As cyber attacks inflict increasing damage on organizations of all kinds across every sector of the economy, it has become critical for cybersecurity programs to evolve. Gone are the days of rudimentary intrusion detection systems and retroactive damage control following a security breach. To be truly effective in the 21st century, cybersecurity systems must be proactive about continuously monitoring potential threats, testing and fine-tuning response protocols, and learning h ow to coordinate and communicate before, during, and after a security breach.
The best-practices approach to achieving these goals is an incident response plan (IRP), a comprehensive plan that guides the work of cybersecurity teams in protecting against threats and mitigating damage. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a general blueprint to help organizations develop a cybersecurity IRP that meets NIST standards. NIST offers detailed advice, templates, and checklists to help guide an organization’s full response to security threats and breaches; it has become the standard for government agencies and the contractors that do business with them. Let’s explore the seven reasons you need to develop an NIST-compliant cybersecurity IRP:
A properly developed IRP will contain a series of protocols and checklists for managing containment, eradication, and recovery during any cybersecurity incident, as well as proactive updates and continuous process improvement. But all of this procedural guidance is only effective when it’s organized around clear performance objectives. Thus, you should develop a mission statement, strategies, and goals for your IRP. You also should develop the performance metrics that you’ll use to measure and evaluate how effectively the organization is able to carry out its duties.
Without structure, cybersecurity teams tend to develop their own methodologies and tracking systems for monitoring threats. These ad-hoc approaches tend to be incomplete and can create dangerous security gaps, especially as cybersecurity personnel are replaced over time. Thus, a NIST-compliant IRP follows methodical, clearly articulated steps that will provide consistency and complete documentation. The best way for cybersecurity teams to get better at their jobs is to continuously examine and reevaluate past performance.
One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make is to design a cybersecurity IRP so complex and immaterial that it’s not consistently operationalized. The best IRPs are embedded into the very fabric of the organization, so everyone who is touched by the IRP understands and is consistently contributing to its execution. NIST-compliant IRP documentation should be widely distributed and easily accessible, and training and outreach programs must be focused on allowing it to permeate fully into the organizational culture and across divisions and departments. Finally, it’s crucial that there are processes to ensure the IRP never becomes out of date or lacks relevance to any situation.
When a cyber threat or breach is detected, time is of the essence. That’s why your cybersecurity team needs an NIST-compliant IRP to gain a firm understanding of both its individual and its collective roles and responsibilities. Employees should know exactly which steps they are responsible for, how to communicate efficiently and effectively during security incidents, and when they need to contact someone above them to make a decision or oversee an action.
Many organizations deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of low-level security incidents every day. Thus, a NIST-compliant IRP will help you to rank and prioritize these risks, so your finite cybersecurity resources can be directed to protecting your most valuable assets and/or mitigating damage to them. This process starts with interviewing employees across the organization to compile a comprehensive inventory of assets, as well as all potential vulnerabilities and threats to those assets.
Some organizations view proactive monitoring and risk mitigation as non-essential “extras” that they don’t see the value in adequately funding and/or that they choose to prioritize lower than other projects. A NIST-compliant IRP provides a template that clarifies what staffing you’ll need, ensuring you assemble a cybersecurity team with broad, deep expertise in incident detection, static and dynamic analysis, forensics, threat intelligence, and breach management.
Cybersecurity touches every division and department of an organization, and a cybersecurity breach can touch thousands of customers, clients, and external partners. Thus, it’s important that during a security incident, your organization is prepared to respond in a unified fashion using a NIST-compliant IRP. All employees affected by a breach must receive consistent messages, and if external parties are affected, they expect you to be transparent and clear about what happened and what you are doing to resolve the incident. Finally, during a high-profile incident, the reputation of the organization could be at stake, meaning that public statements also must be clear, transparent, and consistent.
No one wants to believe their organization is susceptible to a crippling, financially devastating cyber attack. But all organizations, no matter how prepared they are, are susceptible. An IRP that follows NIST standards and can continuously evolve is the best protection against this constant threat. NIST-compliant IRPs are valuable because they set clear performance objectives, follow protocols methodically, can be consistently operationalized for real-world application, establish a clear chain of command, limit damage to assets, provide for adequate staffing levels, and ensure unified responses, both internally and externally.
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