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Best Practices for Security Incident Response

Picture this scenario: you arrive to work on Monday morning to find problems on your network. You can't login, some servers seem to be down, and the phone is going crazy. You consider the possibility of two causes :
- some fault has occurred and needs fixing
- you network is (or has been) under attack

What you do next is critical. Every decision you now make means a huge difference to the productivity of your business. This paper presents a short list of what needs to be done to address this situation : you have a security problem, it may be malicious hackers, or it could an entirely accidental problem.

Stay calm
Its important to stay calm and maintain professionalism throughout the incident.

Do no damage
Make sure that no matter what you do, you do not make the situation any worse. Take preventative measures such as taking backups of the affected systems, recording configuration details, and documenting the current state of affairs. This is particularly important if there will be any criminal prosecution arising from the incident in which case you will need to preserve any evidence of the criminal activity.

Fully assess the situation
Do not make any changes or corrective actions until you have fully assessed the situation. Be very careful of performing knee-jerk actions which can often make the situation a lot worse.

Identify your team
Handling the incident will be easier if there are two ( or more ) people working together. For example, one person can perform corrective actions while the other documents them and reports back to management. Keep others out of the way. Be aware of your limitations. Call in experts if required.

Document everything
This includes every action that is performed, every piece of evidence, and every conversation with users, system owners, management, and others regarding the incident. Include dates and times.

Analyse the evidence to confirm that an incident has occurred
Perform additional analysis and research as necessary. Make use of Internet search engines and software documentation to better understand the evidence. Reach out to other personnel within the organisation to help.

Notify the appropriate people
This should include the Chief Information Officer ( CIO ), the head of information security, and the local security manager. Operations managers and ( to some extent ) technical operations people should also be notified in case their assistance is required. Use discretion when discussing details of the incident with others; tell only the people who need to know and use communication mechanisms that are reasonably secure. (If the attacker has compromised Email services, do not send Email about the incident ).

Stop the incident if it is still in progress
The most common way to do this is to disconnect affected systems from the network. In some cases, firewall and router configurations may need to be modified to stop network traffic that is part of an incident, such as a denial of service ( DoS ) attack.

Identify the single most important and immediate problem
Concentrate on resolving this problem. Be aware that there may be more than one problem - there may be multiple attackers entering the network, there may be a combination of hardware faults and malicious attackers.

Preserve evidence from the incident
Make backups ( preferably disk image backups, not file system backups ) of affected systems. Make copies of log files that contain evidence related to the incident.

Wipe out all effects of the incident
This effort includes malicious code infections, inappropriate materials (eg. pirated software), Trojan horse files, and any other changes made to systems by incidents. If a system has been fully compromised, rebuild it from scratch or restore it from a known good backup.

Identify and mitigate all vulnerabilities that were exploited
The incident probably occurred by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in operating systems or applications. It is critical to identify such vulnerabilities and eliminate or otherwise mitigate them so that the incident does not happen again.

Confirm that operations have been restored to normal
Make sure that data, applications, and other services affected by the incident have been returned to normal operations.

Create a final report
This report should detail the incident handling process. It should also provide an executive summary of what happened and how a formal incident response capability would have helped to handle the situation, mitigate the risk, and limit damage more quickly. Make notes about how your incident response could have been handled better.

Learn from the situation

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