From Threat to Resolution: The Power of Cybersecurity Incident Reporting

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Feb 10, 2024

A recent study by IBM states that companies save more than $1 million by containing a breach within 30 days. And so, it is reasonable to assume that agility is of paramount importance in cybersecurity. In this regard, timely incident reporting is a key to rapid defence, equipping security leaders with crucial information to initiate the right response.

A cyber security incident report is a strategic imperative for the thoughtful deployment of countermeasures and ensuring business continuity. It is more than just a documentation exercise, it’s a tool to provide visibility into the organization’s security stance and enable improvement. 

This blog answers the most frequently asked questions on cyber incident reports, such as what to include in a cyber incident report and where and how to report one.

What is cyber security incident reporting?

Cybersecurity incident reporting is the process of cataloguing all incident details, such as the time of the incident and the affected systems, to inform relevant stakeholders and initiate triage and remediation. It is a crucial step to enable a proactive security response, build transparency with impacted parties and strengthen the organization’s security maturity.

Importance of cyber security incident reports

Cybersecurity incident report provides much-needed data and context for security teams to deal with the incident and minimize potential repercussions. It empowers the management to make better strategic choices to help prepare for future threats. Here’s why cyber security incident reports are crucial:

Quick detection and response

Prompt cyber security incident reporting can reduce the mean time to respond (MTTR) to incidents. It can enable the organization to swiftly contain damage and restore normal business operations, minimizing downtime and financial losses.

Better compliance management

Compliance frameworks such as GDPR and HIPAA mandate cyber incident reporting. Organizations with such regulatory requirements must establish a continuous monitoring and reporting mechanism to deal with incidents proactively and minimize compliance deviations.

Builds trust amongst stakeholders

An incident report is an official way of communicating the damage to affected customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Sharing the details of the incident along with the steps being taken to mitigate the damage builds a sense of trust amongst impacted parties and demonstrates the organization’s commitment to accountability.

A valuable learning tool

Cyber incident reports serve as a tool to help companies learn about incidents and improve their risk management strategy. It raises awareness about emerging cyber threats, attack patterns used by hackers, loopholes in existing security infrastructure, and other cyber risks. It can be a vital tool that can help companies build resilience over time.

Continuously monitor all cyber security incident

Things to include in a cyber security incident report

A well-prepared cyber incident report becomes a key resource in understanding the severity and impact of the breach and getting a bird’s eye view of the actions taken. It must cover as many details as possible and align with industry regulations. 

These are the details that must be included in a cyber incident report:

General details

  • General details include organizational details and details of the reporting party, such as name, designation, contact details etc.

Executive summary

  • The executive summary quickly summarizes incident details for the management and other non-technical stakeholders. It includes key details to initiate any decisions at the strategic level but does not make use of any technical jargon.

Incident details

The reportable cyber incident details will include:

  • Date and time when the incident first occurred
  • Date and time when the incident was detected
  • Incident duration ie. number of hours/days it persisted
  • Incident types such as malware, ransomware attacks, security breach etc.
  • Incident description ie. the chain of events
  • Technical details for the security team such as URL used for phishing, source IP address of DDoS attack, any ports involved in the incident etc.

Have a look to: 9 Best Incident Management Software in 2024

Attack vector details

  • The attack vector details specify the system weaknesses that the attacker exploited. For example, exploitation of software vulnerabilities that were not updated, open ports, weak credentials, etc.

Systems and assets affected

  • This includes a list of systems, applications, and other compromised assets that were impacted.

Business impact assessment

Impact assessment includes:

  • Details of any operational disruptions or downtime
  • Any data compromise
  • Regulatory implications
  • Financial losses
  • Other long-term consequences

Incident response actions

  • It specifies the details of cyber incident response actions initiated to control further damage and to restore normal operations such as permission changes, patch applications etc. You can also include details of any root cause analysis that has been initiated.

Communication and notification logs

  • The logs document the details of internal and external notifications that have been released so far. Specify the affected parties that were informed, the regulatory authorities that were notified and any other stakeholders that were a part of the communication.

Conclusions

  • This includes lessons learned from the cyber events, improvement recommendations, references and citation links, etc. You can also attach evidence screenshots, logs, etc.

Also checkout: Best Practices for Developing a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

When should you report a cyber incident?

A cyber incident must be reported as soon as you experience or identify potential harm. The general recommendation for the initial report is 24-72 hours. However, there can be different reporting requirements for various industries or regulations.

The federal government suggests timely reporting of an incident in the following cases:

  • Experiencing a malware infection or a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
  • Any loss of data or control or compromised systems
  • Any suspicious activity such as a phishing attempt
  • Compromise of critical functions or supply chain compromise
  • Compromise of public health, safety, infrastructure, national security etc.
  • Any other cybersecurity event that can impact a lot of parties

Several regulations and frameworks also require cyber incident reporting to ensure organizational accountability when protecting sensitive information.

For example, GDPR mandates that organizations must report a personal data breach within 72 hours. Similarly, CIRCIA (Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act) for U.S. critical infrastructure entities also mandates a 72-hour reporting period for incidents. However, HIPAA mandates that incidents involving a minimum of 500 individuals must be reported by covered entities in no later than 60 days.

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How to report a cyber security incident?

Every organization has its own internal reporting procedure for incidents which is laid out in the broader incident response plan. As for external communication, there are, again, set rules for various regulated industries that must be followed. The general rule is to notify immediately, followed by the next best steps. Broadly, here’s how you must report a cyber security incident:

Initial notification

Any stakeholder in the organization who experiences a cyber activity must call it out and report it to the security teams as an initial action. It is crucial to be aware of the internal communication channels and act fast as the first responder or line of defence for the sharing of cyber incidents.

Information gathering

The relevant party then gathers as much information as possible about the incident. The party can include details such as incident timeline, affected systems, any indicators of compromise, business impact, etc. These details are documented and assessed to understand the severity of the incident and prepare an action plan.

Incident containment

The next step is to refer to the incident response plan in place and initiate steps to minimize the spread. These actions can include measures such as segmenting compromised systems or temporarily suspending user privileges.

Incident communication

The incident is then reported to external parties such as law enforcement agencies, clients, and other affected parties. The PR team usually does this. They must be transparent when sharing incident details and must also address any concerns.

Remediation

Initiate the steps laid out in the remediation plan. Remediation activities can include steps such as the application of patches, any reconfigurations, restoration of systems, and more. The incident is resolved when systems are back to normal operations.

Post-incident analysis

A post-incident analysis is conducted to understand the root cause and the techniques used by attackers. The analysis helps to update and strengthen the existing incident response plan to build security maturity.

Where should you report a cyber incident?

A cyber incident must be reported to all relevant stakeholders internal and external. This can range from security teams to clients and government agencies. The reporting parties can vary based on industry, applicable regulations, geographical location, and other factors. Broady, an incident should be reported to the following parties:

Internal reporting

As a first step, the incident must be internally reported to the designated teams such as the Cybersecurity Incident Response Team (CIRT), PR and communications, compliance teams etc. It enables them to take quick mitigation action to minimize the damage.

Regulatory authorities

In a regulated industry, you must report incidents to the appointed party per regulatory guidelines. For example, in the case of GDPR, the incidents must be reported to supervisory authorities appointed for EU (European Union) member states. Similarly, for HIPAA, the incidents are reported to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Online platforms

Incidents like fraud or cybercrimes can be reported on certain online platforms. For example, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in the United States is operated by the FBI and takes complaints from defrauded parties.

National cybersecurity agencies

You can also report incidents to national cybersecurity agencies if they require any immediate intervention from the government. For example, you can report to CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) for critical infrastructure breaches in the U.S.

Other parties

Cyber incidents must be reported to affected parties such as customers and partners. If any third-party service provider is involved, they must also be notified. If the organization has cyber insurance, then the incident must be reported to insurance providers. Similarly, any other related or relevant parties must be informed.

Minimize incidents and focus on compliance with Sprinto

While having an effective incident response plan in place proves to be an effective reactive measure, the combination of proactive and reactive measures builds resilient businesses. Especially in a regulated industry, you must stay on top of security and compliance to operate uninterruptedly and maintain market trust. Compliance automation tools like Sprinto enable this with adaptive automation capabilities and continuous checks.

Sprinto has an in-built incident management system and integrates with various incident management tools to monitor deviations continuously. It raises automated alerts to initiate proactive response and enables tiered remediation based on passing, failing due or critical controls. The dashboard reports compliance status in real-time, and there are ready-to-use policy templates and training modules for quick implementation.

Read how Nitropack strengthened security and achieved continuous compliance with Sprinto.

Want to learn more about security and compliance? Talk to a compliance expert today.

FAQs

What is the difference between incident response and incident handling?

Incident handling is a broader term encompassing a range of processes from detection to recovery and response. Incident response is a part of incident handling and includes reactive steps initiated to minimize incident damage and restore normal business operations.

What is a cyber security incident report?

A cyber security incident report is a document that captures incident details such as nature of the incident, impact on business, remediation actions undertaken and recommendations for future.

Should I engage with external experts after an incident?

If you do not have a proper incident response plan or lack expertise, engaging an expert can be a smarter alternative to expedite the response and provide valuable recommendations. You can opt for automated tools for incident management or hire a cybersecurity firm.

What is the difference between an incident and a breach?

Incident is a broader term encompassing events such as malware infections, phishing attacks, or any activity compromising security. A breach is an incident where protected information is abused, misused, or manipulated. Not every incident is a breach however, the converse is true.

Payal Wadhwa

Payal Wadhwa

Payal is your friendly neighborhood compliance whiz! She turns perplexing compliance lingo into actionable advice about keeping your digital business safe and savvy. When she isn’t saving virtual worlds, she’s penning down poetic musings or lighting up local open mics. Cyber savvy by day, poet by night!

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