5 Stages of a Cyber Security Incident Response


Have you ever wondered what the 5 stages of cyber security incident response are and what they do exactly? If you have, then this will be the post for you.

It goes without saying that incident response is an important part of your cyber security. After all, it’s this process that identifies, contains, and eliminates cyberattacks, thus minimizing damage to your organization and shielding your company from future attacks of the same type.

In this blog we will be covering cyber security incident response in full, why you need to have incident response protocols in place, forming an incident response plan, and what we here at TLR are doing to empower you.

Like penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, incident response plays a significant part in your cyber security’s health. Which is what makes learning about the 5 stages, and knowing what incident response plan steps you take, so important.

Let’s start with a definition of incident response before we look at the 5 phases directly.

What is Cyber Security Incident Response?

The term ‘cyber security incident response’ is relatively simple to understand when you break it down word-by-word.

That being said, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Incident response is a process organizations use to deal with cyber security incidents, usually once they have identified a security breach. How big or how small that breach is can and will vary depending on a variety of factors, as you can imagine.

A response is triggered normally after something known as a ‘hunt exercise’ where a security attack or breach has been found. The response itself is thorough, and will outline, contain, and eliminate any attacks on your system; leaving nothing to chance.

In short, cyber security incident response is what keeps your online security one step ahead of those who wish to do your organization harm.

A security team working at their desks

5 Phases of Cyber Security Incident Response

There are a total of 5 stages of cyber security incident response, each very different when it comes to what part they play in your overall response to attacks.

We’re going to look at each in greater detail in just a moment, but here is a quick rundown of the 5 phases:

  1. Prepare
  2. Identify
  3. Contain & Eradicate
  4. Restore Services
  5. Learn

1. Prepare

In this initial phase, you review what security methods you currently have in place, measuring just how effective they are in light of a potential cyber attack.

This stage is where you need to refine any existing policies and procedures – or write new ones if you are lacking in certain areas. Running vulnerability tests are great at identifying these areas, in case you were wondering.

Policies are followed by everyone in your organization, so it’s important to get them right, not to mention, make sure that those responsible are aware of them. Of course, the security team is heavily involved, however, many organizations forget to include their legal team, insurance provider, upper management, and other “non-technical” roles in their preparation.

This can be a costly omission.

Understand that this stage of the process can be quite time consuming, as everything from logs to processes need to be documented.

What’s that saying?

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail?

Yeah, that applies to incident response too.

2. Identify

In the identify stage, you determine if there is a security breach, what it is, and where it is within your organization.

Important: Make sure that during this stage any and all evidence is collected and protected for further analysis. Those responding to the breach need to include all details, leaving no cyber stone unturned.

Doing so will help you A) in your understanding of what’s happened, and B) who is responsible for the attack.

Be careful though, you don’t want to focus on B) just yet. That’s an issue for the later stages. Many victims shift their attention to the “who”, before understanding the “what” leaving them open for longer which allows for more damage to be done.

Think of it this way, if you get shot, you wouldn’t look for who did it immediately, you’d wrap yourself up and get to the hospital ASAP.

The same applies to cyber security (minus the whole getting shot deal).

Typically, once an incident is confirmed, communication plans are also initiated. This involves informing security members, stakeholders, legal counsel, authorities, and users (eventually) of the incident and what the next steps are.

3. Contain & Eradicate

Once an incident is identified, containment methods are then determined and enacted. This phase is at its most effective when it runs as quickly as possible. The quicker it runs, the less damage it could cause.

Containment can be split into two sub-stages:

  1. Short-Term: Outstanding threats are isolated in place (i.e. taking an infected server offline after redirecting its traffic elsewhere).
  2. Long-Term: Additional access controls are applied to unaffected systems while clean versions are prepared for the next cyber security incident response phase.

Either during or after the containment stage, the threats to your system are completely eliminated. This phase will continue until all attacks are removed and the system is fully cleaned of malware.

Be Prepared: This phase may require taking systems offline so that assets can be replaced with clean versions. If you haven’t documented and communicated this in the preparation stage, you may face resistance during an incident.

An incident can get worse if taking systems offline has not been planned for, not communicated well, or completely overlooked as an option, generally.

Think about it, you’re essentially turning everything off to provide a fix. There’s a lot that could go wrong here if the right precautions aren’t taken.

4. Restore Services

In the fourth phase, the updated system is brought online. In an ideal world, systems can be restored without a complete loss of data, but this isn’t always the case. There are way too many variables for us to say this will or won’t happen.

The recovery phase also involves a monitoring period, to ensure that the hackers don’t return, and to keep a watchful eye on how the updated system is doing, generally.

Ideally the incident response has resolved everything, but this phase is important to guarantee success. It is realistic to be monitoring for months after an incident.

Monitoring doesn’t just entail reviewing network logs, your organization should consider Digital Risk Protection, which extends beyond the firewall.

5. Learn

The final cyber security incident response stage is one of reflection. Once the incident has been closed, an organization should have everything they need to discuss what happened, to identify skills and gaps; areas that need to be improved.

Try to be as honest as possible during this stage, and make decisions based on those findings. Talk about what went well and what didn’t, and decide on what the next steps are based on that information.

A man sitting in front of a computer screen with code on it

Why is Cyber Security Incident Response Important?

Any organization that has cyber security incident response protocols in place are almost always a step ahead; a step ahead of problems that could cause your organization some serious problems if left unattended.

Still wondering why it’s so important?

Here are the main reasons/benefits to having an incident response plan in place:

  • Repeatable processes
  • Exposes gaps in security
  • Documentation and accountability
  • Great for coordination
  • Fast and consistent
  • Ensures rational decision making

Repeatable Processes

You don’t create your fire drill when the building is engulfed in flames.

Organizations that don’t have an incident report plan in place can’t respond in a repeatable manner to all future incidents. This can eat into their time; time that could be spent focusing on regular day-to-day tasks.

Exposes Gaps in Security

Foresight gives organizations the ability to think and plug holes in their cyber security before hackers get the chance to do anything. And even if they do get in, you have protocols in place that can mitigate any issues and catch them.

Documentation and Accountability

These plans don’t just increase security, they decrease risk and contribute to the operational integrity of the business. A well put-together incident response plan with clear documentation will reduce an organization’s liability.

You can then show this document to any auditors, insurers, or authorities to provide a rundown of what will be done to mitigate a breach.

Great for Coordination

In large organizations, it can be tough for teams to keep everyone in the loop during a cyber attack. Having an incident response plan will ensure that everyone knows what to do, not to mention, who is responsible for what.

Fast and Consistent

Effective incident response is quick and can identify problems before they have a chance to develop and become an even bigger issue for an organization. Automating parts of the process will only help in its effectiveness, allowing you to:

  • Quickly receive alerts and identify incidents
  • Compile and centralize relevant data
  • Perform incident response tasks and processes

Ensure Rational Decision Making

It’s perfectly normal to be upset after identifying a breach. After all, your work has been attacked, it can feel like you’ve been attacked.

You may even feel that your job is on the line. In a situation like this, emotions can get the better of most people.

That being said, an incident is no place for emotions, you need rational, swift, and calculated decision making. “Sweat in peace, so you don’t bleed in war.”

A plan created outside of an incident allows for clear thoughts to prevail.

What Is an Incident Response Plan (IRP)?

An incident response plan (IRP) is a set of procedures that outline exactly how each of the 5 steps mentioned are approached. Inside this document should be guidelines for roles and responsibilities, plans for how the incident will be communicated, and standardized response strategies.

For your IRP to be effective, clear language needs to be used, complete with definitions of ambiguous terms that might otherwise confuse the reader. Alert, event, and incident appear to cause the most level of confusion, so allow us here at TLR to elaborate:

  • Alert: A notification triggered by an event
  • Event: A change in system settings, communication, or status
  • Incident: An event that puts your system at risk

A man sitting at a computer as the sun sets in the background

How TLR Approaches Cyber Security Incident Response

Not responding to cyber-related issues in a clear and structured manner can lead to problems later down the line. And it could be very easy for us to list off what might go wrong, but rather than do that, let’s talk about our solution.

We here at TLR have developed a very effective incident response program (complete with incident response plan steps) with software-enabled analysts that quickly identifies threats within an organization. Helping you to mitigate any threats and restore critical services a lot sooner!

When enhanced by our SETH tech, our incident response program has the power to automatically and quickly respond to alerted threats without any bias or emotion.

In other words, we help you AUTOMATICALLY contain threats that could evolve into major incidents without the appropriate safeguards in place.

Get in touch to learn how we can empower you to lead from the front and become cyber resilient.

What is Cyber Security Incident Response

Hopefully, the words ‘cyber security incident response’ no longer elicit a feeling of fear thanks to this post and what we’ve covered.

To recap, we’ve looked at what incident response is, why it’s important to have, what an incident response plan is, and how we here at TLR approach the 5 stages of incident response.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, we hope it’s that having cyber security incident response protocols in place are a must for any organization, no matter its size or location.

To learn more about what TLR Global can do for you in terms of incident response – and various other forms of cyber security (such as Cavalry) – simply click on the yellow button you see below. A member of the team will happily respond to any questions you may have.

Cyber Security Incident Response FAQs

What are the 5 incident response plan steps?

The 5 incident response plan steps consist of prepare, identify, contain and eradicate, restore services, and learn. Do keep in mind that this is but one IRP plan. There are others that consist of 6 plans or even 4.

Why is cyber security incident response important?

There are various benefits to having an incident report plan in place. But the main benefit comes down to how this process identifies, contains, and eliminates cyberattacks, which minimizes the damage caused to your organization, shielding your company from future attacks of the same type.

How do you set up an effective incident response plan?

An incident response plan is typically set up by the incident response team. This team is often referred to as the computer security incident response team, otherwise known as CSIRT. Another option would be to seek the help of us here at TLR who can handle this for you.

Become cyber resilient

Get in touch today to see how we can make you more cyber resilient. Empowering you to lead from the front.

Written by

Dave Roberts