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How to Build an Incident Response Plan

Learn the basics of an Incident Response Program, hear the VP of Global Security Operations at ConnectWise discuss it, and then build your own!

How to Build an Incident Response Program

Build an Incident Response Program for your business to protect against the inevitable. As an industry, we’ve focused so much on preventative tactics, which are still important, but what happens when someone breaks through your defensive strategies?

Do you know what to look for, who to call, and how to get your business back in working order?

For most small businesses, the answer is no. They’re so focused on building their defense systems that they forget the bad guys only have to be right once… and those odds are not in our favor.

What is an Incident Response Program

An incident response program includes Incident Response Policies, an Incident Response Plan, and Incident Response Procedures. All three work together to define your offensive strategy should the worst-case scenario come true.

Incident Response Policies set the standard behavior for your team before, during, and after a security event. It’s the baseline for any Incident Response Program because it defines how team members work together, the purpose and objectives of incident response activities, and the leadership team's commitment to those objectives. On a practical level, it identifies incident severity levels, allowing your team to make quick decisions during an incident response and the requirements your team must follow for performance measures and reporting.

An Incident Response Plan is a set of guidelines management defines to fulfill Incident Response Policy requirements. The plan includes how your team responds to each security incident, defines its severity, and the procedure they should follow according to the evidence gathered and the severity they identified. It also keeps communication with internal and external teams clear, concise, and consistent without causing panic.

Incident Response Procedures are the step-by-step instructions your team needs to execute individual processes as part of your Incident Response Plan, including Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), technical processes, checklists, forms or other documented response procedures.

The Purpose of an Incident Response Plan

An Incident Response Program reduces the time and expense associated with a security incident. An organization must understand its environment’s threats and prevent common vulnerabilities. Some tips:

  • Utilize open community repositories like the National Vulnerability Database to address known vulnerabilities.
  • Determine the cyber events you currently monitor for
  • Complete or evaluate your Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
  • Use current resources in your organization to identify, mitigate, and monitor threats.

Incident Response Programs consist of plans and processes for all critical business functions and activities, identify and establish workforce personnel roles, and include written and shared documentation to mitigate cybersecurity risk. They must have clearly outlined, actionable steps a response team can quickly understand and follow when an incident occurs. They must also be flexible enough to support a wide range of incidents.

Building a Team for Your Incident Response Program

Like business culture overall, the security culture in your organization is defined and driven by the attitudes, examples, and tone demonstrated by your top executives and leaders. When you have buy-in, getting everyone in the organization on board with your security initiatives is more accessible. Without it, you’re fighting an uphill battle every day.

Poor communication, lack of leadership, and lack of oversight are the three most common obstacles to developing an effective Incident Management Program. So, getting executives, board members, owners, and other leaders to buy into the Incident Response Program is critical. From a business perspective, it allows you to recruit the most qualified candidates and workforce personnel for your security and response teams while also fostering the creation of processes and information channels that help you manage an incident effectively.

An Incident Response Program defines the key stakeholders and key roles within your organization to be involved in a security incident to alleviate those three obstacles during an incident. These should include department managers, senior management, partners, customers, and legal counsel. A fully functioning Incident Response Program may include the following roles:

Legal Counsel

Provides oversight and legal guidance on activities to perform or avoid and produces any legal briefs and proceedings.

Executive Management

The highest-level decision-makers include top-level executives, board members, and owners.

Program/Project Management

Provides oversight and application of knowledge of data, information, processes, organizational structure, workforce skills, analytical expertise, systems, networks, and data flows to manage the incident response life cycle.

IT & Security Teams

Provide the technical knowledge, experience, guidance, and execution of the initial incident response and containment actions.


Assist with incident oversight and follow-up activities, as well as any breach notification or incident reporting that may be required by regulation entities.

Business Operations

Provides business direction and communications across business units, departments, and teams.

Human Resources

Enables internal communications and assists with workforce personnel security policies that may have been violated during the incident.

Public Relations

Prepares messaging for both internal and external communications.

Outside Consultants

Can provide support for digital forensics, incident response, and security testing.


Internet Service Providers (ISPs), cloud service providers, hosting providers, software as a service (SaaS) providers, and managed security service providers (MSSPs).

Business Partners & Stakeholders

Individuals or businesses that depend and rely on your services or have integrated technical ties to your service data or IT environments.

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