Incident management for high-velocity teams
A guide to incident response
In the midst of daily operations, an IT leader suddenly receives a barrage of alerts — a service outage threatens to disrupt their system. However the seasoned incident management team has faced similar challenges before and swiftly springs into action. By following a well-rehearsed plan and incident response best practices, they coordinate to mitigate the issue, limit damage, and restore operations, averting customer impact.
Incident response should not be reactionary but a well-defined series of practices and processes that you implement when unforeseen events occur. By understanding the structured incident response lifecycle, companies gain guidance through a strategic framework to swiftly identify, react to, and neutralize disruptions or security threats, ensuring a prompt return to normal operations.
This guide will cover the incident response lifecycle and its phases, the types of security incidents, and essential tools for effective incident management. Additionally, it will address key team members, potential challenges, and insights to streamline and fortify incident response strategies.
What is incident response?
Incident response refers to the strategic process companies, particularly IT and development teams, execute to swiftly address unplanned events or service interruptions. It aims to restore operational functionality and mitigate potential damages caused by cyber threats or breaches.
Cyber attacks or data breaches pose severe risks to businesses affecting customers, brand value, intellectual property, and resources. Incident response seeks to mitigate this harm and facilitate rapid recovery.
How does incident response work?
Incident response is a well-structured sequence of actions, starting with identifying a service outage and ending with restoring functionality.
The incident commander is responsible for incident response, coordinating and directing the response effort. A technical lead, often a senior technical responder, will analyze the issue, make decisions, and manage the technical team.
An incident commander may appoint multiple technical leads for diverse work streams and allocate separate internal and external managers for incident communication.
The following are the seven key stages of incident response:
- Detect the incident
Setting up team incident communication channels
- Assessing the impact and applying severity levels
- Communicate with customers
- Escalating the incident to the appropriate responders
- Delegating the incident response roles and responsibilities
- Resolve the incident
Types of security incidents
The National Institute of Standards and Technology describes eight types of security incidents potentially necessitating a security incident response:
- Unauthorized access attempts: Perpetrators or groups attempt to breach an organization's systems or data by using various methods such as hacking, brute force attacks, or social engineering.
Example: A hacker tries multiple password combinations to gain unauthorized entry into a company's database.
- Privilege escalation: Attackers take advantage of system vulnerabilities or stolen credentials to elevate their access rights.
Example: Exploiting a software bug to gain administrator-level privileges on a network.
- Insider threat: Current or former insiders misuse their authorized access to the organization's systems for malicious purposes, such as stealing sensitive data or disrupting operations.
Example: An employee with access to critical systems intentionally leaks sensitive customer information.
- Phishing: Deceptive emails or messages trick recipients into disclosing confidential information or downloading malware.
Example: Employees receive fake emails disguised as official communication, leading them to unknowingly reveal login credentials.
- Malware intrusion: Viruses or Trojan horses infiltrate systems, allowing malicious activities like data theft or encryption of files for ransom.
Example: Opening an email attachment that contains a virus, leading to the encryption of company files.
- Denial-of-service (DoS): A system or network is flooded with excessive traffic to disrupt legitimate users' access to resources or services.
Example: Overloading a website with a flood of automated requests, making it inaccessible to legitimate users.
- Man-in-the-middle (MitM): Attackers intercept and alter communications between two parties to steal data or inject malicious content.
Example: Intercepting unencrypted Wi-Fi signals to eavesdrop on data transmissions between a user and a website.
- Advanced persistent threat (APT): Bad actors conduct coordinated and stealthy attacks with long-term objectives to persistently breach systems, steal data, or maintain unauthorized access.
Example: Infiltrating a company's network with custom malware to continuously extract sensitive information over an extended period.
Incident response lifecycle
The incident response lifecycle is a vital framework for incident management. While each incident is unique, they are all learning opportunities for better handling future occurrences.
Companies should create an incident response playbook during the preparation phase and ensure key team members are familiar. Atlassian’s incident response best practices provide tips and best-in-class incident response processes.
The lifecycle comprises six sequential phases:
Preparation is the core of an incident response plan and determines a company’s responsiveness to an attack. A well-documented pre-incident process facilitates smooth navigation through intense, high-stress scenarios.
Any company will be more resilient with a robust incident response process based on the Atlassian Incident Handbook.
This phase involves detecting and verifying incidents through error messages, log files, and monitoring tools. Incidents might be identified through social media or customer support tickets, requiring the response team to manually record the incident in an incident-tracking tool.
Tools like Jira Service Management centralize all alerts and incoming signals from your monitoring, service desk, and logging applications, making it easy to categorize and prioritize issues.
Once you detect an incident, containment helps prevent further damage. During containment, the response team aims to minimize the scope and effects of an incident.
Following containment, the primary focus shifts to removing threats from the company’s network or system. This phase involves a meticulous cleansing of all systems, removing any lingering malicious content to minimize the risk of potential reinfection.
Companies start restoring normal operations by conducting a comprehensive investigation and successfully eliminating threats.
After eradicating the threats, the team focuses on restoring the affected systems to their pre-incident state. Data recovery and system restoration are vital for minimizing further losses and ensuring smooth operations.
Incident debriefings are crucial to refining incident response strategies. The team reviews documentation, evaluates performance, and implements change to enhance incident handling efficiency. Every incident is a learning opportunity for the incident response team.
Tools for effective incident response
Teams need specialized tools, such as security information & event management (SIEM) systems, intrusion detection systems (IDS), forensic tools, and communication platforms, for streamlined incident response processes.
Tools like Jira Service Management play a critical role in reducing resolution time and negative impacts. They automatically limit noise and surface the most crucial issues to the right team using powerful routing rules and multiple communication channels.
Efficient incident response with Jira Service Management
Jira Service Management simplifies incident response. It bridges the gap between development and operations, enhancing team collaboration, breaking down organizational silos, increasing visibility, and ensuring prompt issue resolution.
Jira Service Management, integrated with Jira Software, provides industry-leading ITSM software tailored to help IT support, operations, and business teams deliver exceptional service experiences to employees and customers. Jira Service Management’s automation templates automate repetitive tasks, helping scale IT service management.
Learn more about incident management in Jira Service Management.
Incident response: Frequently asked questions
Why is incident response important?
A well-structured incident response plan minimizes incident impacts, enabling businesses to act swiftly and efficiently against threats. It reduces recovery time, financial loss, and reputational damage.
Who should be on an incident response team?
The incident response team should be diverse and include various roles and responsibilities. The team should include the incident commander, technical leads, communications managers, customer support leads, subject matter experts, social media leads, and problem managers. Executives and leaders across multiple domains within the company should coordinate the team.
What are some challenges of incident response?
Incident response teams often face an array of challenges, from resource constraints to issues with context, prioritization, communication, collaboration, stakeholder visibility, and the occasional human error. Preparedness is crucial to anticipate and tackle these challenges effectively. For example, involving the legal team in the preparation stage can mitigate potential legal or regulatory hurdles.