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What's the Most Important Part of An Incident Response Plan?

If you and your team are retooling your cyber incident response plan, you're not alone. A cyber attack or data breach can cripple your operations, cost you clients and revenue, and earn you regulatory penalties or sanctions. Even though many businesses don't survive an attack, just a couple of years ago, an astounding 77 percent of businesses either lacked a cybersecurity plan or did not have an adequate one. However, the sharp escalation in attacks throughout the pandemic, along with recent high-profile ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods, have forced businesses and organizations to put cybersecurity on the front burner.

Elements of a Strong Cyber Incident Response Plan

Unfortunately, every business will likely experience an attack at some point. To respond effectively, businesses must have a written cyber incident plan. But the plan you develop should not simply focus on what to do when your network has been penetrated. Your plan should position you to defend your business against all attempts, prevent hackers from accessing your network, and if they do, contain the threat and minimize the damage. Further, you should outline how you plan to record the incident, preserve evidence, and ensure regulatory and legal compliance.

Your cyber incident response plan must also incorporate business continuity planning, specifically, a backup, recovery, and testing protocols to ensure you have clean backups ready to recover if your system is compromised. Your backup and recovery protocols should also outline your policies for regularly testing those backups' validity and integrity and practicing restoring data and systems.

A solid plan will also encompass protocols to detect and classify incidents as potential threats proactively. Consider Next-gen antivirus (NGAV) software, Endpoint Detection and Response platforms (EDR), compromise assessments, and other measures to identify threats quickly to address them most effectively.

Your Greatest Cybersecurity Asset

But no matter how strong your firewalls and other technical measures are, your plan must be centered on your most important cybersecurity asset: your people.

Too often, business leaders assume employees will know what to do in a crisis when the truth is they often don't. And even if they do, their co-workers may have different ideas about the best way to proceed. You don't want your employees engaged in a debate about or making power plays around your response strategy while cybercriminals are taking over your network. Every second counts, so you need to give them a clear set of protocols to follow, along with guidelines for addressing uncommon situations.

Without clear protocols, some employees will proceed in separate directions while others will sit and wait for instructions. And when your systems are failing, employee anxiety may impede your employees' ability to think rationally and act quickly. But your employees must work in lockstep to address the incident to prevent an attack from becoming a catastrophe.

So, the focal point of your plan must be who is doing what when. Start with the short-term. If your systems are compromised due to a physical disaster, your immediate priority must be employee safety. Your cyber incident response plan should be incorporated into your broader emergency response plan, the latter of which should include your onsite emergency evacuation and other relevant procedures.

When employees are safe, or, in the case of a non-physical threat, business continuity becomes the priority. Outline who has decision-making authority, who is responsible for surveying and containing the damage, is responsible for data backup and recovery operations and providing regular updates to senior management.

You should also identify a lead in each affected department who can oversee business continuity efforts. For example, if a company's accounting systems are compromised, an accounting department point person should be coordinating with IT on system restoration efforts and organizing efforts to deal with customer and vendor issues.

Also, outline the roles other departments will play in cyber incident management. Your legal staff will need to address the regulatory and legal ramifications of any compromised data. Your communications department should be working with managers to make sure all of your stakeholders have the updates they need to respond effectively. And if news of your attack becomes public knowledge, your communications staff also must manage media inquiries and public relations. Make sure your plan identifies and empowers leads in those departments to coordinate and act as needed.

A good cyber incident response plan also includes post-incident assessment protocols. Evaluating vulnerabilities that the incident exposed and developing plans to remediate them is a crucial yet often overlooked part of cyber incident response plans.

Your Greatest Cybersecurity Vulnerability

Your employees are not only your greatest asset, but they're also your greatest potential liability.

Criminals often gain access to your network by tricking your employees into providing their access credentials or downloading malware or ransomware onto your network. Many of these efforts are quite sophisticated, with criminals creating fake emails from supervisors, fraudulent websites that seem official, and other intricate tactics. Employees are often unaware of how to recognize and address these efforts. In some cases, your employees invite these efforts by visiting dubious websites while using your devices connected to your network.

Positioning yourself to defend your business against all potential threats does not start and end with your IT department. Every employee must understand the cybersecurity threats that exist and fundamental best practices for defending your business against them. Regular employee cyberawareness training is a cornerstone of any effective response plan as it can significantly limit the magnitude of threats you encounter.

Establishing technical protocols and corporate policies that limit the risks that employees may pose to your system is also fundamental. Ensure that your employees understand that violating your cybersecurity policies comes with disciplinary consequences and do not hesitate to enforce them when necessary.

Developing an Effective Cyber Incident Response Plan

No matter your current level of cyber readiness, developing or updating your cyber incident response plan is vital to your business's continued operation. Rather than just listing your cybersecurity defenses, make sure that your plan details how your employees should respond with the cybersecurity tools you have available in the event of a crisis. Remember, ultimately, your response may be the difference between a minute or two of downtime or a business-ending disaster.

If you're unsure how to craft the right cyber incident response plan for your organization or have additional cybersecurity concerns, contact Velocity IT today. We've worked with small and medium-sized businesses throughout Dallas/Fort Worth to build the best cybersecurity and cyber incident response plans possible, and have extensive experience building plans that incorporate industry-specific regulatory requirements. And the best-in-class managed security services we offer will fortify your cyber defenses, detect threats, and respond rapidly and effectively. Contact us today for a free consultation and take the next step towards safeguarding your business.

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