Incident Response Plan: How to Prepare for the Worst and Protect Your Business

Imagine learning that you’ve just suffered a cyber incident. A cyber incident might be one of your software vendors telling you they found your password on the dark web. Perhaps you log onto your computer only to see a ransomware message. Maybe you can’t log onto your computer — and no one at your company can.

What should you do? How should you respond? And how can you minimize the impact, contain the fallout, and get your business up and running as quickly as possible?

With a cybersecurity incident response plan. (via Decoding Cyber)

Let’s discuss.

What is a cybersecurity incident response plan?

An incident response plan is a documented framework that outlines specific steps and procedures you should take in the event of a cyber incident in real time.

Think of it as an organizational guide that ensures everyone from your security team to the IT department to executives are on the same page. 

The incident response plan will detail everyone’s roles, responsibilities, and specific actions as the cyber incident unfolds in real-time. It will include clear steps to help you identify, contain, and mitigate the cyber incident. It should provide a clear path to recovering from the incident, including retrieving all lost data and restoring all services. Your incident response plan should also include a pathway for you to critically examine the failures that led to the cyber incident and learn valuable lessons about preventing them in the future.

Who needs an incident response plan?

Regardless of size or industry, every organization needs an incident response plan.

Think about it — if you're a massive corporation, you have access to money and data, which is the main reason bad actors attack. But even if you're a small business, you probably do lots of things online, like email, accounting, and operating a website. Aside from website security, you need to be prepared for a cyber incident

In terms of industries, some are targeted more than others. For instance, manufacturing is now the most-attacked industry, representing nearly 25% of all cyberattacks globally. But finance, insurance, professional services, energy, retail, education, healthcare, government, transportation, and media are not far behind.  

The bottom line is that no matter what type or size of business you’re running, there’s an extremely high likelihood that once you assess the threat landscape (which every company needs to do), you’ll find yourself susceptible to being attacked. 

Why is an incident response plan essential?

An incident response plan is crucial because you can do everything right and still get attacked and suffer an incident.

Here’s what we mean.

Cybercrime has been rising for decades and shows no signs of slowing down, especially regarding incidents like ransomware. If you’re running a business, you must embrace the reality that getting attacked is a matter of “when,” not “if.” Sure, you want to do everything possible to lessen the likelihood of being attacked. But you also want to accept that virtually every business is exposed to being attacked and that if you let your guard down for a second, you may suffer a consequence like lost money, data, or time.

As discussed in our three-part series “In the Crosshairs,” we suggest taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity measures. While defensive stances like zero trust are critical in the modern digital business world, they’re not enough. You can’t just sit back and take a defensive posture to cybersecurity. Sooner or later, cybercriminals will find an entry point to your network and systems. You want to engage with cyber criminals to get in front of them and make them think twice about attacking you.

Cybersecurity is like a long and ongoing war because there will always be cyberattacks in the digital universe. In this war, you can’t win once and for all vanquishing your enemies forever. Instead, you strive to win every battle, but they will win a battle or two. When that happens, when you experience an incident (minor or significant), your incident response plan comes into play.

Creating an incident response plan makes sense, especially when artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly factoring into cybersecurity. Let’s say you take every single bit of our advice and meticulously and strategically plan for every possibility throughout your organization. As an aside, we suggest doing this! Why not be prepared for every possible outcome? An incident response plan is part of that preparation. Let’s look at some benefits!

3 benefits of an incident response plan

Three benefits of an incident response plan

An incident response plan will guide your business. When everyone knows that policies and procedures are in place to mitigate the damage and restore operations, they’ll be more likely to keep calm and carry on. Let’s look at the benefits of an incident response plan in more detail.

1. Minimize downtime 

With a well-defined incident response plan, organizations can quickly detect and mitigate security incidents, reducing the duration of downtime. This helps prevent financial losses, reputational damage, and potential regulatory penalties.

2. Reduce confusion

An incident response plan establishes a transparent chain of command, ensuring that the right individuals are notified and involved in incident handling, thus reducing confusion. This promotes efficient communication, coordination, and decision-making during high-pressure situations.

3. Improve compliance

An incident response plan can help ensure that your organization can demonstrate that you are protecting sensitive data and systems required by regulators. For example, organizations must have an incident response plan to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) regulations.

We are now ready to dive into how to develop an incident response plan and how it differs from other similar initiatives. The meat of the article! Get your forks and knives ready. We serve it up fast, easy to consume, and above all… deliciously helpful!

6 steps to develop an effective incident response plan

Six steps to develop an effective incident response plan

Developing an effective incident response plan requires a systematic approach. Here are the critical steps to consider:

1. Conduct a risk assessment

Conduct a thorough assessment of potential risks and vulnerabilities to understand the organization's cybersecurity landscape. This assessment will help identify potential threats, their impact, and the likelihood of occurrence.

2. Establish a response team

Form a dedicated incident response team comprising representatives from IT, security, legal, HR, and other relevant departments. Define roles, responsibilities, and escalation procedures to ensure efficient incident handling.

3. Create an incident response framework

Develop a step-by-step framework that outlines the actions to be taken during each phase of incident response, such as detection, analysis, containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident analysis.

4. Test your plan and train your team

Do not overlook the importance of this step! Many do, and they pay the price when they need to rely on their incident response plan during an actual cyber incident. Regularly test and update the incident response plan, conduct simulated exercises, and provide training to ensure all team members know their roles and responsibilities. This helps identify any gaps or areas for improvement.

5. Collaborate with external partners

Establish relationships with external partners, such as incident response service providers and law enforcement agencies. These partnerships can provide additional expertise, resources, and support during an incident.

6. Prioritize continual improvement

Incident response is an ongoing process, and it is vital to learn from each incident. Conduct post-incident reviews and incorporate lessons learned into the plan to enhance future response capabilities.

Do you still have questions on how to craft an incident response plan? Hit the AMA Request button, and we can help!

Is an incident response plan different from a disaster recovery plan?

An incident response plan is different from a disaster recovery plan. A disaster recovery plan is designed to help a company recovery from any type of incident (or disaster) after the disaster.

An incident response plan narrowly focuses on addressing cyber incidents during a cyberattack in real time. Keep these two critical differences in mind. A disaster recovery plan:

  1. Focuses on recovering tech and data after a disaster

  2. Applies to human or natural disasters 

Building on that second point, a disaster recovery plan provides procedures and protocols to recover and restore critical systems even if they didn’t originate with a cyberattack, such as:

  • Data loss and failed backups

  • Network interruptions

  • Hardware failure 

  • Utility outages 

  • On-site threats and physical dangers 

While your business should have a disaster recovery plan, remember that it’s not the same as an incident recovery plan — you need both. But what about a business continuity plan?

Is an incident response plan different from a business continuity plan?

An incident response plan is also different from a business continuity plan. A business continuity plan is vital in minimizing the effects of a company during the disaster (human-induced or natural); however, it does not address the underlining issue, like a cyber incident.

Again, an incident response plan narrowly focuses on addressing cyber incidents during a cyberattack in real time. A business continuity plan is broad and ensures the business can continue its essential functions during a crisis (cyber or otherwise), minimizing the impact on operations, customers, and stakeholders. A business continuity plan includes strategies for communication, alternate work arrangements, resource allocation, and prioritization of critical activities.

Both might sound similar to a disaster recovery plan, but a disaster recovery plan focuses on restoring data access and IT infrastructure after a disaster.

An incident response, disaster recovery, and business continuity plan can have overlapping elements, but they are distinct plans. The key is to remember that they’re critical in their own way — each one plays a role in keeping your business safe and secure in the face of external threats. Don't worry if you find them somewhat confusing; we can help! Hit the AMA Request button, and we can walk you through it.


A well-developed incident response plan is critical to an organization's cybersecurity strategy. It enables swift and effective responses to security incidents, minimizing the potential damage caused by cyber threats. By understanding the importance of incident response plans and related strategies like disaster recovery and business continuity plans, organizations can fortify their defenses and better protect their valuable assets from the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.


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