What is an incident response plan, and do you need one?

A young woman with long, dark hair holds her head in her hands and stares in frustration at her open laptop.

When IT systems fail, companies lose profits until systems come back online. If data backups aren’t set up or fail, data vanishes, deleting hours, days, or even years of work and information.

So, what can organizations do to minimize downtime and protect data in a crisis?

Your company’s internal IT department or IT provider can help you create an incident response plan. This living document outlines planned responses in case one or multiple IT systems fail.

If created well with knowledge of all your organization’s IT assets and systems, it can drastically reduce downtime, saving you time, money, and stress.

WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients develop and execute effective IT strategies for over 25 years. It is passionate about education and assisting companies to make informed IT-related decisions and investments.

By the end of this article, you will understand the definition of an incident response plan, how risks and incidents are identified, how to develop an incident response plan, and how it benefits your business.


What is an IT incident?

An IT incident is anything that disrupts your IT systems. This can be something as seemingly innocent as accidentally unplugging a server or something as extreme as a natural disaster.

If your IT system suddenly isn’t working as it should, you’re experiencing an IT incident. Incident responses ask, “What happens if a system goes down? How do we respond?”

An incident response plan attempts to anticipate likely risks and incidents and then plan appropriate responses. For instance, an office in Illinois may not need to prepare for a hurricane, but it might have a response plan for a tornado.

A risk assessment will help you identify current risks within your organization and which risks may require an incident response plan. Risks requiring plans may include environmental hazards, aging hardware and software, cybersecurity, and human error.


4 types of risk incident response plans address

There are four types of risk incident response plans can address and help get you back online:

  • Environmental risks
  • Hardware and software risks
  • Cybersecurity risks
  • Human Error

Environmental risks

The environment around your IT equipment can create possible risks. This can pertain to something as minor as a disorderly server room to something as severe as a natural disaster.

An incident response plan for environmental risks asks, “What happens if this space is suddenly damaged and disrupts systems?”

A plan will help address concerns along the lines of:

  • “Where is company data stored: on-premises or in the cloud? Both?”
  • “Where is replacement hardware stored? What needs to happen to bring it online?”
  • “If the office space is suddenly unusable, do employees have what they need to work from home?”
  • “If internet connections fail for the office, do we have backup internet service?”

Hardware and software risks

Old, end-of-life hardware and end-of-support software can pose a significant risk to an organization’s IT systems.

The older a piece of hardware becomes, the more likely it is to fail. If the hardware is vital to daily business function or the overall IT system, its failure could create significant losses for the business. The company loses profits for every hour of downtime.

An incident response plan for hardware and software risks plans for backup systems and possibly continuity. The plan asks, “What do we do if this hardware fails? What systems does it affect? How do we get back online as quickly as possible?”

Cybersecurity risks

Some companies make cybersecurity incident response plans their first priority due to the increasing frequency and severity of cyberattacks.

Incident response plans focusing on cybersecurity ask, “What do we do if security, data, or systems are compromised due to a cyberattack? How do we respond and repair the damage?”

A cybersecurity incident response plan may address concerns like:

  • “What do we do if there’s a ransomware attack?”
  • “What do we do if a cyberattack puts us offline?”
  • “Do we have data sectioned off securely to prevent cybercriminals from accessing the entire system?”
  • “What systems do we have in place to prevent and address attacks?”

Human error

Just as human intelligence can be the greatest resource in protecting IT systems, human error can wreak havoc on IT assets.

Incident response plans can address concerns over likely human errors like the aforementioned unplugged server. They examine employee practices that can lead to risk and what to do if these practices lead to mistakes or shutdowns.


Creating your incident response plan

The first step in creating your incident response plan is to ask your IT provider to run a risk assessment. This investigation will identify and examine all your IT assets, practices, cybersecurity, and environment to find IT risks hidden in each.

Once you have an accurate risk profile, you and your IT provider can create an incident response plan. It will address:

  • Possible risks and appropriate responses.
  • Backup and/or continuity plans.
  • How to save and recover data.
  • What to do in response to system failure and how to bring it back online.
  • Whom to contact in case of an incident.

Employee incident response contacts are important, particularly in a natural disaster situation. These contacts should be evaluated annually to ensure that all connections are still with the company and available.

Incident response plans should be tested annually or revisited if there’s a major change to the IT system.

Testing your incident response plan

An incident response test usually involves a planned removal of system access. Your IT provider or internal IT department shut down one or multiple systems to test backups and responses. This is carefully performed so that no systems or data are damaged.

Your provider must be aware of all data assets and systems in these tests. They must also know where and how all data is stored across company systems. All assets and systems must be mapped out in detail to ensure nothing is missed or damaged.,

The bigger the company, the more information is stored and the more involved this process becomes.

The goal of incident response plans

Risk assessments and incident response plans will bring IT system weaknesses to light. While this may initially be surprising or frustrating, understanding and addressing these weaknesses can bring immense rewards.

Understanding weaknesses allows you to create realistic, accurate solutions that can help prevent system failures while swiftly addressing others, minimizing downtime, lost profits, and reducing frustration.

When you’re faced with a crisis—a downed system, a cybersecurity attack, or damage to your office—you will have a plan to address it. Incident response plans remove the guesswork.

While no plan may be perfect, you can be prepared to address a crisis, bring your systems back online as quickly as possible, protect your data, and save your business money and stress.

Having a plan and preparations for emergencies is always better than going in blind. You aren’t scrambling to correct errors, hoping you have the proper hardware and information, hoping it will work. With an incident response plan, you will know what hardware or software to use and that it will work.

This will reduce downtime, lost profits, and anxiety in the face of an IT emergency.


Next steps to creating your incident response plan

An incident response plan is designed to address possible risks created by:

  • Your office environment.
  • Hardware and software age.
  • Cybersecurity systems and practices.
  • Human error.

Your IT provider or internal IT department can help create an incident response plan after running a risk assessment.

If you’re unsure whether you have incident response plans in place, ask your provider, “Do we have plans, and are these aligned with real, plausible risks?”

If you do have plans in place, when was the last time you were tested and what were the results? Incident response plans should be tested at least annually to be sure they are achieving the desired outcomes.

If you don’t have an incident response plan, a ransomware response plan is a good place to start. From there, you and your provider can reflect on other needs or risks your company may encounter.

WEBIT Services has been performing risk assessments, creating incident response plans, and enacting IT strategies for satisfied clients for over 25 years.

If you’re looking for a new IT provider, book a free 30-minute assessment to see how WEBIT services can help.

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