Last year's number of publicly reported data breaches in the U.S. had already surpassed 2020's count by the end of September. With at least 1,000 breaches annually, are there still folks who think there's no chance they're getting hacked?
We said in a previous post that the optimism bias and overconfidence are tendencies that influence the mentality that an organization will not be subject to cyberattacks. We recommended everyone adopt a healthy level of skepticism. To sum up the idea, there's a saying you have probably heard time and again: "It's not a matter of if you get attacked, but when." And when it happens, you better be prepared.
Preparation often comes in the form of an incident response plan. It lays out how the organization expects to manage threatening events. As private businesses and some governmental entities in the U.S. are required by law to notify about security breaches, having a plan is a shared need. We will review some of the incident response plan essentials on this blog post.
Some essentials for your incident response plan
It has been suggested that one of the most crucial steps of incident response is handling the situation in the first hour following its discovery. Regardless of what you think would be your immediate response to a security incident, experts would agree that panic and anxiety are usual responses in the environment, which then becomes hectic. It appears that it doesn't even matter how prepared everyone is on your team; most people can't help these reactions. Granted that you probably won't be able to approach the incident with a cool head, the most helpful asset will be your incident response plan.
The first thing is to define a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT). As has been described in publications by NIST, these teams usually consist of security analysts. You will want to have the most capable people on it, who will then have to speculate on the causes of the incident. It has been recommended that, to respond efficiently during the first hour since discovery, they "assume the most likely cause and act accordingly."
The CSIRT's work can be facilitated if your organization has generated thorough threat models. These are the product of examining the entire attack surface and the possible attack vectors to establish the necessary security measures. Mind you, these models should be up to date with trends such as cloud security and remote working. (By the way, the latter had a substantial effect on last year's cost of data breaches, adding approximately $1M, as well as the time of their discovery, adding 58 days.)
Someone like a chief information security officer (CISO) would rely on those entrusted to carry out the response to validate the state of the environment and, very importantly, to assess the impact. The latter can be defined using a framework such as the NIST Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments. In this guide, an assessment scale suggests, for example, how a high impact equals the organization's incapability to fulfill its mission. In such a situation, assets may be severely damaged and even individuals could be harmed. As you might have guessed, this guide includes much more than attacks performed by malicious individuals, such as events involving technical malfunction, environmental disasters or legal compliance problems.
On another important note, part of containing a cybersecurity incident is to have an incident response communication plan to send appropriate notifications to management and critical third parties. It may contemplate media statement templates according to the severity of the impact, expected or already experienced. Templates save time and allow consistency. Your organization should have established channels and disclosure policies that permit the confidentiality that is required while handling communication of the incident. For example, the CSIRT may choose to prepare canned email messages to alert stakeholders (e.g., clients, users) and press release templates to inform the broader community. A strong communication plan can help reduce anxiety in the public and sustain public trust, ultimately limiting the reputational costs.
Another piece of advice that you may hear quite often is that an incident response plan should be tested. Broadly speaking, rehearsals may point to gaps in policy and technical implementations. Maybe the CSIRT can also find out that reporting chains were unclear, or there may be a clash between members due to uncertainty about who's got the last word. These can be corrected to enhance the plan.
Finally, your organization should train employees to detect strange events and identify tactics of social engineering in emails and websites. Indeed, these are among the suggestions sent out recently by the U.S. government in the light of a heightened possibility to suffer cyberattacks conducted by Russian threat actors.
A preventive approach to cybersecurity as a requirement
Up until this point, it should be crystal clear that an incident response plan is necessary for every organization. Now, we would like to raise the point of moving beyond a responsive mindset by adopting a preventive approach to cybersecurity. What we mean by this is simple: Stop waiting for a cyberattack to happen to finally identify and address the vulnerabilities in your system!
A constant, thorough understanding of your system's security status is more than a "nice" thing to have. It is actually something that should be in place, which involves implementing security testing from the early stages of the software development lifecycle and through its entirety.
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