A cybersecurity incident response plan (IRP) is your organization’s best protection against the pervasive threat of a breach or attack. An IRP provides a roadmap for how your organization can secure and monitor its assets, engage in proactive planning and threat mitigation, and response during and after a cybersecurity incident. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) specifies that your cybersecurity IRP should be a living document that is continuously updated so it remains relevant and effective.
The challenge with an IRP is that it requires an investment of time and resources to maintain and update. Unfortunately, some organizations—and even some cybersecurity teams—don’t see the value in continuously updating their IRP. Consequently, the plan becomes outdated, and cybersecurity team members gradually stop using it as their core operating document. While it may seem easy to ignore an IRP when everything is going well, the time when an IRP truly proves its value to an organization is during a major cybersecurity incident. When time is of the essence and clear and consistent communication and record-keeping becomes instrumental, an organization that has not invested in updating its IRP will feel the consequences acutely. Let’s explore the five leading reasons it is absolutely essential to be maintaining an up-to-date cybersecurity IRP:
An IRP is custom-designed for your organization’s structure, processes, assets, and priorities. Thus, as your organization evolves, so must your IRP. Over time, systems and protocols change, and data integrity and confidentiality mandates evolve. Moreover, even if your organization remained completely static, you’d still need to evolve your IRP—because cybercriminals certainly will be evolving their plan of attack!
Other divisions of an organization, from HR to legal to regulatory compliance, have a responsibility to ensure that assets remain protected from breaches and attacks. They often must demonstrate in formal reports and audits that they are fully complying with rules and regulations and implementing best practices, especially the latest, most rigorous standards. Hence, to support them in this effort, it’s critical that you keep your cybersecurity IRP up to date. When crisis hits, decision-makers and managers in your organization will be counting on their cybersecurity team to have already taken all of the necessary precautions to minimize damage and contain threats.
A hallmark of an IRP is a commitment to continuous process improvement. In practice, what this means is that a cybersecurity team should be routinely test-driving and refining its protocols, as well as conducting frequent, thorough assessments of its systems and tools. If you’re going to invest all of this energy into process improvement (and you absolutely should!), you logically need to update your IRP regularly to keep up it up to date and in sync with whatever changes may stem from your ongoing process improvement efforts.
In the event of a cyberattack, your legal counsel is going to come to you and ask for as much intelligence as you can provide on what transpired. Likewise, law enforcement may come to you with specific requests for information and data. The last thing you want is for your data and records to be out of date or not maintained to current best-practices standards. Keeping your cybersecurity IRP up to date is an essential component of knowing that whatever data and records you’re maintaining are going to provide useful and relevant intelligence to legal counsel, law enforcement, and other authorities. Indeed, staying up to date on such issues could mean the difference between being able to successfully prosecute a cybercrime that your organization has become a victim of—or losing the case due to insufficient evidence.
If your organization experiences a cyber breach that compromises data integrity or customer confidentiality, you can almost guarantee that the organization will be held financially liable—and perhaps even criminally liable. At the very least, you’ll be interfacing with legal counsel and filing an insurance claim to cover your losses. In these scenarios, you need to be able to be able to demonstrate that you did everything you could to protect your assets and to contain damage. Insurance adjusters, forensic investigators, legal counsel, and judges and juries will all be looking for evidence that you were following best practices and keeping your IRP up to date. If they decide the organization wasn’t doing everything it could to prevent the breach, you could legally and/or financially liable—and either way, you’d be taking a potentially insurmountable hit to your reputation and public image.
Keeping a cybersecurity IRP up to date requires a commitment of time and resources, but it is well worth the investment. With a continuously updated IRP, you can count on being able to keep up with organizational changes and the strategies of cyber attackers, be more responsive to decision-makers who depend on this data, make the most of process improvement, collect useful and relevant intelligence for legal counsel and investigators, and defend your cybersecurity measures to an insurance adjuster or in court.
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