Incident Response Plan Template & Steps: A Guide

Diana Ipacs

April 13, 2023

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Get your organization cyber-ready with our extensive, thorough incident response plan template, covering all essential steps.


As we navigate a world where cyber threats continue to grow in sophistication, organizations must be equipped to respond effectively to potential cybersecurity incidents.

An incident response plan serves as a vital roadmap to guide your organization through the complex process of identifying, containing, and recovering from a security breach.

Incident response plan template

Having a solid incident response plan in place not only helps reduce the potential financial and reputational impact of an attack but also ensures that your organization is complying with regulatory requirements. Moreover, it creates a sense of preparedness and instills confidence in your employees and stakeholders that you're equipped to handle unforeseen cyber threats.

From a business perspective, an incident response plan is indispensable in maintaining smooth operations and minimizing downtime. It allows your team to act swiftly and efficiently, reducing the time it takes to contain and remediate a breach. This proactive approach helps prevent further damage and demonstrates your commitment to protecting valuable assets, such as customer data and intellectual property.

In a nutshell, an incident response plan is the cornerstone of a robust cybersecurity strategy. It's an investment in the resilience of your organization and a crucial element in safeguarding its future. Let's dive into a comprehensive template to help you create your own tailored plan for dealing with cybersecurity incidents.

Incident Response Plan Steps

Navigating the complexities of incident response can be overwhelming, but breaking it down into manageable steps can help your organization focus on what really matters. These critical steps should be followed whenever your organization detects a potential security breach. They require varying levels of time and resources, depending on the nature and severity of the incident.

  1. 1
    Preparation. This stage lays the foundation for a successful response and should be continuously reviewed and updated. Invest time and resources in building your incident response team, assigning roles, and providing necessary training. Establish clear communication protocols and ensure your team has the right tools.
  2. 2
    Detection and analysis. Regularly monitor your systems to identify potential security incidents. This step requires ongoing vigilance and investment in monitoring tools and security systems to stay ahead of emerging threats.
  3. 3
    Containment. When an incident occurs, act swiftly to limit its impact and prevent it from spreading. This stage may require immediate resource allocation to minimize damage to your systems and reputation.
  4. 4
    Eradication. Allocate sufficient time and resources to ensure all traces of the threat are removed and vulnerabilities are addressed. This step is crucial for maintaining a secure environment.
  5. 5
    Recovery. Restore affected systems and services as quickly and securely as possible. The time and resources required for this stage will depend on the severity of the incident and the measures needed to ensure ongoing security.
  6. 6
    Lessons learned. Don't overlook the importance of learning from each incident. Conduct a thorough post-incident review and allocate time to analyze the root causes, evaluate the response, and identify areas for improvement.

Now that you have a better understanding of the essential steps in an incident response plan, it's time to dive into the details. The following incident response plan template will help guide you through each step, providing you with a comprehensive framework to build upon. By tailoring this template to your organization's specific needs and continuously refining it based on your experiences, you'll ensure that your incident response strategy is robust, efficient, and effective.

So, without further ado, let's start preparing for potential cybersecurity incidents.

Incident response steps

Incident Response Plan Template

1. Incident Response Plan Overview: Starting Out

State Purpose of the Incident Response Plan

Clearly state the main goal of the plan. For example, you might aim to minimize the impact of security incidents and protect your critical assets. NIST's Special Publication 800-61 Rev. 2 provides valuable guidance on incident response objectives.

Define Scope and applicability

Define which systems, departments, and locations the plan covers. Consider whether it applies to specific types of incidents or threats. SANS Institute offers a template to help you outline the scope of your plan.

Plan objectives

Write down the specific outcomes the plan aims to achieve, like faster incident detection, improved containment, and streamlined recovery processes. Use the objectives to set realistic expectations and guide your team's efforts.

Plan maintenance and updates

Decide how often the plan will be reviewed and updated, and who will be responsible for maintaining it. Regularly revisiting your plan ensures it stays up to date with the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Now that you have a high-level understanding of the aspects above, you can start going into the details. Let's start with assigning roles and responsibilities:

2. Assigning Roles and Responsibilities

Pick Incident response team members

Assemble a group of individuals with diverse skills, such as technical, managerial, and communication abilities. CERT's Incident Management Capability Metrics can help you identify key roles and responsibilities.

Determine the Roles and responsibilities of each team member

Clarify the duties and expectations for each team member, such as incident analysis, containment, communication, or documentation. This helps avoid confusion and ensures a smooth response process.

Save Contact information for each team member

Keep up-to-date contact information for all team members. Quick, efficient communication is crucial during an incident.

3. Incident Reporting and Communication

Create Process for reporting potential incidents

Create an easy-to-follow process for employees to report suspected security incidents, like a dedicated hotline or email address. The Center for Internet Security offers guidelines on establishing an incident reporting process.

Determine Communication channels and protocols

Determine how the incident response team will communicate internally and with other stakeholders. Consider secure channels and encryption to protect sensitive information.

Develop Escalation procedures

Develop a clear escalation process for incidents that require higher-level attention, such as notifying executive management or involving external partners. The SANS Institute has resources to help you create escalation procedures.

Determine External communication guidelines

Establish guidelines for communicating with external parties, like media, law enforcement, and customers. This ensures consistent and accurate messaging. The Incident Response Consortium offers best practices for external communication.

4. Incident Classification and Prioritization

Gather Criteria for classifying incidents by type and severity

Develop a classification system that categorizes incidents based on factors such as impact, risk, and the type of data or systems involved. NIST's Special Publication 800-61 Rev. 2 offers guidance on incident classification.

Create Incident prioritization guidelines

Create a prioritization framework that helps the incident response team determine which incidents to address first, based on factors like severity, potential damage, and resource availability. The SANS Institute has resources to help with prioritization.

5. Incident Response Process Step 1: Preparation

Develop Security policies and procedures

Develop comprehensive security policies and procedures that cover areas like access control, data protection, and system configurations. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework can guide you in creating effective policies.

Raise Awareness and Enroll in Training programs

Implement regular security training for all employees to ensure they understand their roles in preventing and reporting incidents. SANS Securing the Human program offers training resources.

Acquire Incident response tools and resources

Identify and acquire necessary tools and resources for incident detection, analysis, and remediation, such as intrusion detection systems and forensic analysis tools.

Check out resources like the SANS Internet Storm Center for valuable insights on incident response tools.

Establish External support and partnerships

Establish relationships with external organizations, like cybersecurity experts and law enforcement agencies, to support incident response efforts. Engage with groups like the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) to build partnerships.

Incident response

6. Incident Response Process Step 2: Detection and Analysis

Implement Incident detection methods

Implement monitoring and detection tools that can identify potential security incidents, like intrusion detection systems, antivirus software, and log analysis tools. AlienVault's OSSIM is a popular open-source SIEM tool for detecting security incidents.

Prepare Incident analysis and assessment

Develop procedures for analyzing and assessing the scope, severity, and potential impact of security incidents. The MITRE ATT&CK framework can help you understand various attack techniques and inform your analysis process.

Prepare Incident documentation and tracking

Maintain detailed records of all incidents, including their timeline, affected systems, and response actions taken. The SANS Institute provides various incident tracking templates to help you stay organized.

7. Incident Response Process Step 3: Containment

Determine Steps for containing incidents

Outline the specific actions the incident response team should take to contain and limit the impact of security incidents. The SANS Institute's Incident Handler's Handbook offers valuable guidance on containment strategies. Please note that the document was published in 2012.

Develop System isolation procedures

Develop procedures for isolating affected systems or networks to prevent the spread of an incident, like disconnecting them from the network or blocking malicious traffic. Tools like firewalls and network segmentation can help you isolate affected systems.

Develop Short-term and long-term containment strategies

Define both immediate and long-term containment actions, depending on the nature and severity of the incident. Long-term strategies may involve patching vulnerabilities or implementing additional security measures.

8. Incident Response Process Step 4: Eradication and Recovery

Map Out Eradication methods

Establish procedures for completely removing threats from affected systems, like malware removal tools or system restores. Tools like CrowdStrike Falcon, Cisco Secure Endpoint (formerly AMP for Endpoints), and Sophos Intercept X can help you eradicate threats. 

Plan System restoration and recovery

Develop a plan for restoring affected systems and recovering lost or damaged data. This may involve restoring from backups or reinstalling software. Regularly test your backups to ensure they can be reliably restored when needed.

Conduct post-incident analysis

Conduct a post-incident review to identify what went well and areas for improvement. Use this feedback to update your incident response plan and prevent similar incidents in the future. NIST's Special Publication 800-61 Rev. 2 provides guidelines for post-incident reviews.

9. Legal and Regulatory Considerations

Ensure Compliance with applicable laws and regulations

Ensure your incident response plan complies with relevant laws and regulations, like GDPR or HIPAA. Consult with legal experts to understand your obligations and avoid potential penalties.

Be aware of Reporting requirements

Be aware of any reporting requirements for security incidents, such as notifying regulators or affected individuals. The Data Protection Authority in your country can provide guidance on reporting requirements.

Evidence preservation

Develop procedures for preserving evidence during and after an incident, which may be necessary for legal or regulatory purposes. The SANS Institute's Digital Forensics and Incident Response Guide offers best practices for evidence preservation.

Please note that the information provided in this article is solely for informational purposes and should not be regarded as legal, professional, or technical advice. Our aim is to raise awareness and share general information on the topic of incident response plans. We kindly encourage readers to consult with their own legal counsel, IT professionals, or cybersecurity experts to obtain tailored advice specific to their unique circumstances. The author and publisher hold no liability or responsibility for any actions or decisions made based on the information presented in this article.

We hope you found this incident response plan template and guide useful. If your company is looking for IT professionals and you are interested in IT recruitment or IT staff augmentation, please contact us and we will be happy to help you find the right person for the job.

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