14/03/2024 |

Incident Response – Definition, Goals and Best Practices

Responding to incidents is crucial for companies - especially those who are considered part of the critical infrastructure (KRITIS). Sometimes it’s even essential for survival. Incidents may be disruptions to business operations or situations that affect the relationship with the customer, for example.

Staying protected means that it’s important to understand what incident response means and how the related process is designed.

Definition: Incident Response

What is an Incident?

An incident is anything that interrupts or breaks normal system, organization or service functioning. Incidents can have a variety of causes. These may be human error, technical problems, security breaches or natural events.

They range from minor incidents to serious incidents. A temporary website outage is a minor event. A cyberattack or a serious hardware failure causes bigger problems and is a major event.

What does incident response mean?

Incident response is the procedure in incident management for reacting to an event, and is often also described as incident response management. It includes the planning, detection, response, investigation and recovery from an unexpected event, such as a cyber-attack, data breach or product security vulnerability.

The objectives are to:

  • minimize the impact of the incident,
  • identify the cause,
  • close the security gap and
  • restore the systems to normal operation and function.

Managing incidents and responding to these are important parts of information security and risk management.

When is incident response needed?

The cybersecurity incident is one of the core areas where incident response comes into play. Still, incidents can occur in many different ways. Here are some of the most common incidents that organizations should expect.

Malware infections: This includes incidents where malicious software, such as viruses, worms, Trojans or ransomware, enters a computer system or network and causes damage.

Phishing attacks: In phishing attacks, attackers attempt to steal sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords or financial data, through fake emails, websites or messages.

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks: DoS attacks are attempts to make a service, website or network inaccessible by overloading it with a large number of requests.

Data leaks: These are incidents where sensitive or confidential data is disclosed or compromised without authorization, often due to vulnerabilities in the security infrastructure or human error.

Ransomware attacks: In ransomware attacks, attackers encrypt a victim’s data and then demand ransom before they will decrypt it.

Vulnerabilities in software or systems: These are incidents where vulnerabilities in software applications or operating systems are exploited to gain unauthorized access or cause damage.

Physical security incidents: These include incidents where physical devices or facilities, such as server rooms or data centers, are trespassed or damaged.

Vulnerabilities in web applications: These result in incidents where vulnerabilities in web applications are exploited to gain unauthorized access, steal data or compromise the availability of the application, jeopardizing the security of the affected systems.

Social engineering attacks: These are incidents where attackers use human manipulation techniques to trick users into revealing confidential information or performing malicious actions.

Insider threats: This refers to incidents where authorized users within an organization cause harm – intentionally or unintentionally – by accessing or disclosing confidential information.

Objectives of Incident Response

Among the many reasons why it’s so important to respond quickly to incidents are:

  • Protecting systems, applications and data from unauthorized access, damage or theft.
  • Minimizing business disruption and financial damage caused by security incidents.
  • Ensuring compliance with legal regulations and regulatory requirements in the area of information security.
  • Preventing a negative reputation with customers.
  • Continuously adapting to changing threat scenarios.

The Incident Response Plan

An Incident Response Plan (IRP) is a structured document that helps everyone know what to do. It is created to help people respond effectively to security incidents, disruptions in IT systems or problems with business processes. The aim is to identify, assess and respond to incidents and restore business operations as quickly as possible.

The plan describes the necessary:

  • roles and responsibilities,
  • guidelines and activities, and
  • the communication plan that should be implemented.

It usually makes sense to have two plans. One plan is a central incident response plan, which defines general procedures and guidelines for responding to security incidents. The other plan is specific actions or protocols for particularly critical or frequently occurring incidents.

A well-developed incident response plan is crucial for the security and resilience of an organization. It helps to define all necessary steps. The plan lets companies respond to incidents in a structured manner and with consistent quality. The incident response plan forms the basis for the incident response process.

The Incident Management Process

The incident management process is a structured sequence of activities that are outlined so that people can respond appropriately to security incidents and manage them well. It covers all phases of incident response. It includes the necessary steps for identifying, analyzing and handling security incidents. The main tasks and objectives of the incident response process are below.

Detection of security incidents

A security event – unusual or suspicious behavior in networks, systems or applications – is identified. This indicates a possible security incident. This can be done through the use of security monitoring and detection systems or by manual review.

Analysis and evaluation of incidents

Incident investigation involves the detection and analysis of the scope, impact and severity of a security incident. In this step, team members determine which systems or data are affected. They decide how critical the incident is.

Response to incidents

The immediate and appropriate response to a security incident is begun. Teams first try to minimize its impact and protect the integrity, confidentiality and availability of systems and data. This may include isolating affected systems, removing malware, restoring data from backups and other measures.

Treatment and recovery

Implementing measures to fully resolve the security incident and restore systems and applications to normal operation is next. This may include implementing security patches, strengthening security measures and monitoring systems to prevent reoccurrences.

Documentation and lessons learned

The documentation of the measures taken, and the knowledge gained from the incident are an essential part of the post-incident response phase. The information should help to prevent the incident from recurring in the best case scenario. It also supports the business in responding better to incidents long term.

5 Best Practices for Effective Incident Response

Preventive action

Implement proactive security measures to prevent potential security incidents. This may include regular security updates and patches, access restrictions, strong authentication methods and network segmentation.

Rapid detection and response measures

Implement mechanisms to detect security incidents quickly, e.g. intrusion detection systems (IDS), security information and event management (SIEM) tools and regular security audits. Respond to incidents immediately to minimize their impact.

Policies and procedures

Develop clear policies and procedures for dealing with security incidents. This includes defining responsibilities, escalation procedures and communication channels. Ensure that all employees are aware of these policies and receive regular training.

Forensic investigation and analysis

Conduct thorough forensic investigations to determine the causes of security incidents and understand the impacts. Collect evidence, analyze attack patterns and identify vulnerabilities to prevent future incidents.

Continuous improvement

Learn from past security incidents. Adapt your incident response strategy accordingly. Conduct regular reviews and exercises to test and improve the effectiveness of your incident response processes. Stay informed about new threats and technologies and make changes as needed.

Incident response in the context of compliance

Regulatory aspects must also be taken into account in incident response. Failure to do so can result in significant penalties and costs for a company.

Incident response is an essential part of organizations’ compliance efforts. It helps keep data and systems secure. It helps businesses meet legal requirements. It promotes trust with customers, partners and supervisory authorities.

Compliance with legal requirements

Incident response is crucial for ensuring compliance with information security legal regulations. Various laws and regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US, require organizations to implement appropriate security measures and respond to security incidents accordingly.

Reporting of security incidents

In many cases, security incidents and data breaches must be reported to the relevant stakeholders, authorities or supervisory bodies. Depending on the type of incident, companies must adhere to certain deadlines and procedures when reporting.

Documentation and auditability

Incident response requires thorough documentation of all security incidents and vulnerabilities. This includes their effects, the assessment of the risks, and the measures taken to resolve it. This documentation helps track and analyze the events. It can also be used for reporting to supervisory authorities or internal stakeholders.

Audits and reviews

Incident response processes may be subject to regular audits and reviews to ensure that they comply with applicable regulations and are functioning effectively. These audits may be conducted by internal or external auditors. They detect and remedy potential compliance violations.

Managed Incident Services

Sometimes, a company is not in the position to cover all the necessary services, roles and responsibilities that are required in the event of a security incident. Incident response services are offered by specialized companies or experts to assist in managing security incidents. These services (managed incidents) usually include a variety of activities aimed at quickly detecting, analyzing and responding to security incidents in order to minimize the impact and protect the affected systems, products or data.

Training, crisis communication and forensics, which require complex analysis procedures and tools, are often handled by additional services from specialized service providers.

Development of AI in Incident Response

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in incident response will increase in the future. The following are the most significant impacts of AI. Over time, it will improve threat intelligence and support those dealing with incidents.

Automated detection and response: AI-powered systems can analyze large amounts of data in real time to detect potential security incidents. They can also perform automated responses to certain types of incidents. This significantly reduces response time and minimizes human error.

Behavioral analysis and anomaly detection: AI can monitor behavioral patterns of users and systems. It identifies deviations from normal patterns that could indicate security incidents. Continuous monitoring allows threats to be detected and averted at an early stage.

AI-powered decision support systems: AI is used to develop decision support systems that help incident response teams prioritize incidents, allocate resources and develop countermeasures.

Improved forensics and analysis: AI can help with forensics and analysis of security incidents by quickly processing large amounts of data and making connections between different events. This enables a more thorough investigation of incidents and more accurate identification of attack patterns.

Adaptive defense: AI can help continuously adapt and improve defense strategies by learning from past incidents and anticipating new attack patterns. This enables a proactive defense against constantly evolving threats.

Frequently used abbreviations in Incident Response

In incident response, various abbreviations are used to describe technical systems, the process and statuses. They facilitate communication within the security team and with the stakeholders involved.

CSIRT: The Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) is a specialized team within an organization that is responsible for dealing with security incidents.

CIRT: Cyber Incident Response Team (CIRT) – Another term for a team responsible for responding to cyber security incidents

CERT: Computer Emergency Response Team – A CERT is a team that specializes in the coordination and management of IT security incidents.

PSIRT: The Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) deals with security incidents in connection with specific products or services of a company.

SOAR: Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response – SOAR refers to a platform or combination of tools that enables the automation and orchestration of security operations. SOAR platforms integrate various security tools and technologies to automate processes, orchestrate workflows and reduce response time to security incidents. They offer features such as incident response task automation, threat data retrieval and analysis, orchestration of security operations and dashboard creation for performance evaluation.

SIEM: Security Information and Event Management – A SIEM system is a software solution that collects, analyzes and correlates security information from various sources to detect, monitor and respond to security incidents. SIEM platforms capture logs and events from network devices, servers, applications and other tools. They have features such as log management, alerting, incident response and compliance reporting.

IR: Incident Response – The process of detecting, analyzing threats and responding to security incidents.

IOC: Indicator of Compromise – A sign or piece of information that indicates that a system may have been compromised.

MD5: Message Digest Algorithm 5 – A cryptographic hash algorithm commonly used to verify the integrity of files.

SHA: Secure Hash Algorithm – A family of cryptographic hash functions used to create unique checksums for data.

CVE: Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures – A publicly available list of security vulnerabilities and weaknesses in software and hardware.

RTO: Recovery Time Objective – Maximum period of time within which a system must be restored after a failure in order to resume normal operation.

RPO: Recovery Point Objective – Maximum allowable data loss that can be tolerated after a system or application failure.

CI: Critical infrastructure – CI refers to vital infrastructure whose disruption could have serious consequences for public safety, society or the economy.


Incident response is a topic of company-wide concern. While it is likely addressed and orchestrated by a company’s security team, stakeholders throughout the company should be aware of the incident response plan. This ensures they know their roles and what to expect in the event of an incident.

Work together – either internally or with a managed services provider – to protect your company’s people, data and processes. Don’t get caught off guard.

Find out how OTRS can improve your incident management processes. We offer customized solutions for ITSM and security incident management

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