Incident response testing is critical to bolstering an organization’s cyberdefenses against potential threats. By implementing incident response plan testing, you can be better prepared to handle various types of threats, secure sensitive data, and minimize disruptions to business continuity. Read on to learn more about incident response testing and exercises.
How to Maximize Security ROI with Incident Response Testing
The robustness of an incident response program depends on the thorough optimization of incident response testing plans and exercises based on your security needs.
To help you maximize incident response testing ROI, this blog will cover:
- An overview of the phases of incident response
- How to optimize incident response plan testing to your needs
- Best practices for incident response testing and exercises
Regardless of industry, incident response testing and exercises will work best when partnering with an incident management specialist, who will guide you on optimization and best practices.
The Phases of Incident Response
Due to the unpredictability of security threats, incident response is a critical component of any organization’s cybersecurity program. An optimized and well-managed incident response program requires frequent incident response testing and exercises to validate the effectiveness of incident response plans. A typical incident response program comprises six to seven phases aimed at streamlining incident management.
Phase #1 – Preparation and Planning
When building out an incident response program, planning and preparation are critical to maximizing the effectiveness of overall incident management.
The preparation and planning phase of incident response focuses on:
- Assigning incident response roles and responsibilities to designated personnel
- Creating processes for incident management with a clear chain-of-command
- Designing an escalation plan for high-risk, high-priority incidents
- Identifying the most critical assets in your IT infrastructure
Investing adequate resources into incident response planning and preparation will help streamline the subsequent phases. Incident response testing will help optimize the activities involved in incident planning, preparation, and overall management.
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Phase #2 – Threat Detection
The next phase of incident response involves identifying and detecting potential cybersecurity threats. Here, you can develop processes to identify and successfully detect the unique threats faced by your organization.
For optimized incident response effectiveness, the threat detection phase requires a system for classifying detected threats based on:
- Risk level (e.g., low, medium, or high-risk threats)
- Asset at risk (e.g., networks, applications, data)
- Type of threat (e.g., social engineering attack)
- Threat point of origin (e.g., internal or external)
Incident response testing will help ensure that threat detection tools and processes are working effectively to detect and classify threat risks.
Phase #3 – Threat Containment
The third phase of incident response involves the containment of threats via quarantining them—typically with an antivirus tool—to mitigate the threat from potentially compromising your entire IT infrastructure. Two common methods for containing threats include the following:
- Isolation – The act of separating individual devices, systems, or instances of software and applications from others by means of firewalls, network segmentation, or other tools.
- Hard Drive Wiping – The act of removing some or all of the data, settings, and programs on an individual hard drive. This is typically done in one of two ways:
- Reimaging, or resetting a device to factory settings (retaining select software)
- Reformatting, or deleting all files and re-installing the operating system.
There are other methods to achieve containment; most use similar means to quarantine threats.
However, if a threat is too risky or sophisticated for an antivirus program to quarantine, it must be escalated to a designated IT security team to take appropriate mitigation measures.
It’s also critical to engage in thorough analysis during the containment phase.
Phase #4 – Threat Eradication
Most rudimentary threats are neutralized by antivirus or antimalware solutions. Following containment and analysis, it is critical to completely eradicate all threats that can compromise your cybersecurity. The eradication phase of incident response typically involves:
- Removing assets affected by threats
- Deploying patches to remediate vulnerabilities
- Moving uncompromised IT assets to different systems or environments
It is critical to eliminate sophisticated threats from affected assets immediately to minimize any unforeseen escalation of threats. Incident response testing will further optimize threat detection, analysis, and eradication.
Phase #5 – System Recovery
The recovery and restoration phase of incident response is aimed at bringing IT assets back to their original state without compromising the integrity of operations and business continuity.
System recovery will look different for each incident, depending on:
- Number of assets or systems affected
- Type of assets or systems affected
- Nature of security threats
As in the previous phases, incident response testing is essential to improving the effectiveness of system recovery and ensuring that your assets are back to full functionality in the shortest time possible.
Phase #6 – Testing and Follow-Up
The final phase of incident response involves ongoing testing of assets across your organization to ensure that the incident has been fully contained. It is critical to continuously test affected assets or systems to identify any potential post-incident anomalies.
The testing and follow-up phase can also be used to collect threat intelligence to guide future incident response testing and exercises.
With an understanding of the incident response phases, you can successfully optimize incident response plan testing to your specific security needs.
Optimized Incident Response Plan Testing – NIST Recommendations
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-61 “Computer Security Incident Handling Guide” provides a set of recommendations to help organizations optimize incident response plan testing efforts at each phase of incident response.
Broadly speaking, it is best to develop an incident response plan based on:
- Common security threats you anticipate (whether from internal or external threat intelligence)
- Existing security gaps and vulnerabilities
- Organization-specific security policies
The recommendations from the NIST incident response framework will help you develop a robust incident response plan tailored to your organization’s unique security needs.
Test Overall Incident Response Preparedness
The NIST SP 800-61 provides guidelines on how to best prepare for potential security incidents. Based on these guidelines, incident response plan testing should address:
- Communication – Testing of the processes that facilitate communication between incident handlers will ensure:
- Up-to-date contact information between internal and external stakeholders (e.g., law enforcement, third-party security providers)
- Working systems for incident escalations
- Industry-standard encryption of the communication devices
- Available facility for communication and incident management
- Analysis tools – Similarly, incident response testing should ensure that the tools used to conduct threat analysis are functioning optimally. The hardware and software used in the incident analysis phase include:
- Forensic workstations and backup devices
- Laptops for data analysis and report generation
- Printers for all documentation
- Removable storage media
- Analysis resources – There should also be resources available for all incident analysis processes. Incident response plan testing should ensure up-to-date:
- Documentation for all security protocols
- Network diagrams and critical asset inventory
- Cryptographic tools (e.g., hash algorithms)
Leveraging the NIST SP 800-61 recommendations to conduct incident response plan testing will prevent unforeseen delays in the remaining incident response phases.
Test Resilience Against Common Attack Vectors
Although it is difficult to pinpoint imminent threats, you can test the resilience of your incident response program against common attack vectors. Incident response testing and exercises should include scenarios to gauge the resilience of incident response programs to against:
- Web application threats, such as those launched from malicious websites or vulnerabilities in web-based applications
- Email threats—such as phishing—which exploits vulnerabilities in email security awareness
- Impersonation threats, including:
- Man in the middle attacks
- SQL injection
- Addition of rogue wireless access points
- Vulnerabilities in compliance with security policies
Working with an experienced incident management partner will help you identify common attack vectors that may be relevant to designing incident response testing exercises for your organization’s security.
Validation of Incident Analysis Tools and Processes
When it comes to incident analysis, the NIST SP 800-61 provides guidelines for streamlined incident response plan testing via:
- Network and system profiling – To effectively identify unusual activity and potential threats to your IT assets, you need to assess system activity and establish “normal” profiles for each asset. Conducting incident response testing and exercises to validate the functionality of profiling tools will increase the overall efficiency of incident response.
- Defining normal behaviors – Likewise, incident response handlers should define the normal state of all assets (e.g., networks, applications) to ease the identification of unusual patterns and potential threats. Testing the reliability of security alert systems will help validate your incident response program.
- Log retention – It is critical to establish a log retention policy to ensure coordinated retention of all the data collected during incidents. Testing organization-wide compliance to a log retention policy will help identify gaps in the documentation of security incidents.
- Correlation of events – Testing the systems used to correlate security events will also ensure that the correct information about incidents is being collected at the right time and stored in the appropriate locations.
- Developing a knowledge base – Incident handlers depend on an updated reference knowledgebase to streamline incident analysis. Testing the knowledge base in use will help minimize potential setbacks to incident analysis and improve the overall effectiveness of incident response plans.
- Synchronizing clocks – It is also important to test protocols like the Network Time Protocol (NTP), which is used for synchronizing clocks during incident management and correlating incident response events.
Given the breadth and complexity of incident management exercises, incident response plan testing should engage all relevant internal and external stakeholders to ensure a common understanding of incident response goals, strategies, and best practices.
Optimization of Incident Response Testing and Exercises
The strength of your incident response program depends on how well you can test its effectiveness. The incident response testing and exercises you implement in your incident response program can be optimized with the help of various tools and processes.
Updated Network Diagrams
A network diagram represents the flow of traffic into and out of your network and is critical to identifying access point vulnerabilities within your networks. For robust incident response testing, network diagrams must be updated to reflect current network environments.
Additionally, network diagrams should incorporate traffic from assets belonging to third-party vendors. Cybercriminals tend to exploit access points associated with third-party vendors as these access points tend to be monitored less frequently.
Incident response testing is also required for compliance with certain regulatory frameworks, such as the Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
PCI DSS Requirement 12 mandates organizations to have effective incident management controls in place to effectively identify and mitigate threats to cardholder data. The guidelines listed in PCI DSS Requirement 12 can also help optimize incident response testing and exercises to the standards required by the PCI Security Standards Council.
For more dynamic insights into how an incident could play out in real-time, organizations can utilize tabletop exercises to simulate attacks and gauge the response readiness of individual staff members and entire teams. Exercises may focus on different threat scenarios, such as:
- Malware threats, including multi-layered viruses and hacking attempts
- Cloud threats, including infringements on data privacy and integrity
- Network threats, including unauthorized entry into protected networks
These tests allow for flexible, scalable exercises. Individual components or entire tests can be run repeatedly as part of regular cybersecurity awareness training or as special, one-off events.
Once you have established an incident response program, penetration testing will help assess its effectiveness. Penetration testing is a practical way to test the resilience of your incident response program and can be tailored to developing appropriate incident response exercises.
Beyond that, adopting penetration testing methodologies for incident response testing will streamline the identification of security gaps and vulnerabilities.
RSI Security’s Incident Management Best Practices
RSI Security will integrate the following best practices into your incident response program:
- Incident lifecycle management – We help test and ensure you are using the right technology for threat detection, mitigation, and eradication.
- Standardization of processes – We will help streamline the incident management processes and responsibilities across all relevant stakeholders.
- Automation of processes – We help improve the speed at which threat incidents are escalated to the appropriate team to initiate incident response plans.
- Classification of processes – We also streamline the identification of assets and operations at-risk following a threat incident.
Implementing best practices for incident response testing will also provide assurance that your incident management capabilities are functioning at their best capacity.
Develop Tools for Incident Response Testing
Optimizing your in-house incident management capabilities starts with creating and implementing an incident response plan tailored to your specific security needs. With an established incident response plan, an incident management partner like RSI Security will help you develop tools and processes for incident response testing—maximizing your security ROI.
Contact RSI Security today to learn more and get started!