Preparing for Battle: Building an Effective Incident Response

Twenty years ago cyber security breaches might have been something that happened if you were underprepared or to the rare big-name corporation. That’s not the case anymore. Our world is more dependent on digital systems and data than ever before. From the financial sector to healthcare, education, government, and virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives, a large portion of human activities now exist within the realm of the digital. However, this unrelenting digitization has also heightened our vulnerability to cyber threats.

Essentially every industry and organization is now susceptible to cyber attacks. These cyber attacks are also increasing in strength, potency, and damage. As the sophistication and frequency of these cyber attacks continue to surge, it becomes imperative for organizations and individuals alike to ensure they are not just prepared to defend, but to respond effectively when breaches inevitably occur.

A significant aspect of preparing an organization to withstand cyber attacks is incident response—a systematic approach to managing and mitigating the impact of security breaches. This article will delve into the concept, the importance of incident response, and stages of incident response in cyber security.

What Is Incident Response?

Incident response is a methodical process designed to manage and mitigate the impact of a data breach or cyberattack. It can be considered an organization’s equivalent of an emergency service, poised and ready to address the unforeseen yet inevitable situations that arise from cyber threats. The process of an incident response entails identifying, analyzing, and swiftly responding to these threats to minimize damage, and expedite recovery time. The goal is to respond quickly and keep the damage low.

The incident response process is not just reactive or responding to something that’s already happened. Instead, an incident response is a strategy that’s planned in advance and involves proactive preparation, efficient threat detection, effective containment, comprehensive eradication, recovery, and thoughtful reflection. Think of a fire drill. Those involve pre-planned strategies where everyone in the building can practice responding to a crisis. Should a crisis happen, they’re far more prepared. That’s what an incident response is.

But what is an incident in this situation? An “incident” in this context refers to any event that threatens the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an organization’s information assets. An incident could range from a full-scale, targeted cyberattack orchestrated by sophisticated hackers to a seemingly innocuous phishing email that unintentionally gets clicked by an employee. Whether large or small, incidents are anything that could lead to a breach or lost data. Incident responses prepare for both.

What Is an Incident Response Plan?

The Incident Response Plan (IRP) is a crucial part of an incident response strategy. An Incident Response Plan is a written document that outlines a clear, step-by-step process to be executed when an incident occurs. The IRP serves as a roadmap, guiding organizations from the initial stages of identifying and verifying an incident, through containment and eradication, and finally to recovery and post-incident review. Think of it as the pre-planned document outlining the “fire drill” procedures.

To get the most out of an IRP, it’s important to the roles and responsibilities assigned to the incident response team, employees, and leaders. Specific individuals or teams should be designated to manage the overall incident response initiative and perform the various actions specified in the plan. This clarity in role allocation ensures that there’s no confusion or delay during a high-pressure cyber incident.

How to Create an Incident Response Plan

An Incident Response Plan is the written document outlining all of the needed actions and responsibilities for an incident. To create an effective IRP, cyber security professionals need to understand the six steps of effective incident response. Read on to learn about each of these six steps of an effective incident response as a way to learn how to create an effective Incident Response plan.


Preparation is the foundational step in building an Incident Response Plan (IRP). In fact, it’s probably the most important step. It involves assessing potential risks, defining what constitutes an incident, creating response procedures, and training the team to respond effectively.

In the context of an IRP, the preparation stage is when cyber experts will take the time to draft an effective IRP. This step is where they have the opportunity to thoroughly prepare the organization to respond to a security incident. Preparation also allows for the establishment of an incident response team, investment in appropriate technology to aid in detection and analysis, and creating detailed documentation to guide response actions. Regular training and exercises are also essential to ensure that the team is ready and able to handle real-life incidents.


The Identification phase is when the security team detects and identifies a threat. The goal is to identify and begin response as quickly as possible, so most IRP identification strategies will involve ways to respond quickly. A security team may use monitoring tools, logs, error messages, and intrusion alerts to successfully identify an attack.

In an IRP, identification acts as the trigger for all subsequent actions. Quick and accurate identification of an incident not only limits the damage but also aids in understanding the nature of the attack. The team will likely outline every tool and strategy they have to respond to an incident and to detect the early signs of a breach.


Once an incident has been identified, the next step is containment—where damage is contained and future damage is prevented. This might involve isolating affected systems or taking them offline. Certain portions of the network might be cut off to contain a breach, or a system back-up might be used.

When creating an IRP, it’s important to include containment strategies that will help stop the spread and mitigate the damage. An effective containment strategy should balance the need to halt the breach with the necessity to keep business operations running smoothly.


Following containment, the focus shifts to eradication and eliminating the threat. This may involve removing malware, updating software, changing passwords, or even rebuilding systems. The goal is to get rid of breach while minimizing data loss.

In the incident response plan, planning for eradication is important to minimize damage and return to normal operations. It’s also the foundation of the recovery phase. In the IRP, this section would focus on what strategies and tools are available to eradicate an incident from the system.


Once a threat is eradicated, it’s time to move into the recovery phase. Recovery involves restoring affected systems and bringing them back online, while making sure they’re not compromised. It’s crucial to monitor systems during this period to ensure no remnants of the threat remain and to confirm that systems are working as expected.

Within the IRP, recovery bridges the gap between an incident and business-as-usual. Successful recovery is measured not just by how quickly services can be restored but also by how securely they operate post-incident. In this section of an IRP, it’s important to outline what strategies the team will have to quickly move systems entirely online once more.

Post-Incident Analysis

The final step is the post-incident analysis. This involves reviewing the incident, the effectiveness of the response, and identifying areas for improvement. The goal is to learn from each incident to strengthen your response for future incidents. No incident response is complete without re-evaluating how to respond in the future.

In the IRP itself, this is where the organization adjusts the existing IRP. Did each stage of the response flow effectively? How can it be improved to prevent similar incidents or to ensure faster eradication? By learning from every incident, organizations can become more adept at preventing, identifying, and responding to future threats.

Why an Incident Response Plan Matters

Cyber threats are not just a possibility but an inevitability. They’ll occur at some point; it’s only a question of when. No organization is immune to the risk of a cyber attack, regardless of its size or the industry it operates in. Given this reality, having a well-defined Incident Response Plan (IRP) is no longer a luxury but a critical necessity.

Without an IRP, organizations may respond slowly or inadequately to an incident, allowing the threat to escalate and potentially cause more harm. Recall the fire drill example. If a fire happened without a drill, it could cause chaos and lead to negative results. With a drill, the disaster still happens, but the response is quick and effective.

Here are other reasons why an Incident Response Plan matters:

Business Continuity

When an incident occurs, the primary objective is to minimize disruption to business operations. An effective IRP ensures that the impact on business continuity is as limited as possible. It does so by helping the team react quickly and contain the threat, so the organization can return to normal operations and maintain business continuity.

Risk Management

IRPs are a critical component of risk management strategies. They help organizations anticipate potential threats, understand their impact, and prepare adequate responses. This forward-thinking approach to risk management increases an organization’s resilience and reduces the potential fallout from a cyber attack.

Legal Compliance and Reputation Management

In many industries, especially those that handle sensitive data such as healthcare and finance, there are stringent regulations concerning data breaches. Having an IRP can help organizations meet these legal obligations. In addition, an effective response to a cyber incident can help maintain trust and protect the organization’s reputation. Reputations can be damaged in a data breach, and it’s hard to recover. Instead, it’s better to prepare and react quickly.

Cost Management

The financial repercussions of a cyber attack can be staggering, encompassing not just the immediate remediation costs but also longer-term impacts such as lost business and potential lawsuits. An IRP helps to mitigate these costs by ensuring a rapid and coordinated response, limiting the extent of the damage. In addition, IRPs help with business continuity, which reduces financial losses that come from downtime.

Learning and Improvement

Finally, an IRP promotes a culture of continuous learning and improvement. The post-incident analysis phase of the IRP allows organizations to learn from each incident, adapting their strategies to improve future responses and strengthen their overall cybersecurity posture.

Incident Response with Ontinue

Managing incident responses and an Incident Response Plan requires time, effort, and resources. To get the most out of an incident response plan, it’s important to partner with an effective cyber security team and use the right tools to protect your organization. Ontinue can provide that. Ontinue and Antigen have partnered together to offer incident response (IR).

When your organization relies on Ontinue, you have the tools and the team of experts you need to successfully respond. If an incident occurs, the expert consultants at Antigen can investigate the source and impact of the compromise, giving you guidance on how to recover the lost data and assets. Ontinue offers a complete in-depth solution to protect your organization.

Learn more about incident response from Ontinue.