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International Standards and Frameworks for Effective Incident Response

Protecting an organization from cyber threats requires a coordinated process for detecting, responding to, and recovering from security incidents. Having detailed incident response plans that align with recognized standards ensures consistency, clarity, and compliance across the preparation, identification, containment, eradication, and recovery stages.

As a security professional, I often get asked “What are the key standards our incident response program should align to?”. Over years of building and auditing IR programs, I’ve found several leading international standards provide a crucial framework for success. In this post, I wanted to summarize what I see as the top 7 incident response standards and frameworks adopted globally.

Why Standards and Frameworks Matter?

With cyber threats increasing in impact and sophistication, no organization can afford to be complacent. Even with layered defenses, some attacks can impact operations leading to outages and data theft. This is where having an incident response plan activates as the last line of defense.

However, without adequate structure, incident response plans fail when most needed. This is why organizations need standards and frameworks that provide step-by-step direction on not just detecting incidents but containing, eradicating, and recovering from them. By leveraging incident response frameworks, organizations can:

  • Systematically prepare, detect, analyze, and mitigate incidents
  • Reduce recovery time and minimize overall business impact
  • Gain visibility across the incident lifecycle
  • Continuously improve response capabilities

Now let’s discuss the leading incident response standards and frameworks in more detail…

ISO 27035 – Information Security Incident Management

The ISO/IEC 27035 standard provides an extensive framework developed by cybersecurity experts for governing the full incident management lifecycle with a focus on detection, escalation, response, and readiness. It covers three key areas:

  1. Incident management principles: Leadership, commitments, integration with enterprise risk framework, etc.
  2. Incident detection and reporting: Event monitoring, classification, and incident declaration
  3. Incident response: Damage control, gathering evidence, continuity of operations

A great standard for organizations looking to align incident response processes with ISO management standards. It can be easily mapped to related standards like ISO 27001 as well.

NIST SP 800-61 – Computer Security Incident Handling Guide

The NIST Special Publication 800-61 is widely considered the bible for computer security incident response. Maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), it provides in-depth guidance on:

  • Establishing an incident response capability
  • Handling various types of incidents like malware infestations, unauthorized access, denial of service
  • Incident analysis, prioritization, containment, eradication, and recovery
  • Incident coordination, reporting, and information sharing

The guidelines are technology-neutral and provide actionable controls that can be adapted by organizations of any size and vertical. If your organization doesn’t follow any particular incident response framework, SP 800-61 should be the default standard.

ENISA Good Practice Guide on Incident Management

ENISA or the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity publishes detailed guides on incident management targeted for key stakeholders like CERTS, CSIRTS, national regulators and standardization bodies.

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The ENISA guide provides good practices and detailed guidelines on:

  • Incident detection, reporting, and information exchange
  • Multi-dimensional analysis based on impact, criticality of assets and systems
  • Coordination during incident response
  • Continuous improvement of capabilities

It’s a great framework for European organizations looking for EU-specific guidelines. However, the practices can be applied universally across sectors.

FIRST CSIRT Framework

The Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST) has defined guidelines for Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) to help them structure and mature their incident management capabilities.

The key areas covered in the FIRST CSIRT framework are:

  • Services like alerts, announcements, artifact handling
  • Operations focused on event detection, triage, analysis, coordination
  • Improving team processes over time

It’s an excellent practical framework for newly established CSIRTs and those looking to expand services beyond just incident response.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The popular NIST Cybersecurity Framework is technology-neutral guidance organized around five core functions – Detect, Identify, Protect, Respond, and Recover. The key Incident Response processes are covered in the Detect, Respond, and Recover functions defining outcomes like:

  • Detection processes and procedures
  • Analysis to ensure effective response and support recovery
  • Activities to contain impacts and restore systems after an incident

The CSF provides a high-level direction for incident response which can be further detailed by overlaying other tactical frameworks like NIST 800-61.

SANS Incident Handler’s Handbook

The SANS Institute is a leading cybersecurity research and training organization that publishes in-depth guides on various infosec topics. The SANS Incident Handler’s Handbook teaches effective incident handling through real-life practical examples that users can directly apply in their environments.

It covers IR lifecycle activities like:

  • Preparing your organization for effective incident handling
  • Understanding common attack vectors and tools
  • Detecting incidents proactively
  • Collecting and analyzing data during investigations
  • Recovering systems after eradication

One of the most comprehensive practical guides on incident handling available as of today combining both strategic and tactical recommendations.

PCI DSS IR Requirements

Organizations handling payment card data need to comply with the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) framework formulated by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. The PCI DSS requirements explicitly cover Incident Response including:

  • IR plan, roles, and training
  • Timely detection and reporting
  • Appropriate response and escalation
  • Post-incident analysis and improvement

So organizations processing online transactions must ensure PCI compliance by implementing adequate incident response aligned with PCI DSS guidelines.

Final Thoughts

Incident response is a complex discipline that requires coordination across security teams, IT ops, application owners, legal and other business functions. Incident response standards and frameworks provide the foundation for bringing structure and consistency to this process.

While standards like NIST 800-61, ISO 27035, and ENISA guide cover the big picture planning and processes, tactical frameworks like SANS Handbook and CREST Guide provide actionable recommendations for security analysts and responders dealing with incidents. Regulations like PCI DSS have specific compliance mandates as well that organizations need to adhere to.

I recommend studying the critical activities across these incident response frameworks:

  • Detection: Monitoring, alerting, visibility
  • Analysis: IOCs, categorization, impact, forensics
  • Containment: Isolation, halting spread
  • Eradication: Removing malware, hardening systems
  • Recovery: Restoring operations, analyzing root cause
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Customizing and practicing these procedures through incident response plans and exercises is key to be prepared when an actual incident strikes.

As threats continue to evolve, so will standards and best practices for incident response. However, having an IR capability mapped to proven international standards provides the strategic foundation on which organizations can build their cyber resilience.

We hope this post helped in learning about the International Standards and Frameworks for Incident Response. Thanks for reading this post. Please share this post and help secure the digital world. Visit our website, thesecmaster.com, and our social media page on FacebookLinkedInTwitterTelegramTumblrMedium, and Instagram and subscribe to receive updates like this.  

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About the author

Arun KL

Arun KL is a cybersecurity professional with 15+ years of experience spanning IT infrastructure, cloud security, vulnerability management, Penetration Testing, security operations, and incident response. He is adept at designing and implementing robust security solutions to safeguard systems and data. Arun holds multiple industry certifications including CCNA, CCNA Security, RHCE, CEH, and AWS Security.

To know more about him, you can visit his profile on LinkedIn.

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