, contain and mitigate a breach before it can reach more serious status.

The Overlooked Importance of Incident Management

Whether you call it Incident Management or Incident Handling, most will agree that there is a distinct difference between responding to an incident and managing an incident. Put simply, Incident Response can be defined as the “doing”, while Incident Management can be defined as the “orchestrating”. Proper Incident Management is the foundation and structure upon which a successful Incident Response program must be based. There are numerous blogs, articles and papers addressing various aspects of the differences between Incident Response and Incident Management dating back to at least a decade. Why add another to the top of the pile? Because while most organizations now see the value in putting people, tools, and basic processes in place to respond to the inevitable incident, many still do not take the time to develop a solid Incident Management process to orchestrate the response effort.

Security incidents create a unique environment, highly dynamic and often stressful, and outside the comfort zone of many of those who may be involved in the response process. This is especially true during complex incidents where ancillary team members, such as those from Human Resources, Legal, Compliance or Executive Management, may become involved. These ancillary team members are often accustomed to working in a more structured environment and have had very little previous exposure to the Incident Response process, making Incident Management an even more critical function. Although often overlooked, the lack of effective Incident Management will invariably result in a less efficient and effective process, leading to increased financial and reputational damage from an incident.

Many day-to-day management processes do not adapt well to these complex challenges. For example, as the size and complexity of a security incident increases, the number of people that a single manager can directly supervise effectively decreases. It is also not uncommon for some employees to report to more than one supervisor. During a security incident, this can lead to mixed directives and confusion. During a security incident, it is critical that information flows quickly and smoothly both vertically and horizontally. Many organization’s existing communication methods do not adapt well to this.

When an ad-hoc Incident Management system is used, the response process becomes much less consistent and effective. A common pitfall of this ad-hoc management style is that it can create a flat management structure, forcing the Incident Response Coordinator to directly oversee the functions of many groups with vastly different objectives. A flat structure such as this also tends to inhibit the flow of information between the individual groups.

 

incident management 1

 

Another common pitfall of this ad-hoc management style is that it often results in a fragmented and disorganized process. Without proper management to provide clear objectives and expectations, it is easy for individual groups to create their own objectives based on what they believe to be the priority. This seriously limits the effective communication between individual groups, forcing each to work with incomplete or incorrect information.

 

incident management 2

 

There are numerous ways in which the Incident Management process can be streamlined. On Wednesday, January 31st, DFLabs will be releasing a new whitepaper titled “Increasing the Effectiveness of Incident Management”, discussing the lessons that can be learned from decades of trial and error in another profession, the fire service, to improve the effectiveness of the Incident Management process. John Moran, Sr. Product Manager at DFLabs, will also be joining Paul and the Enterprise Security Weekly Team on their podcast at 1 PM EST on January 31st to discuss some of these lessons in more detail. Stay tuned to the DFLabs website, or listen in on the podcast on January 31st for more details!