What are the 7 steps of incident response?

As a small business executive it might feel like the resources your bigger competitors have are an unfair advantage. But when it comes to responding to a cyber incident, the process is exactly the same whether you’re a small startup or a large corporation. But what exactly should you do when faced with a cyber threat? This article breaks down the seven essential steps of incident response, guiding you through each phase to ensure you’re equipped to handle and recover from any cyber incident effectively.

Building a Solid Foundation

The first step in handling a cyber incident effectively is all about the work you do before there’s an incident. Because of this, it’s really the most important step. If you do this well, all the other steps will be easier. And if you skip this step, everything else will be much harder. This step, called Preparation, is where you lay the groundwork to ensure your team knows what to do when a cyber incident occurs. 

Here’s what goes into preparing well:

  • Training Your Team: Make sure everyone knows the basics of cybersecurity. They’ll need to know their own role as well as the supporting staff and resources they have and how to use them.
  • Setting Up the Right Tools: Have the necessary software and tools in place. This includes firewalls, antivirus programs, and intrusion detection systems.
  • Creating Response Protocols: Develop clear procedures for different types of incidents. It’s like having a playbook so everyone knows their role during an emergency.

Good preparation means when a cyber incident happens, you’re not scrambling to figure out what to do. Instead, you have a clear plan, and everyone knows how to follow it. It’s the key to turning a potential disaster into a manageable situation, and the faster your company will be back to normal operations.

Recognizing the Threat

When it comes to dealing with cyber incidents, knowing what you’re up against is half the battle. This is where the Identification step in incident response comes into play. It’s all about being alert and recognizing when something’s not quite right with your systems. Think of it like being a digital detective; you’re on the lookout for clues that suggest something fishy is going on.

So, what are these clues or signs of a potential security breach? Here are a few common ones:

  • Unusual Outbound Network Traffic: This could be a sign that data is being sent to an unknown location.
  • Alerts from Security Tools: If your antivirus or other security tools are flagging something, it’s worth investigating.
  • Unexpected Software Installations: New, unfamiliar software on your system can be a red flag.
  • Slow or Malfunctioning Systems: If your computers or networks are suddenly sluggish or acting weird, it could be due to a cyber threat.
  • Suspicious User Activity: This includes unusual login times or locations that don’t line up with the user’s normal behavior.

Identifying a threat quickly is crucial. The sooner you know there’s a problem, the faster you can jump into action to stop it from getting worse. It’s like spotting a small leak in a boat; if you catch it early, you can patch it up before it turns into a bigger issue.

But how do you stay on top of all this? Just because of all the information needed to process, the right set of tools is important. But beyond that, you need to know your normal operations well. That way, when something out of the ordinary happens, you’ll spot it right away. 

Limiting the Damage

After you’ve identified a threat, the next step is Containment. This is where you act fast to prevent the problem from spreading and getting worse. Think of it as quickly containing a spill before it can spread across the floor.

Containment involves a few critical actions:

  • Isolating Affected Systems: If one computer is infected, disconnect it from the network to prevent the spread of the threat. Most Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solutions have features that allow for isolating infected systems.
  • Securing Your Network: Change passwords and update security settings to lock down your network.
  • Remove Potential Transmission Points: Identify any network or automated services that need to be shut down.

Containment is a bit like firefighting – you want to control the blaze quickly and prevent it from spreading to other areas. By acting swiftly and decisively, you can limit the damage a cyber incident can cause.

Removing the Threat

Once you’ve contained the cyber threat, the next step is Eradication. This is where you get to the root of the problem and remove it from your system. It’s like weeding a garden; you want to pull out the weeds so they don’t come back.

Eradication involves:

  • Identifying the Cause: Figure out how the breach happened. Was it a phishing email or a weak password?
  • Removing Malware: If malware is involved, use your security tools to remove it from your system. If your team doesn’t have expertise in something like this, having a reliable partner like Arch Access to assist can be a lifesaver.
  • Patching Vulnerabilities: Update your software to fix any security holes that the attackers used.

Eradication is crucial because it ensures that the threat is completely removed and won’t cause any more problems. 

Getting Back to Business

After the threat is gone, it’s time for Recovery. This step is about getting your systems and operations back to normal.

Recovery includes:

  • Restoring Data: Use your backups to restore any data that was lost or compromised.
  • Testing Systems: Before going back to full operation, test your systems to make sure they’re safe and functioning correctly.
  • Monitoring for After-Effects: Keep an eye out for any unusual activity that might suggest there are still issues to address.

Recovery is important because as we’ve explored in other articles, the longer you are disrupted by a cyber incident, the greater the risk to your business. But it’s also about doing it safely, so you don’t run into the same problems.

Turning Experience into Wisdom

After dealing with a cyber incident, it’s important to learn from it. This is where the Lessons Learned step comes in. It’s about looking back at what happened and figuring out how to improve.

This involves:

  • Analyzing the Incident: What went well? What could have been done better?
  • Updating Policies and Protocols: Use what you’ve learned to make your incident response plan even stronger.
  • Training Staff: If there were gaps in knowledge or awareness, address them with additional training.

It’s a fairly common misconception that after you’ve recovered from a cyber incident you’re immune. But it doesn’t work that way. This isn’t like the flu or a human virus. The only defense against a repeat attack is learning from the first one.

Keeping Stakeholders Informed

Communication is a critical part of incident response. It’s about keeping everyone who needs to know, from your team to your clients, informed about what’s happening.

Effective communication involves:

  • Clear Internal Communication: Make sure your team knows what’s going on and what they need to do.
  • Informing Clients and Partners: Let them know how the incident might affect them and what you’re doing about it.
  • Being Transparent and Timely: Provide regular updates and be honest about the situation.

Good communication can help maintain trust and confidence during a crisis. It’s about ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working together to resolve the issue.


Navigating through a cyber incident can be challenging, but with a clear and structured incident response plan, it becomes manageable. By following these seven steps – Preparation, Identification, Containment, Eradication, Recovery, Lessons Learned, and Communication – you can minimize the impact of cyber threats on your business. Remember, the key to successful incident management is not just in responding to threats but also in learning from them and continuously improving your cybersecurity practices.

As you’ve probably figured out from this article, building an effective incident response plan isn’t easy, and experience matters. You don’t need to figure it out on your own. Arch Access is the trusted cybersecurity partner to help you build and test your Cyber Incident Response Plan when things are fine, and we’re here 24/7 to help when things go wrong. Contact us at sdeal@archaccess.com to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first step in an effective incident response plan?

The first step is Preparation. This involves training your team, setting up the right tools, and creating clear response protocols. It’s all about being ready before an incident occurs.

How do you identify a cybersecurity incident?

Identifying a cybersecurity incident involves monitoring for unusual activity like strange outbound traffic, alerts from security tools, unexpected software installations, slow or malfunctioning systems, and suspicious user activity. It’s about being alert and recognizing signs of a potential breach.

Why is post-incident review important in incident response?

Post-incident review is important because it helps you analyze what happened, what was done well, and what could be improved. It’s a learning process that strengthens your future response efforts and updates your incident response plan.

What role does communication play in incident response?

Communication is crucial in incident response for coordinating efforts and keeping stakeholders informed. It involves clear internal communication within your team, informing clients and partners about the incident, and being transparent and timely with updates. Effective communication helps maintain trust and manage the situation more effectively.