Communications Control Vital During Incident Response

From the time an information security incident is first suspected at your organization until the end of the last “lessons learned” meeting, good communications are absolutely vital. Communications must rapidly and surely reach all interested parties in the proper order, but at the same time, they must be secure, authorized and only available to those with an immediate need to know. If your organization does not have a well thought out and practiced IR communications plan in place, you will not be able to reach these goals. And that could cost your organization both reputational damage and funds.

To build an IR communications plan, you need to consider all the various individuals and groups that are potentially going to play a part in the incident response. For example, all employees need to know how and who to communicate with if they notice a security problem. Help desk, supervisory and IT personnel also need to know how and who to communicate with if a security problem comes to their attention. And especially, IR team members need to know how, when and who to communicate with, not only among themselves and other members of the organization, but also with outside parties such as law enforcement, regulators and the media.

But the “who,” is only one step in the process. The other steps are the “what,” “how” and “when” to communicate parts of the puzzle. These tasks are easy on an individual basis, but quickly become complex. IR team members should meet and discuss these issues and make sure to document their decisions on how to handle them. Fortunately, the team will not have come up with all of this on their own. There is plenty of advice available on the Internet from private and government organizations that is available to all. I also recommend contacting similar organizations and user groups to see what advice they can give you from their own experiences with handling communications during an incident.

Here is some advice on IR communications that has proven beneficial to the organizations that we have worked with in the past:

  • Some one person (usually the head of the IR team) should be in charge of communications during an incident response. This individual should be aware of and approve all important communications during the incident response.
  • Ensure that there are multiple means of communication available. Phones, email, Slack channels, web-based communications, etc. can all be utilized.
  • Ensure that all communications are secure and only available to their intended audience. A lack of proper secrecy during an incident response can be disastrous.
  • Create communications templates of all kinds for use during the incident response, such as communications to be released to the media, to employees, to customers, to service providers, to regulators, etc. Having such templates saves a lot of time and effort among personnel whose attention could be better directed elsewhere. It can also help ensure that mistakes are not made on what is being communicated.
  • Practice how communications will be handled during incident response exercises such as table tops. These exercises expose many gaps in IR communications techniques that you don’t want to discover during an actual incident.
  • Ensure that all individuals and groups that may be involved in an incident response are made aware of how and who to communicate with during an incident. Documented communications policies and procedures should be included in information security training, policy documents, service agreements, contracts, etc.