How to Create a Robust Cyber Response Plan for Your Company

The rate and severity of cybercrime continues to grow with businesses suffering a multitude of different attacks by malicious and often anonymous threat actors. Digital transformation and advances in AI tech open up increasingly sophisticated ways for tech systems, networks and data to be exploited for monetary and individual gains.

It is more important than ever to put a robust and multi-layered cyber response plan in place to protect every area of a company regardless of its size or sector. Previous standalone methods of threat prevention like antivirus programmes and password protection are now no longer sufficient considering the frequency and sophistication of cybercriminals.

Cyber hacking and the complexity of cyber threats are more active with AI tools and automated-learning a driver in the rise and severity in attacks.

Today, a holistic cyber response strategy that identifies potential threats and addresses problems that can affect every department within a business is key. This article looks at how companies can create an effective company-wide cyber response plan.

Why Your Business Needs a Cyber Attack Response Plan

Nearly every organisation will experience some form of attack on their systems or networks. In such cases, quick and decisive action is the key to minimizing the damage and long-term impact. An incident response plan is crucial to helping companies achieve that and protect their data. If no plan is in place, the process of responding to – and containing – a cyber attack can become convoluted and daunting, especially if the malicious threat actor were to compromise highly sensitive data.

Not only can businesses suffer huge regulatory fines following a breach, but they can also suffer long-term reputational damage that drastically affects consumer or investor trust in their brand. Therefore, strict security controls don’t just protect you; they protect the sensitive data of anyone you engage with online.

Given that there are numerous ways in which hackers can breach a business’s infrastructure, it’s vital to have an incident response plan in place which accounts for different scenarios, such as social engineering attacks, AI threats, data breaches, insider threats, ransomware, phishing, and other types of attacks. These should align with your company’s primary cyber security risks to allow you to properly respond to all incidents and mitigate potential risks.

Creating a cyber response plan will be a unique process for every business, depending on its needs, size, number of employees, different departments and the type of data it holds. However, as a general guide, consider the following general steps and recommendations.

Build Your Cyber Incident Response Team

Smaller businesses may not have as many defined departments as larger corporations with separate teams for HR, IT, customer services, sales, marketing, and so on. However, regardless of size, every company needs to appoint a reasonable number of people that are responsible for discovering, containing and dealing with an attack.

If your organisation relies on the services of a third-party outsourcing agency, you should nominate someone to liaise with them. Designated employees also need to be able to manage internal communications and concerns from employees in the event of a cyber attack, as well as those from clients, should the event receive public attention.

Create Policies and Procedures

You should establish clear procedures to follow to prevent employees from making hasty, ill-informed or panicked decisions that aren’t in the best interests of company security. While being IT literate is a key requisite that employers look for, knowing the basic rules of data security are also valuable. Not being aware of potential cyber threats or briefing employees on the basics could inadvertently damage your company. It’s important to include:

  • Baseline detection activity
  • How to spot a breach
  • How to report a breach
  • How to contain and remove a breach
  • Notification and communication
  • Defence approaches
  • Continuous training and improvement

Although UK Government recommendations on cyber security strategies are useful they may not be absolute, and some companies will need more stringent and defined policies than others. and over time, they will need to be adapted and adjusted. However, they are crucial to have in place, to refer back to in times of crisis.

Identify Vulnerabilities in Your Infrastructure

Every business has vulnerabilities in its systems or networks; they can range from insufficient security on WiFi networks to unpatched software, and even employees themselves. By identifying all your potential vulnerabilities, you can document them and make sure that all of your team are cognizant of the potential loopholes in your estate that could be exploited by cybercriminals.

One of the most effective ways to understand your cyber posture is to invest in penetration testing from a third-party cyber response firm that can reveal all vulnerabilities in a detailed report after conducting an ‘ethical’ and simulated cyber attack. Many outsourced companies will be able to offer pentesting alongside a 24/7 incident response service, with their advisors working round the clock to ensure the optimum security of your estate.

Identify Your Critical Assets

Specifying your most valuable assets will allow your response team to prioritise what needs to be done. Your assets could range from physical hardware like computers, servers or devices, to finances, personally identifiable information and contact details of clients. From this, your team can focus more on containing threats that affect the most critical or sensitive assets, and minimise the damage done.

Establish Your Communications Strategy

During any cyber attack lifecycle, communication is vital. If news of your business hack gets into the public eye, your crisis communication strategy will prove pivotal, and without one, you could cause a PR nightmare for your company. You will, of course, need to keep all of your employees and stakeholders informed, but larger firms may be more in the public eye and so have to consider communication more carefully.

Continually Test, Analyse and Update

It’s difficult to test an incident response plan considering the imminent priority is always to contain and report a threat and minimise the damage done. However, you can retrospectively analyse how effectively and efficiently your team reacted and contained the threat, and use that to springboard ideas for improving it should an incident arise again.

6 Key Phases of a Cyber Response Plan

Prepare – You should make sure your employees receive proper training and can react correctly to the steps outlined in your response plan.

Identify – The process by which you determine whether you’ve been legitimately breached or whether you encounter a false positive. 

Contain – When you are aware of a breach, it’s important to act in the correct manner and not hastily, as doing so could accidentally destroy valuable threat data.

Eradicate – Once the incident has been contained, you need to carefully remove all traces, ensure you are not losing more data, and also patch software and updates.

Recover – This is the process of restoring affected systems or software back to a stable state, either by repairing or replacing, and all systems should be tested again.

Review – Once you have conducted a forensic investigation into the breach, consult with your team to discuss the lessons learned and use that to prepare you better for next time.


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