Incident handling

According to Bruce Schneier's Secrets and Lies, as the world's economy goes online, so do criminal elements. This means that even in the

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digital age, we are still faced with the same threats to person and property that have always existed, including theft, destruction, extortion, vandalism, fraud, voyeurism, exploitation, trespass and even physical harm. As criminals become more adept at performing online attacks, they also benefit from lower levels of risk and ever higher levels of automation. Instead of risking their own hides when robbing a single bank, they can now remain safe in hiding while managing attacks on numerous businesses simultaneously.

Many organizations are just starting to take security seriously by implementing security policies and deploying popular technological solutions. But no security system, no matter how thorough or how skillfully implemented, can prevent 100% of all incidents. Keep in mind that security must ward off both external and internal threats. Today, internal users perpetrate more than 80% of all reported security breaches. In other words, you can't always trust your employees.

An incident is defined as any activity that interrupts the normal activities of a system and that may trigger some level of crisis. If unauthorized activities cost your organization money, time, productivity or public collateral, then you've experienced an incident. An incident does not necessarily need to be based in technology to be effective in damaging an organization. But you can use technology to prevent, track and report incidents to proper authorities.

In this increasingly complicated world, understanding how to respond when a security breach occurs can be difficult. Incident handling involves breach recognition, evidence integrity maintenance, damage recovery, investigation and prosecution.

Incident response is just as important an element of your security policy as are physical security and firewall deployment. Incident handling requires preparation, planning, training, trial-runs and evaluation. There is not enough room here to explain all the details of incident handling and the procedures for developing and training your own incident response team. However, I can point you toward several book references to do just that:

Incident Response by Richard Forno, Kenneth R. Van Wyk
Computer Forensics : Incident Response Essentials by Warren G. Kruse II, Jay G. Heiser
Incident Response: A Strategic Guide to Handling System and Network Security Breaches by E. Eugene, Dr Schultz, Russell Shumway
Incident Response: Investigating Computer Crime by Chris Prosise, Kevin Mandia
Hacker's Challenge : Test Your Incident Response Skills Using 20 Scenarios by Mike Schiffman
Computer Security Incident Handling Step by Step by Stephen Northcutt

About the author
James Michael Stewart is a researcher and writer for Lanwrights, Inc.

This was first published in May 2002

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