How do you resolve a cyberattack as quickly and completely as possible? A cyber incident response plan is designed to answer that question. The plan kicks in immediately after an attack and outlines exactly how your company will use its resources to minimize the damage and overcome the incident. In as much detail as possible, it describes who will be involved, what individuals’ roles will be, and which procedures they will need to follow.

Every business can benefit from having a cybersecurity incident response plan. However, this is especially true for small businesses — which often lack the robust cyber defense resources of larger companies. Without internal cybersecurity teams, small businesses can still enlist the help of third-party cybersecurity experts and install automated cyber threat detection solutions. These are helpful in preventing attacks, but it’s always possible for a hacker to slip past your defenses. 

Having a plan for responding to cyber incidents can mitigate the consequences of a malware infection (or other cyber threat), thereby minimizing damage and saving the business from losing money and customer trust. To ensure your small business is ready to respond to a cyberattack, follow this cybersecurity incident response plan checklist:

 Identify your threat model. First on the list is outlining the most common types of threats. Create a threat model for your business by first identifying the biggest gaps in your current cybersecurity strategy. Next, consider what types of incidents you’re most vulnerable to. Understanding where threats are coming from and how they’ll impact your business is critical. 

● Create a chain of command. A fast response depends on having a clearly defined plan that outlines who can delegate responsibilities amid the chaos of a cyber incident. Create a chain of command that defines the entire team hierarchy, starting with the business owner. Make sure to list alternative points of contact in case someone is unavailable for any reason.

● Define individuals’ roles. The response plan should clearly outline each player’s role and responsibilities when responding to the attack. This will eliminate any confusion about appropriate next steps. 

Key players should include product or service specialists who can quickly shut down any aspect of business to stop damage from spreading — as well as marketing and legal professionals who can effectively communicate to external parties. Many small businesses will also need the help of third-party cybersecurity experts to handle the technical details of an attack. Your plan should outline who’s in charge of contacting those experts and when.

● Map out communication channels. Communication is critical when responding to a cyberattack, but the attack itself can make exchanging information difficult. Sometimes, an attack can even cut off entire communication channels such as email. Plan alternative ways to communicate among staff — keeping in mind that information needs to flow freely but also securely. Tie this in with the chain of command so everyone on the response team knows who to contact, when, and how.

● Outline the mitigation process. Trying to plan for incident response management is tricky because every incident is different. However, after detecting a threat, the priority generally becomes discovering the nature of the attack and its effects on the business. 

Next comes removal and remediation of the threat — often with the help of a third party if there’s not a security expert on staff. While cybersecurity experts work to mitigate the specific technical problems, such as malware removal, and apply security patches, internal members of the response team should be working to restore the business.

 Perform a post-mortem evaluation. Reviewing the details after an attack helps prevent that same type of attack from happening again. Explore the weaknesses in your infrastructure that hackers successfully exploited; then, apply extra layers of security to cover those vulnerabilities. That often includes deploying automated comprehensive security tools along with additional employee training, changes to IT policies, and consultations with outside security experts.

● Assign ongoing responsibility. Once complete, your cybersecurity incident response plan shouldn’t collect dust. Regularly review, update and improve the plan based on the changing strengths and weaknesses of your organization and the shifting landscape of cybercrime. Whoever you delegate this responsibility to should also keep the incident response team engaged and informed of any changes. 

This incident response checklist can help ensure your business is prepared to address and resolve a successful attack. The most important thing to remember is that early and frequent communication is key: The sooner you can begin addressing the problem, the sooner it will be resolved. The clearer your communication is, the more seamless the process will be for all involved parties. As a result, you’ll save time, money, and customer trust. 

Monique Becenti is a product and channel marketing specialist at SiteLock, a cloud-based website security provider currently protecting more than 12 million websites globally. Monique is passionate about improving the customer experience for all. SiteLock’s combination of dedicated research and developmental efforts, aggressive product road maps, and access to a massive global data set make the company a leading innovator in web security.