SMBs Must Avoid These Incident Response Mistakes

Publication date: Jun 14, 2024

Last Published: Jun 14, 2024

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Read Time : 7 minutes

While incident prevention tools and techniques form the frontline of any cyber-defence strategy, they alone can’t guarantee the safety of an organization. The reality that many cybersecurity professionals don’t like their clients to know is that even the most robust preventive measures can fail, and without a strong incident response plan, the target organization’s ability to recover may be severely compromised. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common incident response mistakes that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make and provide actionable advice on how to avoid them. By following our tips, your business can be well-prepared to respond effectively to any cybersecurity incident that comes your way.

Mistake #1: Not Having a Formal Incident Response Plan 

Imagine facing a cyber attack—your network might be compromised, sensitive data at risk, and your daily operations grinding to a halt. In the midst of this chaos, you don’t want to be scrambling to figure out what to do next because you’ve never formalized the incident response procedures in the first place. 

A comprehensive incident response plan should clearly define what constitutes an incident, taking into account all relevant legal and regulatory requirements. It should also establish an incident response team and assign a role to each member. Most importantly, it should outline the specific steps that need to be taken to respond to and recover from an incident

Mistake #2: Never Testing the Incident Response Plan

Having a well-documented incident response plan is the first step, but the plan may seem perfect on paper while leaving a lot to be desired in practice. The only way to find out how solid it is before it’s too late is to put it to the test.

Unfortunately, a study conducted by the Ponemon Institute on behalf of IBM revealed that more than half (54%) of all organizations don’t test their incident response plans regularly. This is a concerning statistic, as failing to test a plan can lead to disastrous consequences in the event of a cyber attack. We recommend organizations test their incident response plans at least once a year or whenever a major change occurs, such as a shift in business objectives, updates to regulatory requirements, or a significant alteration in IT infrastructure. 

Mistake #3: Failing to Respond to Incidents in a Timely Manner 

When it comes to incident response, time is of the essence. The longer it takes to detect and respond to an incident, the more damage it can cause. In fact, a delay of just a few hours can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a full-blown disaster.

That’s why it’s essential to pay attention to key metrics like Mean Time to Acknowledge (MTTA), Mean Time to Detection (MTTD), and Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR). These metrics can help you measure the effectiveness of your incident response plan and identify areas for improvement.

Mistake #4: Insufficient Knowledge of Your IT Infrastructure

To mount an effective incident response, you need to have a thorough understanding of your organization’s IT infrastructure. This includes knowing what hardware and software you have, where it’s located, how it’s configured, and who has access to it.

The problem is that most SMBs deal with multiple forms of shadow IT. According to Capterra’s 2023 Shadow IT and Project Management Survey, 69% of respondents reported encountering new hardware and cloud services that had been adopted without the knowledge or oversight of their IT team. Additionally, over half found that in-house software development efforts were occurring outside of IT’s purview.

To combat shadow IT, it’s important to establish clear policies and procedures for the adoption and use of technology within your organization. It also helps to regularly conduct IT audits and invest in software solutions designed to monitor and manage your IT assets. 

Mistake #5: Focusing Only on External Threats 

It’s easy to focus solely on external threats, such as hackers and malware, but they’re not the only cause of cybersecurity incidents. Insider threats can be just as damaging, if not more so, than external attacks, and they can take many different forms, including malicious insiders, negligent insiders, and compromised insiders. 

According to enterprise security company Proofpoint, the frequency of insider-led incidents was up by 44 percent in 2022 compared with 2020. To address this growing threat, incident response plans should include specific procedures for dealing with insiders, such as identifying and isolating compromised accounts, conducting forensic investigations, and reporting incidents to appropriate authorities. 

Mistake #6: Relying Solely on Manual Incident Response

While manual response to threats will always have its place in cybersecurity, the increasing frequency of alerts calls for automation. Using Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) tools, SMBs can automate repetitive tasks such as collecting evidence, isolating infected systems, and escalating alerts to the appropriate personnel. 

Automating routine incident response tasks helps expedite the initial response to an incident, reducing the time it takes to contain and mitigate the threat. This can significantly minimize the damage caused by a cyber attack. Moreover, automation can also help reduce the workload of your IT team, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks that require human expertise.

Mistake #7: Not Testing Backups

Backups are a critical component of any incident response plan, especially when it comes to ransomware attacks. However, simply creating backups is not enough because untested backups can be just as useless as having none at all. Why? Because they can be impossible to recover from, not contain all necessary data, or restore too slowly to be effective in the event of a cyber attack.

To avoid this mistake, make it a habit to regularly test your backups. We recommend you consider key metrics such as Recovery Time Objective (RTO), measures the maximum allowable time to restore a system or service after an incident, and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), measures the maximum allowable data loss in terms of time. By regularly testing backups and considering RTO and RPO metrics, you can verify that your backup strategy is effective.

Mistake #8: Ignoring Data Breach Notification Laws

All 50 states and territories within the US have some form of data breach notification law. These laws vary in detail, but they generally require organizations to notify individuals whose personal information was exposed in a security breach. The specific notification timeframe can range from immediate disclosure to a set number of days after the breach is discovered, depending on the state.

Failing to comply with data breach notification laws can have serious consequences. Fines can be hefty, and the reputational damage from being labeled as unresponsive or unconcerned about customer privacy can be significant. For these and other reasons, it’s paramount for organizations to incorporate data breach notification laws into their incident response plans.

In addition to state laws, there are also federal laws and regulations that may apply to your organization, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Mistake #9: Taking Too Much Time Between Incident Response Plan Updates

Your incident response plan shouldn’t be a static document gathering dust on a shelf. As your business grows and evolves, so too do the threats it faces. That’s why it’s essential to regularly review and update your incident response plan to so that it remains effective and relevant.

We recommend reviewing and updating your incident response plan before and, if necessary, after every incident response test, so at least once a year or whenever a major change occurs (as discussed in Mistake #2). When you do update your incident response plan, don’t forget to notify all relevant stakeholders and provide them with the updated version. 

Mistake #10: Lacking the Experience and Expertise Necessary to Respond Effectively

SMBs face the same cyber threats as large enterprises, but they often lack the experience and expertise necessary to respond effectively, leaving them unable to recover quickly when incidents occur.

The best solution to this problem is to partner with a managed security services provider (MSSP) like us at OSIbeyond. By outsourcing your cybersecurity needs to a trusted partner, you can gain access to the expertise and resources you need to mount an effective response in a timely manner.

Contact OSIbeyond today to learn more about how our managed security services can enhance your incident response strategy. 

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