Crafting An IT Incident Response Playbook – Templates, Examples & More

Developing a plan of action for handling the fallout of a data breach or cyber attack is something every modern business should do.

Your ability to respond swiftly and consistently to IT incidents will prevent potentially minor breaches from spiraling out of control.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to put together a playbook that will give team members a clear path to follow towards recovery, while reducing disruption in the process.


Be precise with your definition of an incident

First, you need to set out what an IT incident actually is, as this can differ depending on the nature of your organization, and even the types of teams involved in responding to it.

Once you’ve got this definition down in writing, you also need to clarify the terms for when the response has concluded.

For example, most businesses would define an incident worthy of response as one which leads to services being disrupted in some way. This might involve database performance issues, website errors, or it could relate to network slowdown or outright outages.

Resolution of such an incident can only be confirmed when normal functionality is reinstated. There’s also a need for after-action investigations into the incident to help work out what went wrong, and to prevent the same scenario recurring in future.


Decide who is responsible for what duties

Your playbook not only has to include what needs to be done in response to IT incidents, but also which team members will be tasked with handling the different aspects of recovery.

It makes sense to have an individual who’s responsible for top-level management of the incident, so that there’s no ambiguity about who needs to make decisions and orchestrate proceedings.

In addition, having an employee who is focused on the technical side of the response, who the manager can call upon to give expert input that drives their decisions, is necessary.

You will also need a public-facing figure to take on the job of communicating internally and externally to keep employees and customers in the loop about what’s going on during and after an incident. If anyone is left in the dark, it can be hard to win back their trust.

This is where using a dedicated platform can improve IT incident management immeasurably. Managing the response, delving into the technical aspects and maintaining lines of communication with all affected parties is easier if you’ve got access to software which is designed to do all this and more.


Aim for consistency in incident response

While every breach, outage or cyber issue is unique, you can still codify and unify the steps you take in approaching each incident.

Typically this will involve three main stages, each of which is subdivided into several separate milestones as progress is made.

First there’s the emergence of a new incident that merits a response, which begins with detection and follows on with the opening of communication between those team members who are responsible for setting things straight.

Then there’s the remedial stage, which includes running an assessment of the incident, communicating the findings to relevant team members, and delegating duties based on the analysis of the threat.

Finally there’s the resolution, which requires the incident to be fixed and then checks to be run to ensure that everything is back on an even keel.


Follow up with a thorough breakdown of what happened

The aftermath of an IT incident, your response playbook has to remain open as you then delve into the process of unpicking the event and taking lessons from what you discover.

It’s useful to have meetings with response unit members so that discussion and debate of the discoveries can take place, and ideas about what went wrong and how it can be avoided can be shared.

You can then set objectives for any changes that are deemed necessary given the new information your incident post-mortem throws up.


Final thoughts

An IT incident response playbook has to be bespoke, and also a document that evolves and expands along with your business.

Crafting it will be a challenge, but the benefits of having a plan in place will be justifiable since your business’ mission-critical resources will be more resilient.

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