Incident response

How to build a proactive incident response plan

November 26, 2021 by

Organizations have long since relied on a reactive approach to cybersecurity. However, with the ever-increasing sophistication of tools for malicious actors, a reactive approach may lead to disaster.

A single cybersecurity incident could have a devastating impact on an organization. The average cost of a data breach is now $4.24 million, according to the 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report from Ponemon Institute and IBM. Amidst this, a sound and proactive incident response plan is crucial for organizations — regardless of their size.

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What is an incident response plan for?

Endpoint security tools, such as VPNs, proxies and antimalware, are commonplace cybersecurity measures. While that is a smart move — and mandatory to ensure data security — cybersecurity doesn't stop there.

Employee cybersecurity awareness training is also crucial. There are numerous instances where employees are unaware of common tools or might even fall victim to social engineering attacks. This can lead to various negative consequences, such as unauthorized access, data theft, mistrust among partners, loss of clients and regulatory fines. Having an "identify and respond" strategy for cybersecurity can help mitigate these consequences.

An incident response plan is designed to outline the roles and responsibilities of the security team in case of a cyber incident. It defines the strategies, tools and necessary steps the security team must contain, investigate and respond to the incident. Some of the most important reasons why an organization needs a proactive incident response plan are as follows:

Ensure data protection

Data is one of the crucial elements within an organization. Whether it is client information or company plans, protecting employees' professional and personal information, clients and the business itself is downright essential.

When falling into the wrong hands, data can be used for nefarious purposes such as getting sold over the dark web or being used to launch ransomware or social engineering attacks. The stolen personal information can also lead to identity theft for clients and employees. It is, therefore, crucial to protect data through a proactive incident response plan.

Protects an organization's financial structure

Apart from information, a data breach or any cybersecurity incident can put an organization's financial situation at risk. Despite the threat that comes with them, only 14% of small businesses proclaim their ability defense system against cyberattacks as effective, according to Accenture.

It is not only the loss of revenue that's at risk. The expenses of a cyber incident may include additional costs such as legal fees, fines, forensic investigation and downtime. The best way to mitigate these issues is to ensure a fast and thorough response to a cyber incident. The quicker an organization responds, the less financial and reputational damage it may face. The best way to achieve that efficiency is to build a proactive incident response plan.

Ensure reputational integrity and consumer's trust

Loss of reputation and customers is a crucial aspect of a cybersecurity incident. An organization that has faced a data breach and has not handled its impact correctly might come off as mismanaged or even irresponsible, which ultimately ruins its reputation and integrity.

Customers like to be confident that their data is in safe hands and that an organization is doing everything within its power to protect it from falling into the wrong hands. Organizations must protect customer data through various online security measures. Because ultimately, when a cyber incident hits an organization and fails to respond efficiently, the customers are likely to feel betrayed. More than 30% of consumers discontinue their relationship to an organization that has faced a data breach and failed to handle it, according to a 2017 report, The Impact of Data Breaches on Reputation and Share Value.

Moreover, it is not just the loss of customers that comes with a tainted reputation due to cyber incidents. If an organization is a publicly-traded company, it might also have to face the loss of investors and shareholders. However, a proactive incident response plan can help limit the risk.

How to build a proactive incident response plan?

Indecent response plans are created to help an organization sustain the damages faced by a cyber attack. Although various organizations ensure cybersecurity through endpoint security tools such as a residential proxy, VPN or antimalware software, cybersecurity needs a more holistic approach. Therefore, it is crucial for a proactive incident response plan to contain all the necessary steps needed to ensure the security team is well prepared for the worst-case scenario.

A proactive indecent response plan includes the following crucial elements:

Learn Incident Response

Learn Incident Response

Get hands-on experience with incident response tools and techniques as you progress through nine courses.

Planning and preparation

A proactive incident response plan relies on proper planning and preparation. An organization should design and develop communication channels for information security teams regarding any security incident. These communicative channels should be prepared to remain effective during and after a security incident.

Moreover, the organization should plan what endpoint security tools it requires. It should be mandatory to use various security tools such as VPNs, antimalware and password managers to ensure data security. A proactive response plan would also make it crucial for organizations to ensure data encryption.

Identification and investigation

To ensure that the security team is aware of any incident within the organization, employees must have a defined way of reporting security incidents. The security teams should also have automated endpoint tools that detect and gather real-time information regarding current and possible cyber threats for proactive identification.

The organization should conduct regular cyber threat intelligence programs and develop comprehensive threat monitoring and detection tools to ensure continuous threat detection and monitoring. Moreover, organizations should also conduct regular cyber compromise assessment programs to detect unknown vulnerabilities within their security framework.

Analyzing security incidents

A thorough cyber incident analysis goes a long way and is another essential aspect of a proactive incident response plan. To ensure there is minimal damage as a result of the cyber security incident, the security team should conduct a thorough analysis of the event to determine the extent of its impact. Within the analysis, the security team should focus on:

  • Determining the traces of the incident left behind by the threat actor by analyzing the systems and security networks
  • Analyze the tools or binaries used by the malicious actor to carry out the attack
  • Document the compromised systems, networks, devices and accounts and conduct a thorough analysis to determine the scope of the incident

By conducting such analyses, the organization will determine the best route to repair the damages and prevent further attacks.

Containing the attack

With the intelligence and analysis gathered, the security team contains the incident. The team mitigates the risk actions and ensures protecting the organization from further damages.

To contain these damages, the security team performs coordinated shutdowns of all the compromised systems until the threat is mitigated. Moreover, the security teams should also wipe off and rebuild all the operating systems within the organization and methodically change the login credentials of all accounts.

Eradicating threats

Once the security team has successfully identified the domain and IP addresses of the malicious actors, the team works on blocking communication from those domains. The security team also removes existing threats and patching the security framework.


The recovery phase consists of the organization setting the business back to its standard forms. The security team focuses on developing a risk mitigation strategy and a remediation strategy. These strategies are all based on documented incidents, ensuring the organization remains protected from further security incidents.

Post-incident activity

The post-incident activity phase is often the most overlooked part of an incident response plan. However, this phase is exceedingly important since it involves learning from the incident and incorporating it into future incident response plans.

In this phase, the team analyzes the incident and the executed incident response. The team compiles all the lessons learned and documents all relevant details regarding the incident. This collected data is also utilized to determine risk monitoring processes for the near future. The team also gathers evidence pertinent to share with law enforcement. The phase aims to minimize such incidents' prospects and build a better incident response plan.

Learn Incident Response

Learn Incident Response

Get hands-on experience with incident response tools and techniques as you progress through nine courses.

Why you need an incident response plan

With the continual development within the cyber threat landscape, a proactive incident response plan goes beyond preparing to react to a security incident. The proactive plan ensures the organization is ready to respond effectively and thoroughly recover from cyber incidents without facing crumbling damages.



Waqas is a cybersecurity journalist and writer who has a knack for writing technology and online privacy-centric articles. Waqas runs the project, which presents expert opinions on online privacy and security.