Understanding Incident Response

Kate Watson

Marketing Assistant

Kate is a marketing assistant here at Pentest People, handling the business's social media and focusing on creating new content for the website and social channels.


Listen to our Incident Response experts discuss what Incident Response is and why businesses must invest in and understand it. Below is a quick overview of what they will be talking about. For a more in-depth Incident Response overview, visit our IR blog.

What is Incident Response?

Incident response is the process of responding to and managing a security incident. It includes steps such as identification, containment, eradication, and recovery. Incident response teams are typically composed of individuals with expertise in specific fields related to information technology and computer security.

Why is it Essential for Businesses?

Today’s businesses depend on the secure operation of their computer systems and networks. Any unauthorised access or malicious activities can significantly impact data loss or theft, downtime, and reputational damage. Investing in incident response allows organisations to quickly identify, contain, and remediate cyber incidents before they cause significant harm.

What Is an Incident Response Plan (IRP)?

An incident response plan (IRP) is a documented strategy that outlines the necessary steps to be taken during and after a cyber incident to effectively respond, contain, and recover from the incident. The purpose of an IRP is to provide a structured and organised approach to incident management, ensuring a timely and effective response to minimise the impact of the incident on the organisation.

Why is Incident Response Important?

Incident response plays a crucial role in today's digital landscape, whereby cybersecurity threats have become a constant concern for organisations worldwide. With the potential of cyberattacks resulting in loss of data, financial implications, reputational damage, and even legal consequences, the significance of having an effective incident response plan cannot be overstated. By promptly and effectively responding to security incidents, organisations can mitigate the impact of an attack, minimise downtime, preserve crucial information, and ensure business continuity. In this context, it is imperative to understand why incident response is so important and how it can help organisations safeguard their systems and data against the ever-evolving threat landscape.

What is the Goal of Incident Response?

The main goal of incident response is to effectively manage and mitigate the impact of cybersecurity attacks or data breaches on an organisation. Incident response refers to the process of identifying, investigating, and resolving security incidents promptly and efficiently. The goal is to limit the damage caused by the incident and ensure business continuity.

When a cybersecurity attack or data breach occurs, the potential consequences can be severe. They may include financial losses, reputational damage, legal repercussions, and the loss of sensitive data. Incident response aims to minimise these risks by taking immediate and appropriate actions.

The importance of addressing the goal of incident response cannot be overstated. Acting swiftly and effectively can help prevent further damage, mitigate ongoing risks, and minimise the overall impact on the organisation. By responding promptly, organisations can identify the root cause of the incident, contain the threat, remove any malicious activity from their systems, and restore normal operations as quickly as possible.

Incident Response Steps: 6 Phases of the Incident Response Lifecycle

The incident response lifecycle is a systematic approach used by organisations to detect, respond to, and recover from security incidents. It consists of six distinct phases, each with its own set of activities and objectives. By following these steps, organizations can effectively manage and mitigate the impact of security incidents, minimise downtime, and enhance their overall security posture. In this article, we will explore the six phases of the incident response lifecycle according to SANS, providing an overview of each phase and the key activities involved.


The preparation phase of an incident response plan involves several key steps to ensure an effective response to any potential incidents. Firstly, it is important to establish a clear incident response strategy. This strategy should outline the goals and objectives of the incident response plan, as well as the overall approach to addressing security incidents.

Documentation is another crucial aspect of the preparation phase. This involves creating and maintaining detailed documentation that outlines the procedures and processes to be followed during an incident. This documentation should include step-by-step instructions for handling different types of incidents, as well as contact information for key stakeholders and external parties.

Building a strong incident response team is essential. This team should consist of individuals with specific roles and responsibilities that align with the goals of the incident response plan. Assigning clear roles and responsibilities ensures that each team member understands their duties and contributes effectively to the response efforts.

Identification of Threats

In the incident response phase, identifying threats is crucial to effectively mitigate any potential damages and ensure the security of the system. This process relies on the use of tools and procedures that were determined during the preparation phase. These tools and procedures are designed to detect and identify suspicious activity that may indicate an ongoing attack.

The first step in identifying threats is to analyse the suspicious activity and determine the nature of the attack. This involves examining the behavior of the system, network traffic, and any associated logs and events. Various tools, such as intrusion detection systems and security information and event management (SIEM) systems, can help in this process by providing alerts and insights into potential threats.

Once the nature of the attack is determined, it is crucial to identify its source. This can be done by analyzing network logs, examining network traffic patterns, and conducting forensic analysis on any compromised systems. This step is essential not only for stopping the immediate attack but also for preventing future incidents by addressing any vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the system.

Containment of Threats

Containment of threats is a crucial step in minimising further damage and preventing incidents from recurring. There are several steps involved in the containment process, including short-term containment, system backup, long-term containment, and creating scope documentation.

Short-term containment is the first step in halting the spread of the threat. This involves isolating the affected systems or network segments to prevent further damage. By disconnecting compromised devices from the network, the threat is contained, reducing the risk of spreading to other systems.

After short-term containment, system backup is essential. Making a backup of critical data and systems is important to ensure data recovery and system restoration. Backups can help mitigate the impact of threats and provide a starting point for system reconfiguration and recovery.

Long-term containment focuses on permanently mitigating the threat and preventing it from recurring. This involves patching vulnerabilities, implementing stronger security measures, and conducting a thorough investigation to determine the root cause of the incident. By addressing the underlying issues, organisations can strengthen their defenses and prevent future attacks.

Elimination of Threats

In an Incident Response plan, the process of eliminating threats is a crucial step in restoring the security and stability of a system or network. This process involves various steps to remove the attackers, eliminate malware, and mitigate the impact of the incident.

The first step is to identify the source of the threat and the attackers who gained unauthorized access to the system or network. This may involve conducting a thorough investigation, analysing logs, and using digital forensics techniques to gather evidence and identify the attackers.

Once the attackers are identified, the next step is to eject them from the system or network. This can be accomplished by revoking their access credentials, blocking their IP addresses, or terminating their active sessions. Additionally, the organization may collaborate with relevant law enforcement agencies to take legal actions against the attackers if necessary.

Simultaneously, it is crucial to eliminate any malware or malicious code that the attackers may have injected into the system. This involves conducting comprehensive malware scans, removing or quarantining infected files, and applying patches or updates to vulnerable software or systems.

Recovery and Restoration

The Recovery and Restoration phase is an essential part of the incident response process. This phase focuses on bringing affected systems back into the production environment carefully and ensuring that they are fully operational after an incident has occurred. The following are the steps involved in this phase:

1. Assess the damage: Identify which systems have been compromised or affected by the incident. Determine the extent of the damage and prioritize the systems that need immediate attention.

2. Clean backups: Restore the affected systems using clean backups. It is crucial to use backups that were created before the incident occurred to ensure that any compromised files or malicious code is not reintroduced into the environment.

3. Rebuild systems: If necessary, rebuild compromised systems from scratch. This involves re-installing the operating system, applications, and configurations. It is essential to follow security best practices and ensure that the systems are hardened against future attacks.

4. Validate system integrity: Verify the integrity of the restored or rebuilt systems. Perform thorough testing to ensure that all functionality is working as expected and that there are no lingering issues from the incident.

5. Monitor network and endpoint systems: It is important to closely monitor the affected network and endpoint systems post-recovery. This helps in detecting any residual threats or indicators of compromise that may have been missed during the incident response process.

Feedback and Refinement

During the lessons learned phase, it is crucial to review and reflect upon the project or task that was completed. This phase allows the team to identify what went well, what didn't go as planned, and to make suggestions for future improvements.

The first step in the lessons learned phase is to gather feedback from all team members involved. This can be done through surveys, interviews, or group discussions. It is important to create a safe and open environment to encourage honest and constructive feedback.

Next, the team should review the feedback collected and identify the key themes or trends that emerged. This step helps to compile a comprehensive list of what went well and what didn't go well during the project.

Once the strengths and weaknesses have been identified, the team should brainstorm and suggest improvements for future projects. These suggestions can be in the form of process changes, communication strategies, or additional training.

Incident Response Frameworks

Incident Response Frameworks are essential tools for organizations to effectively respond to and mitigate cybersecurity incidents. These frameworks provide a structured and systematic approach in handling security incidents, allowing organizations to minimize the impact of the incident and quickly return to normal operations. By following a well-defined incident response framework, organizations can better identify, analyze, contain, eradicate, and recover from security incidents in a timely and efficient manner. These frameworks provide a set of guidelines, procedures, and best practices that help organisations streamline incident response efforts, coordinate activities among different teams, and ensure that all necessary steps are taken to mitigate potential risks and prevent future incidents.

The NIST Incident Response Framework

The NIST Incident Response Framework is a comprehensive guideline that organizations can follow when responding to and managing cybersecurity incidents. It consists of four main stages: preparation, detection/analysis, containment/eradication, and recovery.

The SANS Incident Response Framework

The SANS Incident Response Framework is a structured approach to effectively respond to and manage security incidents. It consists of six distinct phases: preparation, identification, containment, eradication, recovery, and lessons learned.

The purpose of the SANS Incident Response Framework is to provide organizations with a comprehensive and systematic methodology for responding to security incidents.

The Expectations of Organisations of Having an IR Plan

Organisations should have an incident response plan in place to ensure the security of their systems and networks. The plan should outline the steps that need to be taken to quickly identify, contain, and remediate any security incidents. It should also include procedures for reporting the incident to relevant stakeholders, such as law enforcement and government agencies. Finally, it gives the business a good reputation, proving to suppliers and customers that it takes cyber security seriously.

What Does an Incident Response Team do?

An incident response team is a group of individuals responsible for effectively responding to and managing cybersecurity incidents within an organization. The team's roles and responsibilities encompass leadership, investigation, communications, documentation, and potentially legal representation.

The incident response team is led by a designated incident response manager, who is responsible for overseeing the team's activities and providing direction during a cybersecurity incident. This individual coordinates the team's response efforts and ensures that all necessary actions are taken in a timely manner.

During an incident, the team conducts thorough investigations to understand the nature and scope of the breach. They gather and analyze digital evidence, assess the extent of the damage or potential risks, and determine the appropriate course of action to mitigate the incident's impact.

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