Why You Need Incident Response as Part of Your Cybersecurity Strategy

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With cyber attack frequency hitting new highs, the continued evolution of threat actor tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), and the rapid digitization of organizations across industries, it’s become common to say that it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll experience a cyber incident.

The cybersecurity landscape is evolving as well, and the latest iteration includes a focus on incident response (IR), which helps organizations prepare for and properly, swiftly act when an incident occurs.

Focused on isolation, minimization, cost reduction, and business restoration, incident response is a major tool in cyber defenders’ toolkits, and an essential part of any robust cybersecurity architecture. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, organizations save 1.49 million (USD) by having high levels of IR planning and testing, compared to organizations with low levels. Considering that, according to the same report, the biggest cost amplifiers include now-common IT environment attributes such as cloud migration, system complexity, remote workforce, and lack of security skills, having IR can offset costs (as well as operational downtime and breach impact) of an incident.

For those reasons and more, it’s important to understand what IR is, how it functions, and the role it can play in an organization’s broader security strategy.

What is Incident Response?

Cybersecurity incident response is the processes and tools used to identify, contain, and remediate a cyber incident within an organization’s environment.

IR includes three main components:

  1. Securing an environment by eliminating the threat actor’s access
  2. Analyzing the cause and extent of the threat actor’s activities while inside the network
  3. Resorting the network and wider organization to pre-incident condition

IR is commonly needed in instances of significant data breach, business email compromise (BEC) attacks, ransomware encryption events, active threat actors in the environment, compromised domain controllers, and active malware where the root cause can’t be found.

The goal of IR is to both prevent incidents from occurring or becoming data breaches and minimizing the impact an incident has on an organization. There are multiple components that make up IR, including IR planning, digital forensics, ransom or threat actor negotiation, remediation and restoration, and preventative tooling and solutions such as managed detection and response (MDR).

What is Incident Response?

Proactive vs. Reactive IR

It’s important to look at both sides of IR:the part that occurs before an attack, or proactive IR, and what occurs after the attack has been identified, or reactive IR.

  • Proactive IR works to prevent and minimize incidents and harden the security environment before an incident occurs. Proactive IR can involve technology, processes like vulnerability management, and tactics like IR planning or obtaining cyber insurance.
  • Reactive IR works to remediate an incident and restore operations after an incident has occurred. Reactive IR can include network and endpoint isolation measures, threat actor containment and removal, digital forensics, and the updating of IR plans and security measures post-incident.

These two components of IR often work in a cycle, with one informing the other to continually improve and fine-tune an organization’s security posture in response to current and future threats.

What Is Incident Response Planning?

Often, when referring to incident response, one is referring to incident response planning, which is a component of proactive IR and guides an organization’s incident response actions during a cyber attack.

Incident response planning includes:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the internal security team
  • The tools and technologies that both exist or are planned to be installed
  • Risk transfer measures in place such as an IR retainer or cyber insurance
  • Business continuity plans in the case of operational downtime
  • Methodology that lays out what steps will be taken if a cyber attack occurs
  • Communications plans
  • Documentation instructions

IR planning can also include practical elements such as tabletop exercises and penetration testing. It’s important to note that, from a service standpoint, that IR planning is not the same offering as IR, so organizations should be cognizant of their specific needs when looking at a third-party provider.

Cyber insurance is another service that can fall under the spectrum of IR planning, as cyber insurance coverage enables organizations to transfer a portion of the cost of recovering from cyber incidents onto their insurance provider. Insurance also works to reduce overall cyber liability. Having an IR plan can help with cyber insurance applications and renewals. According to a survey conducted by Arctic Wolf and Cyber Risk Alliance, IR planning and other security controls like MDR or security awareness training can reduce insurance premiums by up to 25%. When an incident occurs, an organization’s cyber insurance provider will refer you to an IR partner, but they may also demand you work with someone who is on their panel, to ensure you’re working with a high-quality firm.

The Role of Incident Response Retainers in Cybersecurity

Another IR-adjacent solution on the marketplace is the IR retainer. This external service provides an organization with pre-paid hours and guaranteed services in case of an incident. IR retainers contain a number of advantages, primarily being able to prepay for, and have access to, otherwise unattainable cybersecurity expertise. However, every retainer offering is different, and factors like cost, services, SLAs, and assistance can vary depending on the provider.

According to the same survey by Arctic Wolf, having an IR retainer can reduce insurance premiums by 19%.

What Is the Incident Response Lifecycle?

The incident response lifecycle, also called the phases of incident response, includes the common proactive and reactive steps an organization takes during their response to a cyber attack or data breach.

The IR lifecycle includes six stages:

  1. Preparation. This would include proactive IR steps such as creating an IR plan or obtaining cyber insurance. Preparation should be continuous within an organization’s security procedures.
  2. Detection and Analysis. This also happens continuously, and involves the internal security team monitoring the environment, detection anomalies, and analysis of the anomalous behavior. This phase is where a solution like MDR becomes critical, as it provides 24×7 monitoring and advanced threat detection, and real-time response.
  3. Containment. This is when the incident response takes steps to stop threat actor behavior and isolate the attack. There is both short-term and long-term containment. Short-term refers to processes such as endpoint isolation, whereas long-term containment refers to increasing security measures on unaffected devices.
  4. Remediation and Eradication. After a threat has been contained, the IR team will move on to make sure any threat components — such as malware — have been eradicated and affected systems are remediated.
  5. Recovery. This is the process of restoring the organization to its pre-incident state so operations can resume as normal.
  6. Post-Incident Review and Future Planning. This is where the lifecycle moves back to stage one, as the affected organization looks at what caused the incident to occur and what can be done to prevent a future incident.

Why Organizations Need Incident Response

Most organizations are still struggling with multiple components of cybersecurity. From implementing access controls to investing in monitoring and detection solutions to hardening their cloud and IoT security, many businesses are short on resources, expertise, and budget. This problem is compounded by threat actors that are consistently developing new techniques to better access organizations, steal funds, and potentially exfiltrate data. For example, BEC attacks rose by 29% YoY from 2021 to 2022. According to IBM, 51% of organizations plan to only increase their security measures after an incident, choosing to cross their fingers and hope nothing happens instead of actively preparing for the worst.

These signs point to the value of IR, which can help organizations both prevent and mitigate the damages of an incident, while helping organizations respond better, recover faster, and prevent future attacks.

Arctic Wolf® Incident Response is a trusted leader in IR, valued for breadth of IR capabilities, technical depth of incident investigators, and exceptional service provided throughout IR engagements. Arctic Wolf IR offers a faster response, complete remediation, and quicker restoration by making sure every element of the response is working in parallel, with each informing the other. It is also on 30 insurance panels, and over the past 12 months, Arctic Wolf has helped customers reduce their ransom demands by an average of 92%. In addition, Arctic Wolf offers the Arctic Wolf® Incident Response Jumpstart Retainer (IRJS), which includes a 1-hour SLA, preferred pricing, a complimentary scoping call, and IR plan assistance, review, and secure storage.

Learn more about Arctic Wolf’s innovative approach to IR.

Explore how Arctic Wolf’s technologies and security experts work together to stop incidents before they become breaches.

And view highlights from our survey of over 500 IT and security leaders in North America with the Arctic Wolf 2023 Cyber Insurance Outlook Report.

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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