Managing the Unthinkable: Phases of Cyber Crisis Response


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I have seen firsthand the devastating impact that a cyber attack can have on a company or organization. It’s a situation that no one wants to be in, yet unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more common. The reality is that no matter how well you’ve protected your data and systems, no organization is immune to cyber threats. So, what can you do when the unthinkable happens? How can you manage a cyber crisis? In this article, I’ll take you through the phases of cyber crisis response and share some insights on how to navigate this daunting situation. Read on to learn how you can be prepared for the worst, and turn a potential disaster into a manageable crisis.

What are the phases of cyber crisis management?

The phases of cyber crisis management are crucial to organizations in today’s digital age. The NIST incident response lifecycle provides a framework that helps businesses to prepare for potential cyber-attacks, respond to incidents promptly, and recover from any damages that may have occurred. Here are the four main phases of the NIST incident response lifecycle:

  • Preparation: This phase involves creating a comprehensive cybersecurity plan, establishing policies and procedures, and defining roles and responsibilities of team members. The goal is to be prepared and ready to respond to any cyber-attack that may come your way.
  • Identification and Analysis and Control: In this phase, you need to detect and assess the extent of the cyber-attack. This involves identifying the source of the attack, what systems or data are affected, and the level of damage done. Once the attack has been identified, you need to implement measures to control its spread and limit the damage.
  • Eradication and Recovery: The third phase involves removing the threat, cleaning up the affected systems, and restoring normal operations. This part of the process is critical because cyber-attacks can leave residual malware behind that can re-infect systems if not removed properly. Restoration activities may include data recovery, system reconfiguration, and patching vulnerabilities exploited by the attacker.
  • Post-Event Activity: After the crisis has been resolved, the response team should review the incident and document lessons learned. This phase is essential in identifying gaps in the cybersecurity plan and improving the planning process. The team should also update the cybersecurity plan and review any changes made to the infrastructure during the recovery phase. The goal is to ensure that the incident response plan is up-to-date and can withstand future attacks.
  • In conclusion, cyber crisis management is a complex and ongoing process. The NIST incident response lifecycle provides a structured approach to help organizations prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from cyber-attacks. By following the four phases outlined above, businesses can minimize the damage caused by cyber-attacks and get back to normal operations quickly.

    ???? Pro Tips:

    1. Preparation is key: Have a detailed plan in place before any cyber crisis strikes. This plan should include clear roles, responsibilities, and action steps that everyone in your organization needs to take.

    2. Rapid Response: In the initial phase of the cyber crisis, focus on determining the nature and scope of the intrusion. Gather information about what devices and systems have been compromised and isolate the affected areas to prevent further damage.

    3. Engage the right people: Bring together a cross-functional team comprising of key stakeholders and experts that can address the technical, legal, communication, and operational aspects of the crisis.

    4. Communication is critical: Develop a communication strategy that includes clear messaging and guidelines for both internal and external communications. Ensure that all communication is accurate, consistent, and timely.

    5. Post-crisis assessment: Conduct a comprehensive review of the incident to learn from it and put measures in place to prevent it from happening again. The assessment should focus on the effectiveness of the response strategies and identify areas that need improvement.

    Understanding the NIST incident response lifecycle

    In the current digital landscape, cyber threats are becoming more prevalent. To combat the potential negative effects of cyber attacks, it is essential to have a sound cyber crisis management plan in place. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has developed an incident response lifecycle as a framework for organizations to follow when dealing with cyber security incidences. This lifecycle breaks incident management into four main phases: Preparation, Identification and Analysis and Control, Eradication and Recovery, and Post-Event Activity.

    The Preparation phase involves strategies and protocols designed to prepare an organization to handle a cyber security incident. This phase includes activities such as identifying and prioritizing critical assets, defining roles and responsibilities of key personnel, preparing communication plans, and identifying and training an incident response team.

    The Identification and Analysis and Control phase is where the incident is detected and analyzed. The key objective here is to understand how the incident has occurred and what the impact and extent of the breach are. To effectively do this, it is important to have robust monitoring systems in place that can detect any suspicious activity. In this phase, the incident response team also takes steps to limit the extent of the breach and control the spread of any malware or other malicious elements.

    The Control phase involves minimizing damage and limiting the scope of the incident. This phase requires the incident response team to isolate the affected systems and perform any necessary clean-up activities. It is important that the team relies on approved procedures to minimize any adverse impact on the unaffected parts of systems or other systems. To further minimize damage, the organization may also need to liaise with external authorities such as regulators, law enforcement agencies, or consultants.

    Preparation phase: Strategies and protocols

    The preparation phase lays the foundation for successful incident management. Organizations must prepare extensively and train adequately in order to prevent any major mishaps when a cyber threat eventually presents itself. Here are a few activities that can take a CISO and his team through the preparation phase:

    • Create a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines procedures that are to be executed during an actual incident.
    • Identify critical data assets and classify them to determine the level of protection they require.
    • Define roles and responsibilities for all personnel involved, including executives, teams, and third-party service providers and consultants.
    • Develop internal and external communication plans to keep stakeholders informed and up-to-date about the ongoing incident, while ensuring that there is no leakage of sensitive information about the organization.
    • Create a dedicated incident response team with well-defined pre-requisites and offer frequent training to guarantee capabilities remain updated.

    Identification and Analysis phase: Detecting and assessing the threat

    Identifying the threat is critical to knowing how to proceed with the incident response procedure. An incident response team must therefore understand the threat and assess the extent of the damage caused and potential exposure. Here are some activities that can aid in the identification and analysis of cyber threats:

    • Deploy monitoring and intrusion detection systems to aid in the rapid detection and assessment of threats.
    • Identify the scope of the affected systems in order to prevent the spread of the cyber attack.
    • Isolate affected systems to forestall any further spread of malware or the breach of sensitive data.
    • Capture the original, volatile evidence before isolating the system to preserve data for analysis.
    • Assess the damage and potential loss to the organization and its stakeholders, and prioritize actions needed for containment and eradication.

    Control phase: Minimizing damage and limiting the scope of the incident

    The control phase involves limiting the scope of the attack, taking steps to prevent further damage to the organization and reducing the potential exposure of confidential information to external parties. The control phase can also involve working closely with law enforcement or other external parties that may be brought in to assist in the incident response efforts. Here are a few activities that can help minimize damage and bring things back under control:

    • Implement interim measures such as firewall rules and network segmentation to limit the spread of the cyber attack.
    • Begin recovery by restoring system backups and ensuring that all affected systems are fully patched with the latest updates.
    • Restore systems to full functionality through testing and verifying any remediation steps implemented.
    • Establish a communication plan for all stakeholders, such as informing investors and customer base.

    Eradication and Recovery phase: Eliminating the threat and restoring normal operations

    The eradication and recovery phase is a lengthy process that involves restoring the organization’s systems and resources to their original condition before the cyber attack. At this point, the response team has isolated and neutralized the threat, implemented new measures to minimize the risk of future threats and performed a full audit of all affected systems to ensure there are no lurking issues. Here are a few activities that are involved in the eradication and recovery phase:

    • Perform a full audit of all affected systems to ensure there are no lingering threats undiscovered which could lead to another cyber attack.
    • Make any necessary changes to incident response plans based on lessons learned from the incident.
    • Conduct thorough testing of all systems to ensure the vulnerability that led to the cyber attack has been addressed.
    • Restore systems and data from backups.
    • Reinstate diminished levels of service, without the potential to further compromise cybersecurity.

    Post-Event Activity phase: Evaluating and improving incident response procedures

    The post-event activity stage is a vital aspect of cyber crisis management as it enables organizations to review what worked well during the incident response, identify deficiencies, and improve the incident response plan. The organization needs to learn from the experience and continually update and improve their incident response procedures. Here are some activities that can assist in the post-event activity stage:

    • Perform a post-mortem analysis to identify issues that went wrong, good ideas that worked well, and lessons that can be learnt on how to improve.
    • Update the incident response plan based on shortcomings identified during the event.
    • Perform additional staff training to ensure a greater certainty that the response plan is understood and will be executed as required even during stressful situations.
    • Conduct regular security reviews and threat assessments to identify new threats and to continuously update cyber security protocols.

    In conclusion, having an NIST incident response lifecycle plan in place is an important aspect of modern-day cybersecurity management. An incident response plan is only as good as the planning and preparation put into its creation, the capability of the implementation team, and the ongoing updates that are necessitated. Therefore, it pays to be prepared.