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cybersecurity incident response program

Building a Cybersecurity Incident Response Program

VirtualArmour Team

February 25, 2019

A good cybersecurity plan is not optional, because in the modern world it is not a question of if you will be targeted by cybercriminals, but when.

A robust cybersecurity incident response program is an integral component of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Without a solid response plan in place, it can be challenging to respond to breaches or threats effectively and recover from any damage. However, a solid plan should not only be reactive: it needs to be proactive. A comprehensive plan should help you:

  • Understand what sort of threats you may encounter and help you prepare for them.
  • Detect and analyze threats.
  • Contain any breaches that occur.
  • Eradicate weaknesses in your cybersecurity protocols and infrastructure.
  • Recover from a breach.
  • Review your response’s effectiveness and improve it if necessary.

Crafting a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Incident Response Program

Building an incident response program

Laying the Groundwork

It is critical to prepare for potential cybersecurity incidents that your organization may encounter. Cybersecurity incidents tend to unfold quickly, so an ad hoc response or decision making process won’t be sufficient for safeguarding your organization’s digital assets. Make sure all crucial decisions are made ahead of time, and that all responsibilities are identified and assigned. You should also ensure that resources are allocated as soon as possible.

By being prepared, you will help ensure that there are no gaps in your procedure that could hinder your ability to respond to a cybersecurity incident effectively. A few things you should consider during the preparation phase include:

  • Communication: Make sure everyone knows who needs to be alerted if an incident occurs, and how to escalate an incident effectively. You should also ensure that there are protocols in place so that the lines of communication can stay open even if critical systems are compromised. You should also have a protocol in place for communicating relevant information to off-site employees as well as external partners and impacted clients.
  • Handling evidence: Make sure you have protocols in place to gather, track and store physical and digital evidence related to the breach. All of your employees should understand how to do this correctly so that no information is missed.
  • Allocating resources: Too often internal cybersecurity teams are tasked with developing an effective incident response program, but not given the resources, time, or employees necessary to complete their task. Ensuring your internal cybersecurity team has the people, resources, and time it needs to craft a comprehensive cybersecurity incident response program is crucial to safeguarding your company’s digital assets.
  • Gathering critical documents: Make sure that important documentation related to essential assets (such as network diagrams and current activity baselines) are available and readily accessible in case a cybersecurity incident occurs.
  • Conducting risk assessments: Rank your assets and systems based on how critical and valuable they are. This will help you prioritize safeguarding critical or valuable assets or systems during a breach. You should also conduct regular risk assessments so that you can document and address new vulnerabilities and external threats.
  • Training your employees: All employees need to know what to do if they encounter something suspicious such as a phishing email. Make sure it is clear who employees should report possible cybersecurity incidents to and how they should do so.
  • Training for cybersecurity incidents: Conducting pen (penetration) tests and running through tabletop scenarios are a great way to test your security defenses in a low-stakes environment. During a pen test, an authorized hacker tries to break into your system and documents any security flaws they discover during the process. This information is then given to you after the test so that you can improve your current cybersecurity practices and minimize the chances of a real cybersecurity incident occurring. Tabletop scenarios are similar to fire drills. You and your team are presented with a hypothetical cybersecurity threat and respond to that threat using your current protocols.

VirtualArmour will help you prepare for cybersecurity threats and craft a cybersecurity incident response program to meet your organization’s unique security needs. See our complete managed cybersecurity services.

Dealing With Cybersecurity Threats

Building an incident response program
At VirtualArmour all of our tailored Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs follow the same basic format: Hunt, Alert, Investigate, Remediate, and Repeat.

Hunt and Alert

You cannot respond to a threat unless you know it is there. You and your staff should actively hunt for security threats and review your protocols regularly. Internal monitoring of email addresses and security tools should alert you to any abnormal activities. If unusual activity is detected your organization should have a process in place to alert the appropriate internal parties and analyze the activity to determine if it is a threat. All responses to abnormal activities should be recorded.

If a potential threat is discovered during this phase, you should have protocols in place for triaging it. Determine how serious the potential threat is and whether or not a breach is imminent. This will allow you to appropriately allocate resources and personnel to deal with the potential threat.


If a cybersecurity incident occurs, your top priority should be to contain it before any significant damage can be done. Once the threat is contained, you can work to eradicate it so that the same threat cannot be used against you again and so that any unauthorized users involved in the event are locked out of your system.


Once the threat has been contained and eradicated, you will begin the recovery and remediation process. This should involve notifying any appropriate external entities (including customers and relevant government organizations) of the incident and any damage that was caused. You should also gather all of the evidence so that it can be reviewed.

You should perform a root cause analysis so that you can determine what the primordial problem is and determine how to remedy the situation effectively. This may involve replacing equipment, restoring systems from backups, closing vulnerabilities, and updating security controls such as changing passwords or installing software patches.

Review Response Effectiveness

Once the incident has been dealt with, and all appropriate external entities have been notified, it is time to review how effective your response was. You should gather all responders (both from your internal security team and other involved teams) to discuss how the incident was handled and how your organization could better hone its response. VirtualArmour will help you and your team assess how effectively you were able to respond to the cybersecurity threat and help you improve your response if necessary.

Cybersecurity incidents are regrettable, but they are even more regrettable if we don’t learn from them. Should your organization undergo a cybersecurity incident, it is imperative that you review the incident and learn from it.


Just because you have successfully identified and thwarted one cybersecurity threat does not mean that your organization’s digital assets are safe. You and your organization need to remain vigilant.
Crafting a comprehensive cybersecurity incident response program can be daunting, and may tax the resources of small or medium-sized businesses. If your organization does not have the people power or expertise to support an internal cybersecurity team you may want to consider a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP). A good MSSP can help you create an implement a tailored cybersecurity incident response program to meet your unique needs. They can also provide 24/7/365 threat monitoring, cybersecurity incident response training, and recovery assistance.

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