Disruptive cybersecurity incidents become more and more commonplace each day. Even if nothing is directly hacked, these incidents can harm your systems and networks. Navigating cybersecurity incidents is a constant challenge — the best way to stay ahead of the game is with effective incident management.
This article will explore definitions, benefits, a 6-step process for incident management and much more — all so you can know good incident management when you see it, or improve incident management in your own organization. Let’s get started.
What is an incident?
Before diving into managing incidents, let’s get on the same page about what we consider an incident. NIST defines a cyber incident as:
"Actions taken through the use of an information system or network that result in an actual or potentially adverse effect on an information system, network, and/or the information residing therein."
Breaches are of course one type of incident. But it's important to remember that an incident doesn't mean a breach occurred — simply that some information is threatened. Here are a few examples of incidents in cybersecurity:
- Data breaches
- Reduced integrity of information systems
- Unauthorized access to information systems
- Unauthorized use of information systems or electronic communications networks
Types of incidents
Incidents are categorized into different severity levels based on their impact and urgency. Here's a general breakdown of 1-5 severity levels:
- A critical incident: affects users in production.
- A significant problem: affects limited users in production.
- An incident: causes errors, minor issues, or a heavy system load.
- A minor problem: affects the service but doesn't seriously impact users.
- A low-level deficiency: causes minor problems.
Defining incident management
With that out of the way, let’s define what exactly incident management is all about.
Incident management is the process of identifying, managing, recording, and analyzing security threats and incidents related to cybersecurity in the real world. Doing so minimizes the impact of incidents on business operations and prevents them in the future.
It’s the key to any successful business — a dedicated incident handling team ready to implement an effective response plan as soon they encounter any incident.
Incident management vs. problem management
Incident management and problem management are two processes within IT service management (ITSM) that focus on two aspects:
- Maintaining the existing IT services.
- Improving the quality of services and minimizing disruptions to the business.
But there's a difference between both. Incident management focuses on restoring services to normal after disruptions. And problem management identifies and eliminates the root causes of incidents to prevent their recurrence. These processes work together to enhance the reliability and stability of IT services and minimize their impact on the business.
Benefits of incident management
Incident management helps to identify, manage, record, and analyze security threats and incidents related to cybersecurity in the real world. Here are some benefits of incident management:
You can minimize the downtime associated with cyberattacks, data breaches, or system failures by quickly identifying and resolving incidents. This will help maintain service quality, increase productivity, and ensure a better end-user experience.
Improved customer trust and satisfaction
If your organization follows an effective management process, it'll help protect its reputation, reduce the adverse effects of cyber destruction, and prevent data leaks — offering better customer trust and satisfaction.
Increased operational resilience
Incident management also helps organizations become more resilient against future incidents by identifying vulnerabilities and implementing measures to prevent similar situations from arising again.
Strengthened overall security posture
You can also detect, analyze, and respond to security incidents in a coordinated manner. And it will help you strengthen the overall security posture of the organization.
Better end-to-end visibility
You will also gain end-to-end visibility into the incident lifecycle, from detection to resolution. This can help organizations identify areas for improvement and optimize their incident response processes.
Best tips for efficient incident management
Here are some tips and best practices to manage sudden incidents within your organization:
Establish a clear process that outlines the steps to be taken if an incident occurs. This process should include the following elements:
- Incident identification
- Resolution and closure
Define the roles and responsibilities of the incident management team, including the incident manager, responders, and other stakeholders. This will help ensure everyone knows what is expected of them during an incident.
Use automation tools to streamline the entire procedure. Automation will reduce response times, improve accuracy, and save resources for more critical tasks. Some organizations opt for a managed detection and response system in order to minimize response times. Regularly train team members on emergent threats and how to handle incidents effectively — by doing so, they can quickly identify gaps in the process and improve response times.
Continuously monitor and improve the incident management process by analyzing incident data, identifying trends, and implementing changes to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
The 6-step incident management process
Your organization can become more resilient against future incidents by implementing the right safety measures. Here's a 6-step process to approach incident management:
Step 1: Identify the incident
The first step is to detect the incident. In this, you've to identify abnormal or unexpected events that could disrupt normal operations within the organization. Your team can do this through various means, such as:
Step 2: Log the incident
Once your team has identified an incident, start documenting each detail. To create a detailed record of the incident, you should include the following:
- Its description
- The time it was detected
- Name of team members handling the incident
- Initial assessment of its impact and severity on the organization
This record is a starting point for tracking progress and helps communicate between the incident response team and stakeholders.
Step 3: Categorize the incident
After logging the incident, you must categorize it based on the predefined criteria. It'll help your team understand the nature of the incident, its potential impact on the business and the resources required for its resolution.
There are different categories of incidents, and the most common ones are:
- Hardware failures
- Software glitches
- Security breaches
Once you've categorized the incident, you will know how to allocate the appropriate teams and resources to address the incident.
Step 4: Prioritize the incident
Not all incidents have the same level of urgency or impact, so you should prioritize based on severity and potential consequences.
Prioritization ensures that the most critical incidents are addressed first—reducing the impact on business operations and minimizing downtime. It'll also guide your incident response team's actions.
Step 5: Respond to the incident
During this phase, you must develop and execute a well-defined plan to mitigate the incident's effects and restore normal operations. This can include:
- Isolating affected systems
- Investigating the root cause
- Implementing temporary or permanent fixes
- Communicating with stakeholders about the progress and resolution
Step 6: Closing the incident
After your team has addressed the incident and normal operations are restored, the incident is considered resolved, and the closure phase begins. This phase will involve the following activities :
- Documenting the actions taken during the incident response
- Verifying that the issue has been completely resolved
- Updating incident records with relevant information
- Evaluating the incident management process itself
- Identifying areas for improvement
- Capturing lessons learned for future incidents
Roles in incident management
There are several roles and responsibilities necessary for an effective incident response. And here are some of the most common roles involved:
The incident commander manages the incident response process. They coordinate and direct all facets of the incident response, including communication, resource allocation, and decision-making.
The incident responder responds to the incident and takes appropriate actions to contain and resolve it — this includes investigating the incident, restoring services, and implementing temporary fixes.
The IT operator monitors and maintains the IT infrastructure and systems. They identify and report incidents, perform routine maintenance, and troubleshoot issues.
The incident manager manages significant incidents that impact the organization negatively, this includes coordinating the incident response team, communicating with stakeholders, and ensuring that incidents are resolved quickly.
Incident analysts analyze incident data and identify trends and patterns. They determine the root cause of incidents, develops incident response plans, and recommends improvements to the incident management process.
Manage incidents to secure your operations
Managing incidents is important because it helps determine and deal with cybersecurity problems that affect your business operations. Your team has to find, handle, keep track of, and study security risks and incidents related to cybersecurity.
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