Article initially published in: Infosec Institute by Pedro Tavares



Over the past years, the number of devices connected to the Internet have increased and security incidents have been a rather hot and disturbing topic. Within this scope, it’s absolutely crucial for companies to know how to respond and deal with the consequences. An organization should have an incident response plan that includes both incident detection as well as incident response. Currently, we are walking upon a disruptive digital era. Establishing a security strategy results in a differential milestone for an effective response from the security point of view.

For instance, we can look at the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, which describes one of the major revolutions in recent years. Anything, such as coffee a machine, a digital camera, your smartphone or even the most useless object has an IP address and is connected to the Internet. From a malicious perspective, this represents a “tempting landscape” but also a concern for everyone.

Through incident response and combining it with a deep forensic analysis, the number of security issues and computer attacks can be reduced and detected at an early stage. This should be a mandatory role for the all ecosystems that can be audited, such as Cloud Infrastructures, mobile devices, operating systems, and so on.


Relevance of Incident Response

Corporations must be equipped with a team to quickly respond to security incidents. It can be composed by a single person or a group of people within the organization. That team has responsibilities in monitoring, incident handling and reporting, when a security breach is identified or when an attack is performed.

The immediate response typically consists of classifying the incidents, such as critical, normal or minor impact, and labeling the priority of these incidents into high, medium or low, and also assigning the incidents to the teams for further investigations. A bad or a good decision directly impacts the resolution of the problem.  

During the forensic analysis, a set of considerations should be kept in mind. For example, systems with external influences should be isolated, avoiding further damage, or as a means of preserving the evidence as well. In fact, this is not a forensic analyst task, but rather a measure that must be taken by the incident response team soon after the incident is detected. So, in these cases, the forensic analyst should always work with the incident response team so that he can make containment decisions, such as disconnecting network cables, the power supply of the devices themselves, increasing physical security measures or even turning off the device. These decisions must be made on the basis of existing policies, and these teams know the real the impact of the problem and are aware of the risk of reproducing certain actions on the system.

For example, leaving a system down for long hours makes it impossible for an organization to operate normally. Significant downtime can result in substantial monetary loss. Therefore, care must be taken to minimize disruptions to an organization’s operations. It is the responsibility of this team to protect the evidence regardless of the situation.

These procedures should be clear, and be part of the incident response emergency plan. Some of these procedures can be listed as follows.

Short term:

  • Detect, isolate and contain the compromised device restricting network access (in real time);
  • Acquire the evidence without altering or damaging the original;
  • Authenticate that your recovered evidence is the same as the originally seized data;
  • Catalog the evidence identifying your “family” and the manner how the attack was propagated;
  • Document the evidence;
  • Transport evidence and ensure the integrity of the evidence;
  • Deliver all the produced documentation during the process;
  • Communicate the incident to the respective entity.

Longer term:

  • Analyze the data without modifying it;
  • Deepen visibility into processes and actions that occurred on devices and operating systems (or where the incident has occurred);
  • Mitigate gaps and vulnerabilities;
  • Focus on a scientific approach;
  • Extensive reporting features.


Figure 1 shows, in a brief manner, how the analysis of incidents is performed by incident response team.




Figure 1: Main steps of a security incident carried out by an Incident Response Team.


Incident Response Vs. Forensic Analysis

Incident response and forensic analysis are two related disciplines that use similar tools. However, both have differences that it are important to highlight:

  • Goals
  • Data Requirements
  • Team Skills
  • Benefits

Table 1 below shows in a brief manner the principal differences between incident response and forensic analysis.

Table 1: Differences between Incident Response and Forensic Analysis.



From the table above, we can see that an incident response specialist holds extremely refined forensic skills. The inclusion of forensics as part of an incident response plan is crucial to understand the true extent of a data breach.