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Forming and Managing an Incident Response Team

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This sample chapter delves into forming and managing an incident response team - what a response team is, the rationale for forming an incident response team, major issues that must be addressed, and special management considerations.
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From time to time, we've mentioned the word "team" in the process of covering various topics related to incident response. This chapter delves into forming and managing an incident response team—what a response team is, the rationale for forming an incident response team, major issues that must be addressed, and special management considerations. These topics are particularly important. Many incident response efforts fail or flounder because of mistakes made in forming and/or managing a response team. This chapter again presents the authors' perspectives and real-life experiences in dealing with the many issues related to this area. We will begin by considering the most fundamental part of an "incident response team"—the meaning of the term itself.

What Is an Incident Response Team?

In many contexts, you will see "incident response" equated with "incident response team." Equating these two constructs might superficially appear logical, but doing so often constitutes a departure from reality. Why? People who know little or nothing about the process of incident response often become involved in dealing with security-related incidents. Users are a classic example.

Suppose a worm infects numerous systems. Users might collaborate to analyze what has happened and to combat the worm, yet they can hardly be called an incident response team. The reason is that an incident response team is a capability responsible for dealing with potential or real information security incidents. A team is assigned a set of duties related to bringing each security-related incident to a conclusion, ideally in accordance with the goals of the organization it serves. The difference, therefore, between individuals who are dealing with an incident and an incident response team is the mission—in terms of job-related responsibilities—assigned to each. Individuals might sometimes become involved in dealing with incidents, but an incident response team is assigned the responsibility of dealing with incidents as part or all of the job descriptions of the individuals involved.

How many individuals must be involved in an incident response effort for them to collectively be considered a team? A team consists of one or more individuals. You might ask how a team can consist of one individual when one person is not, in most situations, sufficient to deal adequately with most incidents. The answer is that one individual can effectively serve as the coordinator of efforts by a number of people. When incident handling efforts are finished, the others involved in the incident are released from any responsibilities they might have had in dealing with incident. But the team member has the ongoing, day-to-day responsibility of handling incidents and will have to deal with the next incident that occurs.

Many incident response teams have many team members, each with a specialized role. Consider, for example, the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC). Some of the many members of this team are engaged in daily operations, receiving reports of incidents and attempting to identify the type, source, impact, and other facets of security-related incidents that are reported. Others attempt to deal with vendors to close known vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, and so forth. Still others examine data to identify and project incident trends, something that is more related to research.

Outsourcing Incident Response Efforts

Should an organization have its own incident response effort, or should it contract with a consultancy or contractor to provide incident response support? The answer in most cases is that it depends on a number of basic factors. Let's consider the alternatives.

Hiring a Contractor or Consultancy. One of the many advantages of contracting with a commercial incident response team is that the overall cost of dealing with security-related incidents is likely to be lower. Why? Incident response personnel—contractors or consultants—need to deal only with incidents that occur. Unless there is a plethora of incidents, there is no need to keep regular personnel around to wait for incidents to occur. Additionally, contractors or consultancies usually offer special kinds of expertise that are often not available within any particular organization. Be careful, however. Many consultancies and service providers offer incident response services, some of which are far superior to others. Be sure to ask for references, preferably from current and ex-customers, before signing any contract for incident response services with any consultancy or service provider.

Using In-House Capability. The major rationale for developing an in-house incident response capability is to handle incidents in accordance with the policy and cultural/political needs of an organization. Security-related incidents are potentially very sensitive and political; an in-house capability is likely to deal with them in a manner that is most advantageous to the organization (provided, of course, that the individuals within this capability understand the culture and politics of the organization).

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