As cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated, a strategic response is crucial. Incident response is not just about reacting to threats—it should involve a structured approach designed to mitigate damage and enhance organizational resilience. This guide can help organizations mature their response strategy by developing and utilizing an efficient response library.

Current Landscape of Response Strategies

“Response” refers to the actions taken to address a triggered detection alert. It aims to mitigate an incident and lessen potential damage, which may include financial loss, data loss, and reputational damage.

Many security teams respond to each incident as a unique event, leading to varied effectiveness and timeliness in each response. This ad hoc approach not only strains resources, but also leaves organizations vulnerable to prolonged dwell time and increased risk. Without a standardized protocol or a clear framework, the organization’s security posture remains reactive rather than proactive, making it difficult to anticipate or mitigate future threats.

Building a Response Library

To combat these inefficiencies, organizations should develop a response library by documenting actions taken against threats. This set of actions, or “playbook,” offers a structured method for addressing common threats like phishing, malware, or credential compromise. Standardizing responses helps contain threats, reduce response time, provide clarity on what actions to take in which security tools. Additionally, playbooks enable better documentation of incidents, aiding and post-incident reviews for continuous improvement.

Strategic Implementation

While response libraries are essential in security operations, it’s important to determine where to begin. Below are the key areas organizations need to focus on when creating a response library to address common cyber attacks specific to their organization:

1. Common alerts and their typical responses: Analyze all common alerts generated across the organization’s security tools, like EDRs, firewalls, cloud technologies, etc. Review the response steps taken for each alert and assess their effectiveness.

2. Analysis of industry-specific threats: Investigate industry-specific common and emerging threats, how they infiltrate networks, and how the organization should respond.

3. Review of historical incidents: Review previous security incidents and breaches to understand what happened, how it was detected, and the mitigation steps taken. Identify what measures, like enhanced detection and response protocols, could have prevented the incidents or reduced their impact.

Considerations for Risk Reduction

Enhance the effectiveness of your response library and reduce risk by configuring settings such as:

  • Allowlists and blocklists: Safeguards like allowlists or blocklists can significantly improve security because they permit only trusted applications and processes to run.
  • Time-based protocol configurations: Configuring systems to handle different protocols during off hours and business hours can be highly effective. For instance, limiting access to sensitive systems outside of business hours can prevent unauthorized access during vulnerable periods.

These configurations fortify the organization’s preventative measures and align response actions to the risk tolerance of an organization.

Foundational Response Actions

After review, the next step for the organization is to use the analysis results to build foundational response actions centered around containment and remediation. Containment response actions are critical as they quickly prevent the spread of a threat, while remediation response actions focus on recovery and repair after a threat has been confirmed.

Both containment and remediation response actions serve as the foundation of a response library that ensures organizations can minimize the impact of incoming attacks. By having a set of ready-to-execute actions, organizations can rapidly contain an incident and restore affected systems.

  • Practical use case: An alert was triggered when a user clicked on a phishing link, prompting immediate containment actions such as blocking the phishing link and temporarily locking the user’s account.

In the table below are common examples of containment and remediation response actions.

Action Description
Block IP Prevents access to websites identified as threats, blocking attempts to download malware or conduct phishing
Isolate Host Quarantines a compromised system within the network to prevent the spread of the infection during investigation.
Ban Hash Targets specific files with known malicious hashes to prevent execution.

Enhanced Response Actions

After building foundational responses, organizations should focus on enrichment actions. Enrichment response actions pull in related data from various sources to provide context for investigations.

  • Practical use case: During the investigation for phishing link clicked, an enrichment action accesses the IAM tool to retrieve the user’s information, including department, job title, and other relevant details, to understand the threat’s scope and impact.

Enhanced response actions provide a deeper understanding of the severity and potential impact of the threat. The table below outlines specific enrichment response actions recommended for common threats.

Action Description
Integrate Threat Intelligence Pulls real-time data about active threats and their associated risks from global threat databases.
Gather Contextual Awareness Collects data related to the incident, like involved entities, systems, and access points, to provide a detailed understanding of the incident.
Review Historical Context Reviews past related incidents within the organization to identify patterns or repeat vulnerabilities, helping to uncover recurring threats or gaps in security.

Advanced Response Actions

The final component of maturing your response library is to develop post-response actions to streamline resolution while also ensuring business continuity.

  • Practical use case: After the phishing incident was contained and the investigation enriched, the user was notified, and the incident case details were updated.

The table below outlines specific post-response actions recommended for common threats.

Action Description
Update Tickets Document the details of the incident and actions taken to ensure accurate records and facilitate future reference.
Notify User Notify any affected users about the actions taken, such as resetting credentials, and any additional steps they need to take.
Generate Report Summarize the incident, response actions, and impact for stakeholders and to aid future response efforts.

Tying It All Together with Orchestration and Automation

After building a response library, the next step is to integrate these actions through orchestration and automation. With cyber threats on the rise, the ability to respond quickly and accurately is crucial.

Automation allows rapid playbook deployment with minimal human intervention, enabling swift response and reducing the window of opportunity for attackers.

Orchestration ensures that automated tasks are performed at the right time, in the correct sequence, in a coordinated manner that aligns with the organization’s overall security protocols and strategies.

Together, they create a consistent and repeatable process for managing incidents, reducing variability in response quality, and ensuring that best practices are followed every time. This consistency is key to maintaining business continuity and minimizing disruptions during complex cyber attacks.


The strategic development of a response library, integrated with orchestration and automation, forms the backbone of a resilient incident response framework. This framework enables organizations to manage incidents more efficiently, reduce variability in response quality, and maintain business continuity during complex cyber attacks.