When firms think about cybersecurity, they’re tempted to focus on the tech. Hopefully, you're already having internal conversations about which tools you need to fight phishing or to keep your mobile devices safe.
One area where we've seen a lot of firms struggle, though, is in figuring out what to do when something BAD happens. The SEC Cybersecurity Guidance actually has quite a lot of detail when it comes to incident response.
Reading the guidance will help, but firms struggle to make incident response real.
The whole point of having an incident response plan is so you will know exactly who will do what when something bad happens. In this article, we’ll help you to figure out whether your Incident Response plan is good enough to keep you safe and comply with the SEC Cybersecurity Guidance.
Incident response is actually very simple: “What’s your plan when something bad happens?”
Your business’ response to a cybersecurity incident should be just as clear and repeatable as the process you use to send quarterly investment statements or to approve a wire transfer before it goes out the door. Auditors want to see a process, not just a document.
First, what is an incident? Broadly, it’s anything bad that happens in your firm.
Some specific examples include:
This is far from an exhaustive list.
The first step you should take in building an Incident Response plan is to talk as a team about the kinds of incidents that are likely to affect your firm. Make a list, and discuss how you'll handle each type of incident.
Many firms have their compliance attorneys write an incident response policy as part of their overall cybersecurity/compliance policy. SEC Cybersecurity Guidance demands that you have a policy, essentially, so it is a necessary and great first step. There are many good policy templates to be found online, like this one.
Firms sometimes ask if it needs to be a standalone policy document, or if it can be a section in their existing Cybersecurity Policy or Compliance Manual. Either way is fine.
Once the policy is done, many firms make the mistake of stopping there. They treat is as just a compliance exercise. They don’t have a conversation about what will really happen when the hits the fan. This is a concerning approach, for many reasons.
Let’s walk through a real example to show you how to bring your policy to life.
An employee calls you because she's seen something strange in their email.
She was looking in her Sent folder, and had a bunch of emails in there that she didn't recognize.
All of the emails were sent to some weird looking address, like [email protected] She didn't own or recognize that email address.
Oh, crud. Someone is in your email system who does not belong.
This is definitely “Unauthorized Access.”
Here’s what a real incident response might look like. Of course, your process (and how it’s written in your policy) might differ, but use this real example to make sure your policy is at the right level of detail.
A lot of companies struggle with this.
You need to teach your staff to escalate an incident as quickly as possible.
Remember -- 18 minutes. The clock is ticking.
You need to explicitly train your staff on how to recognize an cybersecurity risk or incident. Make sure that people know that they’re not going to get in trouble for escalating an incident. And make sure that they have the appropriate sense of urgency when they see something weird or wrong.
In your training, teach them to trust their gut. It’s better to escalate and have it turn out to be nothing than to sit on it for a day while a hacker steals your customer database.
Make sure your process is crystal clear on how to escalate. Give them a name, an email address, and even a phone number to use. Some companies even go so far to create anonymous mechanisms, like an anonymous online form. A tip box in the lunch room can work, but only if someone checks it regularly.
You’ve seen the weird email, the situation is ESCALATING, and you need to get the right people together. Pull together your IT, Cybersecurity, Compliance, and Legal teams.
Your policy should name and specifically identify the “incident response team”.
GET THEM TOGETHER, face-to-face or on a web conference and look at the situation together. Resist the temptation to just talk about this in a slow-motion email chain or by everyone making one-on-one calls to everyone else. Get everyone together, URGENTLY, and stay on the phone while you figure out what’s going on.
Also, resist the temptation to just delegate the investigation to your IT team. Being together, in real time, means that you’ll be able to respond much more quickly based on what you find.
Remember -- 18 minutes to breakout!
When you're meeting, keep these four questions in mind:
PRO TIP: As soon as you get any indication that sensitive data was compromised, pull in your attorney. If you don’t have in-house legal counsel, get your external counsel involved immediately. Beyond getting their experience and advice, you also want them to advise you on the appropriate use of attorney-client privilege. Anything you gather or document may later become part of legal action, and privilege will help.
If you have cyberbreach insurance, your insurance company will also have attorneys on retainer that you can use.
Phew. Now that the incident is contained, you can move out to figure out what to do.
At the end of the incident, someone in your compliance or cybersecurity team should put together a single document that describes what happened, how it happened, and the solutions that will be put in place to prevent it from happening again.
Making an Incident Response policy that works for your business BEFORE an incident happens is critical to limit the damage done to your firm and your customers. Your policy means nothing without having the right team, training, and planning to figure out how you’ll handle possible breaches. As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into getting prepared to respond to an incident. Hopefully your team has the expertise and bandwidth to handle it.
If not, we can help. Our SEC Cybersecurity Service is the easiest way to build a strong cybersecurity program.
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