What Is an Incident Response Team?

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Eduardo Messuti

Founder and CTO

December 20, 2023

What Is an Incident Response Team?

The vast number of threats lately lurking in cyberspace means that for cybersecurity teams, it's not a question of if an incident will occur but when. Whether it's a service outage, a data breach, a ransomware attack, or some other disturbance, organizations are bound to face security incidents eventually — the only question is if they're prepared.

Incident response teams (IRT) are groups of individuals within your organization from various departments who can jump into action should a security incident arise. Your team can consist of a diverse group of employees, such as security analysts who can investigate a cyber threat or an HR rep to help create a communication plan. While the exact composition may vary, creating a fully prepared team can help you put out security fires before they do maximum damage.

In this article, we'll show you what goes into the making of an incident response team. Read on to see how creating an IRT can benefit your organization and how an incident communication plan can help your team succeed.

What Is an Incident Response Team (IRT)?

Also known as a cyber incident response team or security incident response team, an incident response team is a group of employees that you assemble to take action in the event of a cyber attack. But while it sounds simple, assembling an effective IRT requires thorough planning and strategy. Some parameters you need to consider as you build your incident response team include:

  • Team composition
  • Each team member's duties
  • How the team will respond to specific events
  • Maintaining adequate staffing
  • Facilitating communication
  • Maintaining a positive morale
  • Staying current on best practices and industry standards for preventing a future attack

You'll also need to maintain your IRT once you get it up and running. To do that, you must keep ongoing communication, with some teams meeting quarterly whether an incident occurs or not.

The Role of an IRT in Different Types of Incidents

Part of creating your IRT will be defining the scope of the roles when an incident occurs. That way, each team member will know which actions to take and what lies outside their digital jurisdiction.

Both the types of incidents and response tactics may vary by organization, but here are some of the most common cybersecurity incidents as well as how an IRT may respond to them.

Service Degradation and Outages

Downtime is costly in any organization, so if outages or degraded systems impair your business' runtime, your IRT should have a way of getting your network back up and running as soon as possible.

An outage can occur for many reasons, so your team should have the personnel necessary to handle the most common causes for your application. That will likely look like having multiple IT team members who can restore your system promptly or a cybersecurity expert who can create an incident detection plan for unveiling and remediating a cyber attack.

Data Breaches

Between lost data assets, compliance fines, the cost of remediation, and damaged customer trust, the business impact a data breach can have on a company cannot be overstated. The average data breach in 2022 cost 4.35 million USD — enough to make any CISO want to guard their company's data as carefully as possible.

A key part of data breach security is baking data recovery into IRT's protocol. To do that, you'll need security analysts to detect where the data breach occurred. You'll also need a Lead Investigator to work in conjunction with your security team so that you can identify the root cause. They can also assist in recovering any lost data, and a communications lead can help notify affected parties such as stakeholders or consumers.

Cybersecurity Incidents

A cybersecurity expert is critical for any IRT if you're going to react to a cyber attack and prevent security risks altogether. From ransomware and phishing attacks to distributed denial of service (DDoS) and hackers, the threat landscape is evolving so rapidly that you'll need at least one member of your staff who's an expert on keeping your digital system secure. And if you can't find one, consider working with a third-party security team.

Physical Security Incidents

Not every incident comes from the Web. Whether it's transferring unauthorized data onto a personal device or gaining entrance into a data center, people can still use physical means to access some systems.

Responding to a physical security incident requires a physical security team. That may include consulting a security firm to bolster your physical security environment or an HR team member to educate employees on proper physical security practices, such as regularly updating passwords and logging off. And because a disgruntled employee could become a threat actor, a member of your legal department should be available to assist with litigation as needed.

The Composition of an Incident Response Team

The exact composition of your IRT will depend on your needs, but some common incident response team members include:

  • A Team Lead who oversees the incident management process and keeps all other members on the same page
  • A Lead Investigator who directs the technical components of your incident response efforts — data collection, root cause analysis, directing other security analysts, and more
  • A Documentation and Timeline Lead who is responsible for reporting on all phases of the response, including incident discovery, recovery, and remediation, and developing a realistic timeline for each phase of the project
  • A Communications Lead who serves as the designated spokesperson for all external and internal communications about the incident; this person must have strong written and verbal communication skills
  • An HR or Legal Representative who should take legal action when needed

The Incident Response Process

It takes a lot to develop a comprehensive incident response framework. The exact components will vary depending on the needs and situations, but the main stages of the incident response process are as follows:

Prepare for Incidents

Failure to plan is planning to fail, so thorough preparation must be the first step in incident management. You should have plenty of team members who are already familiar with your stack, but if any lack training on a certain tool or system, you first need to train them.

With everyone up to speed, have your security analysts conduct threat intelligence that gains actionable insights into threat actors' behavior. That way, they can develop an intelligent response strategy that takes attackers' habits into account. Finally, create an incident communication plan so everyone knows how to respond to future incidents.

Detect and Assess Incidents

Your threat intelligence should not only inform you of threat actors' most common behaviors but should indicate which detection mechanism could best pick up their behavior. There are many vulnerability scanners and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions available, so use your threat intelligence insights to choose the one that best fits your attack surface.

Contain and Eradicate

Once you've detected a cyber attack or some other incident, the next step is to contain it before it damages the entire system and then eradicate the threat. Webhooks and APIs can alert your system when an incident has occurred, while firewalls, honeypots, and antivirus software are just a few tools that help you isolate and eliminate the threat after detection. You'll probably need several mechanisms operating simultaneously to resolve every attack.

Recovery and Lessons Learned

Once you eradicate the threat, it's time to clean up the mess. Recovery is a critical part of the incident response planning process, and it may involve several steps:

  • Posting a status page to inform current webpage visitors of the reason for any downtime
  • Informing all relevant parties about compromised data
  • Alerting the necessary bodies
  • Taking legal action against the threat actor (if possible)

After you remediate the incident, it's important to take a step back and reflect on how it happened. It's not about assigning blame; taking time to learn from the incident can help you realize weaknesses in your environment and can reveal opportunities for future improvement. That's a key part of mitigating future risks and avoiding further security breaches.

Best Practices for Incident Response Teams

With so many moving parts, you'll need to follow industry best practices to keep your incident response team running at full speed. Take these steps to optimize your team's efficiency.

Use an Incident Response Framework

One of the best ways to ensure compliance and maximize your team's performance is to follow an incident response framework. One popular framework is the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Incident Handling Guide. It contains recommendations for how best to conduct each phase of the incident response planning process as well as insights on coordination, information sharing, and more.

Follow All the Phases of Incident Response

As helpful as frameworks are, they only work if you follow them. Make sure you carefully outline the details of all phases within your incident response strategy and diligently train every member of your team for the duties they'll need to perform.

Create Incident Response Playbooks

If you want your team to follow the chain of command during an incident, create a playbook.

Playbooks differ from runbooks in that they don't give exact step-by-step instructions for how to resolve a threat. Instead, they state big-picture protocols each team member should follow when security breaches occur. They also showcase the general plan for resolving an incident before going into the exact tactics used for remediation, so they give your employees a foundation for where to start.

Test and Train Regularly

The most effective teams in incident response planning are those that rigorously test their systems and train for an attack early and often. Penetration testing, endpoint testing, and red team/blue team are a few methods your team can use to test your stack. Automated tests can also help keep your system safe.

Save Your Incident Response Team Hours During Critical Times

Building an incident response team is critical if you want to minimize the damage that a security incident can cause. But your team also needs the right equipment to succeed.

At StatusPal, we provide the incident communication and monitoring tools your response team needs to thrive. Our real-time notification system helps you contact customers and stakeholders when an incident occurs, and our centralized dashboard gives intuitive, insightful incident reports to help your team efficiently respond to a threat.

Sign up for a free trial today and see what StatusPal can do for you.

Gravatar for eduardo@messuti.io

Eduardo Messuti

Founder and CTO

December 20, 2023

Eduardo is a software engineer and entrepreneur with a passion for building digital products. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years and has experience in a wide range of technologies and industries.
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