Cybersecurity Incident Response Plans: Best Practices

Team meeting over incident response plan

The Titanic was considered to be unsinkable.  

In fact, its shipbuilding company was so confident that they only included 20 lifeboats for the 2,240 passengers.

This tragic show of hubris now lies wrecked on the ocean floor. 

In the digital realm, iceberg-sized cyberattacks seek to scuttle banks every hour of the day. And much of the financial world is unprepared to fight back.

Meanwhile, hackers are armed with cyber-weaponry that can raid a bank’s data, ransom hefty payments, and ruin its reputation.

As endless headlines affirm, cyberattacks aren’t a question of if—but when. And that’s why banks of all sizes must develop a cybersecurity incident response plan.

What Is a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan (also known as an “IRP”) is the blueprint for your bank’s organized response to a data breach.

A successful IRP should be crafted before a potential attack occurs, agreed upon by your organization, and assigned to key members of your incident response (IR) team. 

Though each IRP is unique, a robust response generally features four steps:

  1. Detection.
  2. Quarantine.
  3. Eradication.
  4. Recovery.

As we will discuss, effective IRPs are both defensive and offensive protocols.

While immediately containing the damages of a breach, they also help expedite recovery time and spotlight essential areas for improvement. 

Why All Banks Need an IRP

Cyberattacks can threaten your bank on three distinct levels:

While data breaches are devastating, it’s easy to dismiss them as “a larger bank’s problem.”

After all, most cybercriminals probably want to take down the big banks first, right?

Though that may be true, there’s a catch: whenever major institutions get hit, they open the door for sieges on smaller firms. 

This recently happened during the infamous MOVEit transfer attacks, which saw industry leaders (including Deutsche Bank and ING), mid-size firms, and community banks get blitzed by the same shared vulnerability. 

On the whole, recent statistics tell a very disheartening story.

Between 2021 and 2022, over 2.6 billion personal records were breached. While we await the final numbers from 2023, we already know things get much worse year-over-year.  

In fact, the first 9 months of 2023 eclipsed the total number of U.S. data breaches in 2022 by almost 20%

And while multiple attack vectors are surging—especially ransomware, which hit 75% of organizations in 2023—a more chilling statistic has come to light: 95% of breached organizations have been attacked more than once.

That’s why employers posted over 663,000 cybersecurity positions in 2023. That’s why global cybersecurity spending reached $188 billion in 2023.  And that’s why banks need an incident response plan. 

Without a solid strategy, financial institutions remain vulnerable to bleeding resources, time, and trust. 

Incident Response Plan Best Practices

An incident response plan is more than a safety net. It’s an investment in your future—and one that can bring a powerful ROI.

According to IBM, organizations with full-fledged cybersecurity incident response plans reduced their time to response (TTR) by 74 days. In other words, companies that suffered an attack got back to business months faster than the competition. 

Better yet, companies that built (and stress-tested) their response plans saved an average of $2.66 million when compared to businesses without IRP protocols. 

Here’s how to develop a resilient cybersecurity incident response plan.

1. Build Your Team

First things first: it’s essential to clearly assign all roles and responsibilities

Whether you outsource your IR team or build one in-house, everyone involved must know their individual tasks and understand the larger chain of command. 

In this foundational stage, the more company “buy-in” you generate, the better. Be ready to articulate compelling reasons for leading this initiative, and encourage your team to pursue excellence in this arena. 

2. Train Your Personnel

If you choose to outsource your IR team, you may enjoy a range of benefits, like enabling your staff to focus on serving clients. 

Nevertheless, an internal security team can be highly effective, so long as they receive the necessary skills to perform their tasks. 

Consistency is paramount. Regular seminars, workshops, and tabletop exercises reinforce best practices and keep your team prepared for the unexpected.

To learn more about the value of cybersecurity employee training, check out our guide.

3. Select A Framework

After getting your team together, it’s time to adopt a structured framework that guides your response strategy. . 

While broad cybersecurity frameworks like the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) and the Sysadmin, Audit, Network, and Security institute (SANS) offer comprehensive guidelines for overall risk management, specific IRP blueprints such as NIST’s SP-800-61 (the Computer Security Incident Handling Guide) and SANS’s Incident Handlers Handbook provide detailed steps for addressing and managing cybersecurity incidents.

These documents should be reviewed and a decision should be made to adopt the guidelines that build upon your organization’s broader cybersecurity strategy.

By aligning your IRP with one of these blueprints, you can ensure a more focused and effective approach to managing cybersecurity incidents. 

4. Incorporate Essential Phases

However you choose to develop your framework, be sure your that your incident response plan observes the following fundamentals:

  • Preparation, to maintain a culture of readiness.
  • Detection, to identify (and analyze) potential threats.
  • Containment, to isolate and neutralize purported attacks.
  • Restoration, to resume operations and return to business as usual (BAU).
  • Evaluation, to document learnings and prevent reoccurrence.

While these steps can be customized, they cannot be ignored.  

5. Establish Custom Playbooks

There are many cybersecurity threats facing the banking industry

While it’s important to know what tricks hackers employ, mere knowledge isn’t enough. 

As a cybersecurity leader, make an effort to create incident response playbooks (i.e., a strategic set of instructions) for each of the major cyberattacks, including spoofing, distributed denial of service (DDoS), malware, and phishing.

Each ploy introduces new variables, so it’s important that you and your team can confidently (and quickly) address them all. 

6. Utilize Runbooks

While your IR experts use big-picture playbooks, it’s also wise to have runbooks on hand.

These are granular, step-by-step guides for your employees—particularly any staff who may not be on your IR team, but who may be unexpectedly asked to help mitigate an ongoing attack. 

After all, runbooks clearly detail what to do in a crisis. They also help build a shared knowledge base and can be especially useful if your team involves on-call rotations. 

7. Lead Tabletop Exercises

Your incident response plan and team are starting to coalesce. 

As soon as an air of tranquility sets in, it could be a good time to conduct a drill and assess the preparedness of your team. 

To whatever extent that you can, use this simulation to mimic the stressful circumstances of an actual attack.  

Though a tabletop exercise may cause temporary chaos, it will clarify your team’s roles, validate your training, and identify deficiencies.

8. Consistently Revise Processes

While it’s important that you commit to your IRP, it’s equally important that you’re willing to adjust it.

This may be difficult to accept, as precious hours and resources are invested into developing an established strategy. 

Nevertheless, the threat landscape can be quite capricious, so your IT infrastructure, personnel, and business operations must always be ready to adapt. 

An outdated response plan—however well intentioned—will not endure the heat of battle. 

9. Leverage Automated Detection 

Even with the best education, your staff can only manage so much.

That’s why it’s valuable to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools that detect and triage suspicious data. 

In fact, automated solutions have been proven to monitor behavioral anomalies, prevent phishing, and reduce the cost of fraud.

10. Promote Communication

In the world of cybercrime, open lines of communication can provide a powerful defense. 

Ideally, you and your team will create a culture where all ideas are welcome. While your experts lead the charge, your frontline employees should feel encouraged to ask questions, to propose suggestions, and to call out strange behavior from clients and prospects. 

Remember that cybercriminals are constantly sharing and selling confidential information with other hackers on the Dark Web. Ensure your team is just as communicative as the bad actors looking to bring you down. 

Helpful Cybersecurity Resources

Developing a sturdy IRP takes time, and it can introduce a number of unexpected challenges. 

To help you get started, we would like to offer several resources that can streamline your journey.

Cyber Risk Institute (CRI)

As we discussed above, the NIST and SANS IRP frameworks offer foundational guidelines for organizations to effectively respond to cybersecurity incidents. 

Though these frameworks are worth your attention, the CRI offers organizations an efficient way to build a robust incident response plan

Josh Magri, President and Founder of CRI explains: 

“The Cyber Risk Institute’s Profile offers a structured approach to assessing and managing cybersecurity risks, helping organizations enhance their resilience against a wide range of cyber threats. By using the Profile, organizations can better position themselves to prepare for and respond to cybersecurity incidents, minimizing the potential damage and disruption to their operations and protecting their brand reputation.”

The CRI Profile is a free tool that leverages the NIST broader cybersecurity framework and harmonizes over 2,400 regulatory expectations into manageable diagnostic statements. 

CISA Tabletop Exercise Packages (CTEPS)

As developed by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), these situation manuals help stakeholders conduct simulated exercises for ransomware, insider threats, phishing, and DDoS attacks.

We recommend exploring CISA’s complimentary online guides

.Bank Media Center

Head over to our media center, where you can access our articles, including:

As we often discuss, your employees play an integral role in your bank’s safety. 

Your incident response plan is a wonderful way to educate and empower your staff in your cybersecurity protocols. 

.Bank: Your Good Name, Made Stronger

As a banking professional, you’re on a mission to defend your customers, staff, and reputation. 

It’s a battle worth waging day in and day out.

Here’s some good news: while your incident response plan takes time to craft, there’s one step you can take right now to fortify your financial institution—and it’s the easiest step of all. 

By moving to a .Bank domain name, you can stem the tide of phishing and spoofing attacks. And while anyone can access open domains to counterfeit your company, .Bank can’t be faked.

Why? Because other industries can’t use it. We built it exclusively for banks. 

Security, trust, and recognition are just a domain away. Schedule a meeting to find out how we can help protect your firm.

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