IT Incident Response: Best Practices and Main Things to Consider
Anything may happen, especially if a system is complex and IT companies are a great example of a complex system. And while every sensible company does its best to protect its assets, employees, and clients, sometimes things go wrong, leading to the disruption of an organization’s performance.
So while “anything may happen” sounds like bad news, there is good news too. With a proper incident management strategy and an actionable response plan, companies are able to quickly recover from an unexpected event and also prevent similar events in the future. Below we’ll talk about what incident reporting and its main components are and what incident management best practices to follow.
What is IT incident reporting?
IT incident reporting can be defined as a process of documenting an unexpected event that led to the disruption of normal performance of a company (and maybe caused certain damage). Note that the document describes not only the incident, but also the way it was handled.
In IT, most issues are related to cybersecurity and imply DDoS attacks, MITM attacks, phishing, and similar threats. It is therefore critical to react to such issues as fast as possible to mitigate potential damage.
The difference between incident reporting and incident management
When talking about reporting, it’s also important to discuss incident management for better understanding of the topic. It is a holistic strategy of an organization aimed at preventing and mitigating incidents and resolving them effectively. In this way, reporting is part of incident management.
If you need a bit more clarity, think about the following: reporting is more focused and happens after an incident only, while incident management is more broad and exists in the company all the time. And since this article is dedicated to reporting, let’s get back to the topic.
The main components of an incident report
Though the incident reporting process is unique for every company, the structure of such a report will be approximately the same. There are several main “components” that are to be included and described in detail, so all stakeholders get a solid understanding of what exactly happened:
- Summary: provides a brief description of the incident, the time that it happened, the way it was resolved, and the damage it caused (if any). This section also describes the the main cause of the incident, so preventative measures can be applied later on.
- Timeline: describes all related times, starting from the time when the first report of an incident was made to when it was resolved. Also note that this section should a) state the times of all related actions (i.e., what measure was taken at a particular time) and b) state the time zone, if needed.
- Root cause: explains what exactly caused the incident to happen. It should be described in as many details as possible as this information will further be used to prevent such issues in the future.
- Recovery: the section explains what methods were used to resolve the incident and what results they brought. An important note: even if the methods were unsuccessful (i.e., the issue was not fully resolved), you still have to describe the results in detail.
- Preventive measures: provides recommendations on how to prevent similar incidents in the future and what measures to take to achieve the needed result. As well, the section might include suggestions on improving the existing reporting system, based on the information collected.
Why does incident reporting matter so much?
While it might seem as too much of a hassle to create extended documentation for a single incident (especially for a minor one), reporting brings several big benefits to a company.
Helps prevent bigger issues in the future
When you create a report, you describe in detail what went wrong and how it was resolved. That means, you collect and analyze the data about the incident and its root cause and gain a better understanding of weak areas in your processes and existing flaws. This, in turn, helps you better safeguard your organization and eliminate any issues that may cause damage or lead to major issues in the future.
Helps measure the company’s performance
Incident reports are great sources of data about the company’s security and the effectiveness of processes. Thus, reporting helps measure the company’s performance and the level of its security over the course of time, creating a holistic view of all strengths and weaknesses.
Helps save costs
If a company ignores reporting and does not perform the analysis of an incident, chances are high that the issue will repeat itself and will cause an even bigger damage. And there is no need to say how massive the financial losses are in case of a cybersecurity incident. According to an IBM report of 2022, the average cost of a data breach was approximately $4.35 million. Now, performing regular reporting is much cheaper and can prevent you from facing major financial losses in the future.
Helps create a company culture
One of the key components of efficient incident reporting is timely and transparent communication with all stakeholders, including employees. When an incident happens, everyone should be alarmed immediately and those responsible for incident handling - on a first-priority basis.
In this way, when clear communication occurs at all levels and everyone understands how to act and what happened, a stronger company culture is formed where people own responsibility and understand their role in forming a safer working environment.
Top-10 best practices for incident response
As you can see, reporting is critical for maintaining a high level of security in your company. And to help you establish and maintain an effective reporting process, we will provide actionable tips on the incorporation of major incident management best practices and what needs to be considered.
Provide a clear definition of an “incident”
This incident management best practice is a simple one - yet, it’s really important. First, you will need to define what exactly an incident means to your business. In the IT industry, it most often implies a cybersecurity attack/threat, but in general, it can be any event that disrupts the operation of your business. Thus, your task here is to define and list potential issues and threats and categorize them by the level of severity. This is needed, so you state the incident category in future reports.
Create a response plan
To prepare for potential issues and threats, it is important to have an actionable plan ready at hand - and that’s what you will need to do. Such a plan usually states what steps are to be taken in case of an incident, who is responsible for what, and what methods will help to recover. Thus, if anything happens, you and everyone in your organization will know how to act and what to do to mitigate the impact of an incident as quickly as possible.
Select and implement a suitable framework
The point above brings us to the next step - the selection and implementation of an incident response framework. This framework outlines what has to be done and provides a structure for organizations to follow. If we compare the two together, a framework is more specific and suggests elements to be included in a plan, while a plan also includes the company’s mission, people, processes, and similar elements.
Getting back to the response framework, the good news is that you won’t have to create one from scratch - there are several available frameworks to choose from. The most popular are by:
- NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology);
- ISO (International Organization for Standardization);
- ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association);
- SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, and Security).
You can select a suitable framework based on which approach works best for your organization - for more information, check the official websites of the above listed organizations.
Build an incident response team
To timely react to an incident and handle it professionally, you will need a response team, where every person is assigned a specific role. The team may feature both internal and external members, and everyone should understand what their responsibilities are.
Since every business is unique, you will build your response team depending on the skill sets that incident resolutions and the nature of your company will require. This is where incident definition and categorization helps a lot: by analyzing them, you will get a clear view of who will be the best fit for a specific task.
Create documentation and update it regularly
Your employees should always be able to address a standardized internal knowledge base in order to know how to react to an issue and what factors may cause it. Hence, you will need to create corresponding documentation and playbooks and update them regularly, so everyone has immediate access to the needed information.
A tip: to ensure that your articles and documents are actually helpful, you can conduct employee surveys to learn whether they find the provided documentation useful and how to improve incident management process.
Provide sufficient training
In relation to the topic above, it’s not enough to just give out guides and playbooks - you will also need to regularly perform employee training to close the existing security gaps and allow them to independently resolve potential issues professionally.
In addition to cybersecurity training (i.e., response to phishing attacks), you might also want to consider professional certifications within the field of your interest. In this way, your employees will not only improve their technical skills but will also become more confident in their problem-solving abilities.
Review your existing process on a regular basis
Among other incident response best practices, evaluation is an important one. If an issue has not happened yet, it doesn’t mean you should forget about audits of your processes. Regular evaluation of your organization and its workflows will allow you to timely implement any needed updates and respond to any internal or external changes.
Use specialized tools
Since the reporting process alongside is quite complex, many businesses use specialized tools for automation and easier management of processes. Examples include the automatic assignment of a ticket to a responsible person or automatic notification in case of an incident.
The deployed tools normally differ in their purpose and may include:
- Tools for vulnerability assessment and management
- SIEM (security information and event management) systems
- Security orchestration
- Threat hunting and user behavior analysis
- Attack detection
We’ve already touched the topic of good communication briefly, but let’s get back to it in more detail. When an incident happens, all communication lines should be open, so everyone can immediately get in touch and pass the information. It’s also important to select the most suitable communication channels (email, messenger, etc.) so all involved parties can effectively and securely share information.
Though the main goal of incident management is to manage an issue that takes place, it is important to be proactive instead of reactive. This means, you need to constantly monitor your processes for any vulnerabilities and threats and implement preventative measures before anything happens. You can even perform test runs to see how well your team responses to a threat and what can be improved.
Incident reporting and management are crucial for any company that cares about the security of its clients, employees, and the data. And while it may take quite a while to establish all needed incident management best practices, your efforts will 100% pay off in the long run.
A bonus checklist from SoftTeco, taken from our internal incident reporting policies:
- It is critical that an employee always knows whom to address in case of an incident;
- It is recommended to create and constantly update the matrix of potential risks;
- It is highly important to perform employee trainings during which a company models a potential incident and employees (and all involved individuals) work over their actions.
Also, don’t forget that there is always an option of outsourcing incident management to a reliable vendor who is experienced in handling external and internal threats and can provide high-quality incident management services. Being a well-recognized IT company, SoftTeco serves as a reliable partner to enterprises across various domains, bringing security and transparency to every client that we work with.
Sergey is an enthusiastic QA Engineer with a serious professional background. He is well versed in all existing testing methodologies and operating platforms. Since 2014, Sergey has been leading the SoftTeco’s QA department.View all articles by this author.
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