Some Best Practice Tips for Effective Cyber Incident Response

big dataI’ve been neglecting this blog a bit of late. That’s due in part to being overwhelmed with the sheer number of security breach stories and features to write up this summer. I can’t recall a time when there’s been so much going on, and such a great variety of incidents — apart from last year, and the year before …. and possibly the year before that.

It’s becoming something of a cliché to say “it’s not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ your organisation is successfully attacked” — but that doesn’t make it any less true. That puts even more pressure on firms to get incident response right. Succeed, and you could get away with little more than a slap on the wrist from the regulators — you may even find your organisation’s reputation enhanced. I asked the experts their views for an upcoming Infosecurity Magazine feature.

First and foremost, IR plans should be drawn up by an organisation-wide team, according to IISP board director, Chris Hodson.

“The IR team must be cross-functional and comprised of senior business stakeholders that understand the importance of the data, applications and infrastructure across their enterprise,” he told me.

“An effective plan must consider not only the nefarious, but also accidental and environmental events. In a world where technology and internet connectivity is baked into everything, safety has become a key consideration too — it’s no longer just considerations of ‘confidentiality, integrity and availability’ (CIA), we need to look at safety being of paramount importance.”

PwC’s US cybersecurity and privacy lead, Sean Joyce, was more prescriptive.

“The incident response plan (IRP) should include but not be limited to the following types of information: event and incident definitions; incident categories, descriptions, and criticality levels; escalation matrices; incident life cycle workflows; a listing of internal stakeholders and external partners with their roles and responsibilities; and reporting requirements,” he explained to me.

Certified SANS instructor, Mathias Fuchs, added much more to the list, including a communications plan, police liaison, mapping out of standard operating procedures, and how to deal with outsourcers like cloud providers.

“As message control is one of the key points in incident response, a predefined circle of trust that limits information flow to people not working on the case as well as to the outside world is key,” he added. “Particularly for publicly traded organisations, information about security incidents has to be treated with great caution as it usually does have an impact on the stock price once publicly available.”

My plan’s in place, now what?

Once you’ve got a plan drawn up, it’s essential to test it regularly, according to Joyce.

“Preparation is a key component to any incident response event. In our experience, organisations that take the time to develop and test their IRPs and playbooks are more prepared to respond and likely reduce the impact of an incident,” he argued.” Decisions that are made in the first 24 hours are extremely impactful in a positive or negative way.”

For Ian Glover, president of accreditation body CREST, it’s also vital to determine how ready the organisation is to respond to an incident, covering people, process and technology.

“CREST has developed a maturity model and free tool to enable assessment of the status of an organisation’s cybersecurity incident response capability on a scale of 1 (least effective) to 5 (most effective),” he told me. “The tool enables assessments to be made at either a summary or detailed level and has been developed in conjunction with a broad range of organisations, including industry bodies, consumer organisations, the UK government and suppliers of expert technical security services. It delivers an assessment against a maturity model based on the 15 steps within the three-phase Cyber Security Incident Response process.”

Lessons learned

Even the best laid plans can come apart when a cyber-attack actually strikes. But well-defined and practiced playbooks can help, said PwC’s Joyce.

“An organisation, in consultation with their external partners, should proceed forward with identifying any additional requirements related to preservation, investigation, containment, and longer-term remediation related actions. The results of the investigative work stream should be communicated in a defined/repeatable process that will directly support internal and external messaging related to the incident,” he explained.

“Depending on the incident, organisations should pre-plan their internal briefing requirements to the board and the frequency and detail of those updates. For external messaging, organisations should work with external partners such as counsel and PR organizations to begin drafting an appropriate hold statement as well as media release should notification be needed prior to the conclusion of the investigation.”

SANS’ Fuchs urged IR teams not to act too quickly, especially if they don’t yet know how the attacker got in.

“Find all ways the attacker might have into your network. Try to develop intelligence about the attacker as you investigate, that helps you when they come back. Figure out what they were looking for and what they have already exfiltrated,” he advised. “Conduct a full investigation and then execute the remediation plan on a weekend where you disconnect the whole organisation from the internet.”

Post IR processes are also vital in helping build long-term resilience.

“If they didn’t get what they were there for, they will return,” warned Fuchs. “Find better ways to detect them and avoid them getting back in the same way they did the first time.”

PwC’s Joyce recommended organisations conduct an IR “post-mortem”.

“The results of this may lead to revisions of the incident response plan, policies, procedures, and key reporting metrics; additional training for the board, executives, staff; and additional investments in technologies in the organisations efforts to mitigate risk and evolve with the constantly evolving cyber threat,” he concluded. “In addition, organisations can schedule table-top exercises to provide training opportunities for all key internal and external stakeholders whose support will be needed in response to an incident. Table-tops provide opportunities to evaluate an organisation’s incident response plan and to assess key components such as escalations, internal and external communications, and technical proficiency of the incident response team.”

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One Year to GDPR Compliance Deadline: Time to Panic Yet?

european unionEurope’s new data protection laws might have been over a decade in the making but it would take about as long again to read every piece of advice that’s since been produced on how to comply. In search of some simple answers to a typically complex piece of European legislation, I asked a few legal experts on their thoughts.

With 13 months to go before the compliance deadline, organisations across the country will be scrabbling to ensure they’re not one of the unlucky ones caught out in the months following 25 May.

Start with the Data

Most experts I spoke to were in agreement that firms need to start by mapping their data – after all, you’ve got to know where it is and what you do with it first before working out how to keep it safe.

“For those that are compliant with existing laws, GDPR is going to be an evolution. For the others, it’s going to be a deep, radical change. In general, I think that every organisation should be working on assessing their current practices in light of GDPR,” Forrester analyst Enza Iannopollo told me.

“My advice is, regardless of the kind of support an organisation chooses, it must put together a team of internal people – hopefully the privacy team – and make sure that that team leads the work. Compliance with GDPR is not a one-off effort, but an ongoing process that has to be ingrained in firms’ business model,” she said.

Change the culture

That cultural change might be the hardest thing for organisations to achieve, although a good start is hiring a Data Protection Officer (DPO) – one of the key requirements of the GDPR. Another is the privacy impact assessment, which PwC’s US privacy lead, Jay Cline, recommends as a key stage once you’ve completed a data inventory.

“Data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) are the eyes and ears of the privacy office throughout the company,” he told me by email. “DPIAs are how chief privacy officers enlist the help of the whole company to keep their privacy controls current with all the change going on in the company.”

For Alexandra Leonidou, Senior Associate at Foot Anstey, there’ll be a key role for non-IT functions inside the organisation.

“Who needs to know about the GDPR? Who are the key stakeholders?  This isn’t just something for IT, information security teams or data officers. Boards should be aware of the risks, and HR teams need to think about employee data. Getting GDPR compliance right will be critical for marketing and communications teams’ activity,” she told me.

“You will need to engage key stakeholders and implement measures that leave you with an acceptable level of commercial risk.”

Leonidou was also keen to stress the need for independence in the DPO role.

“Guidance from Europe suggests that this role is likely to be incompatible with certain existing C-suite executives,” she explained. “The awareness-raising that follows on from the allocation of accountability will be an ongoing process.”

For those still in the dark, some useful free resources include the Article 29 Working Party and our very own Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s also expected that even post-May 25, the regulators will give firms a little bedding in time before they start going after some high profile offenders.