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Security Incident Handling Service

Info: 5404 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Information Technology



Expect the unexpected. As soon as a crisis erupts, it should be immediately handled to reduce its potential impact on critical business operations. Such undesirable incidents occur unanticipated and when they do take place, damage or harm is the result. In most aspects of life, it is better to stop something disastrous happening than it is to deal with it after it has happened and IT security is no exception. If possible, security incidents should be dealt accordingly from occurring in the first place. Yet, it is unachievable to prevent security incidents. When an incident does happen, its impact needs to be brought down to adequate recommended level. Security incident handling outlines the actions to follow in an event that an electronic information system is compromised. An event is declared an incident when the confidentiality, integrity or availability (CIA) elements of a system is compromised. Significant commodities such as information and knowledge must be safeguarded at all costs. Communications within an organization and its interactions to its customer base are regarded as the life blood in this IT intensive fast paced world. If an organization is inoperative for any period of time, it may cost millions in lost business or loss of reputation. Size of an organization does not matter. Unexpected downtime influences organizations of all sizes impacting revenue, customer satisfaction and overall production. It is vital that they quickly recover from such downtime and restore operation and re-establish their presence to ensure survival. Consequently, many firms have realized the importance of setting up incident handling procedures. One of the drawbacks is that many organizations learn how to respond to security incidents only after suffering from them. In the course of time, incidents often become much more costly. Proper incident response should be an integral part of the overall security policy and risk mitigation strategy. Incident handling procedures that are in place in an organization improves to maintain the business continuity of critical operations. In today’s competitive economy, a company can’t afford to cease critical business operations and remain idle for long period of time because of lack of incident handing procedures. Thus, an organization needs to be well prepared for continuity or recovery of systems. This typically requires a considerable investment of time and money with the aim of ensuring minimal losses in the event of a disruptive event. The goal of setting up incident handling procedures is to know exactly what to do when an incident breaks out. This means anticipating scenarios before they occur and making appropriate decisions about them in advance. Those assessments typically demand consultation and senior management support, hence these people are needed early immediately after an incident has been confirmed. For example, just deciding who to tell when an incident occurs can be hard to determine. Management needs to provide input to respond quickly and this embarks into issues like after hours support and mixed project/support roles. External support may also be sought, resulting in additional cost, time and effort to select partners.


This document provides guidance to identify and record the nature and scope of a computer security incident handling service. This paper discusses the functions that support the service, how those functions interrelate and the tools, procedures and roles necessary to implement the service. It also concentrates on incident analysis. For example, we can make a comparison between a fire that broke off in an apartment and a computer security incident that happened in an organization. Similarly as a fire department will investigate a fire to know where it originated from, a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) tries to figure out how the security incident occurred. Both the fire department and CSIRT operate in the same approach. A fire department needs to get along with other fire departments on it can depend on for additional support in peak times or to tackle a serious catastrophe. It must cooperate with other emergency units to react promptly and provide law enforcement. This document will discuss how CSIRTs interact with other organizations, such as the department that reported the security incident to it, other CSIRTs, law enforcement and the media. Both fire department and CSIRT need to properly handle information, some of which is sensitive and relevant to the individual held responsible for the crime. Information handling is considered to be an indispensable discussion subject in this paper. CSIRTs propose client confidentiality in the same manner that many emergency units do, safeguarding reporters and victims from public disclosure. CSIRT survival depends on handling confidential information appropriately, because if it can’t be trusted, nobody will report to it, thus making it almost useless. CSIRTs have committed permanent staff as well as part-time, volunteer staff and reliable security experts to handle an unexpected security emergency. Its staff is at the frontline in event of a crisis, CSIRT achievement depends on their interaction with the outside world and the image that they project by the way of performing their duties and the service quality that they provide. To attain such high level of success, recruiting suitably competent staff seems to be a complicated process. People in charge of appointing CSIRT staff mistakenly look for unsuitable set of talent and ability in prospective employees. For that reason, this paper discusses staffing and hiring concerns and actions to guarantee that CSIRT staff offer reliable, pleasant and specialized service. Other services besides the incident handling service, such as the supply of intrusion detection assistance and vulnerability handling are also provided by CSIRT. The information in this paper is understandable in such a manner that is basic to the reader to put it into operation to any type of CSIRT setting, from in-house team for a company to an international coordination center. This document is intended to present a valuable foundation to both recently created teams and existing teams where there is a lack of clearly defined or documented services, policies and procedures. This paper is more appropriate to use during the early stages when a company has acquired management support and funding to set up a CSIRT, before the team becomes operational. Moreover, this paper can be still a valuable reference document for already operational teams.


The general CSIRT community who may require a better knowledge of the composition and objectives of their existing teams will benefit from this document. It also targets individuals and organizations who are likely to join the CSIRT community in the near future. It is precisely aimed at managers and other personnel who take part in the process of setting up and leading a CSIRT or managing incident crisis. The list may include

  • Chief Information Officers, Chief Security Officers and Information Systems SecurityOfficers
  • Project leaders and members in charge of creating the team
  • CSIRT managers
  • CSIRT staff
  • IT managers [1]

Higher management levels and all CSIRT staff can use this paper as a useful reference. This document can also be utilized by other individuals who work together with CSIRTs. This may include members of the

  • CSIRT constituency
  • law enforcement community
  • systems and network administrator community
  • CSIRT parent organization or other departments within the parent organization such as legal, media or public relations, human resources, audits and risk management & investigations and crisis management [2]


Definition of Security Incident

The Information Security Management Handbook defines an incident as “any unexpected action that has an immediate or potential effect on the organization” [3]. Whenever the safety and stability of an information system is compromised, such instance can be referred to as a security incident. There are several different definitions of security incidents; one is “A violation or imminent threat of violation of computer security policies, acceptable use policies, or standard computer security practices” [4], another definition describes the security incident as “any event that may threaten or compromise the security, operation or integrity of computing resources” [5]. In other words, a security incident is a state of violation of security policy in an organization and the security of their information system. Security incident refers to a common term that encompasses any type of security breach regardless of location, the level of the threat or the magnitude of it. The commonly known factors of security incidents are events and actions that expose one or more basic elements of information security: confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) of information systems. An incident can be caused by authorized or unauthorized personnel, process, hardware or software. It can be an accident as well as a planned malicious action.

Handling security incidents

In the course of a crisis, time runs short in terms of about what to do, who will do it or how it will get done, therefore it is vital to arrange for a response in advance. The better prepared you are for an incident, the more likely you are to respond correctly. Proper set-up of an incident handling procedure can help to lessen impact of undesirable incidents. The objective of such procedure in place is to provide a framework for an orderly, coordinated response by appropriate resources within the organization. It is in a company’s own benefit that it establishes a Computer Security Response Capability, a process that provides centralized response and reporting functions for security incidents. According to (Computer Security Incident Handling Guide, National Institute of Standards and Technology, March 2008), establishing an incident response capability should include the following actions:

  • Creating an incident response policy plan
  • Developing procedures for performing incident handling and reporting, based on the incident response policy
  • Setting guidelines for communicating with outside parties regarding incidents
  • Selecting a team structure and staffing model
  • Establishing relationships between the incident response team and other groups,
  • Determining what services the incident response team should provide
  • Staffing and training the incident response team

The “Cyberthreat Response and Reporting Guidelines” report, jointly approved by the FBI and US Secret Service recommends that the better equipped a company is in the event of a security event, the better probability it has to reduce the impact of the crisis. This recommendation is actually one of the chief responsibilities of a CSIRT, to be well organized to successfully cope with an incident when they happen and to help prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. As a starting point, the team should have a strategy plan for incident handling. This plan should be supported with documented policies and procedures. According to (State of the Practice of Computer Security Incident Response Teams, October 2003), the incident response plan identifies the mission and goals of the team, the team roles and responsibilities; the services provided; and policies, procedures, processes, and guidelines related to incident handling. The incident response plan is not only intended for CSIRT employees, but also for community that they serve. From that viewpoint, both parties should be proficient about what to report, how to report it and to whom it should be reported. The plan should also describe the expected level of service that is reasonable. Staff who is accustomed with computer security incidents recognize the fact that these incidents vary in shape and size. Some are quite uncomplicated, easy to cope with and mitigate while other are extremely severe and very complicated or can have harsh impact on IT systems and necessitate proper authority to respond to effectively. In the event of a crisis, adhering to the plan in place will facilitate the organization to promptly isolate disruption cropping up on IT systems or networks as well as to assist to counteract to such events. It may alleviate potential risk such as loss of company reputation, trust or financial status. For existing CSIRTs who don’t have a robust plan, they can still manage with some basic guidelines. They can make use of their current incident handling procedures as a guideline, in the meantime they can revise their existing documentation. They can rely on those basic guidelines namely the plan to handle incidents, areas of responsibility, general and specific procedures. Other typical guidelines can include an incident response checklist as well as procedures for what type of activity to report and how that information should be reported. A company needs to take into consideration several factors prior to planning an incident response capability. They include

  • introducing a point of contact for reporting incidents
  • pinpointing the aims and objectives of the team
  • distinguishing and selecting the staff and necessary expertise
  • offering direction for reporting and handling incident reports
  • allocating proper security awareness and incident response training for CSIRT staff
  • launching and promoting specific incident handling and security policies and procedures for the CSIRT
  • exposing lessons learned with other colleagues
  • designing a benchmark to monitor the effectiveness of the CSIRT
  • devising strategy to allow coordination between the CSIRT and internal and external parties

Organizations or the team typically approve policies and record them. It is crucial to know what these policies consist of and to ensure that they are properly implementable, enforceable in the workplace. Like the mission statement, senior management approves and enforces policies. The policies need to be openly expressed and well understood by each team member, technical, management or administrative. It will be a difficult task for the staff to appropriately execute and carry out their duties without a clear understanding of the policy. In order to write a clear policy, it is best to avoid excessive jargon. Whenever possible, consult someone who is not in security or IT to examine the policies. Rephrase the policies if not understood. Use very short sentences. A good policy is a short one. A security policy should be concise, well segregated between the management aspect (the policy) and the operational aspect (the procedures). Moreover, a policy must be both implementable and enforceable, or else it doesn’t have any purpose. It is easier to implement a policy if it is well designed and relevant to the needs and goals of the CSIRT. Truly effective policies address genuine needs within a business, making the staff willing and even eager to implement them because they make operations smoother and give the business added reliability. Top management should execute appropriate actions or steps to enforce a policy. Policies must be enforceable; otherwise they are of little or no value. Usually when a policy ismplementable, it is normally also enforceable unless it contradicts itself. Concrete measures are needed to assess the usage of the policy. Example: An example of a contradictory policy is the security policy that ranks internal information security as priority number 1 but at the same time ensures absolute privacy for its staff; the latter makes it hard or even impossible to enforce security in case of an insider threat. To successfully develop and implement security policies, top management needs to be involved in and strongly support the project (Lam, 2005). A proposal with a report of external and internal requirements and a draft assessing budget can easily persuade managers to support the development and implementation of a security project. Having management support and authorization can resolve money and time issues. These managers can allocate the required budget and allow sufficient time for development and implementation. In addition, top management has power to affect processes by requiring employees to participate (Kearns & Sabherwal, 2006).

How to Implement Security Policies Successfully

The implementation phase probably is the hardest phase in the life cycle of developing and maintaining security policies. Many organizations fail in this phase. To effectively and efficiently implementing security policies, teams first need to resolve many issues. Lack of strong management support (Fedor et al., 2003; Lam, 2005), lack of budget (Kearns & Sabherwal, 2006; Martin, Pearson, & Furumo, 2007), lack of implementation time (Walker & Cavanaugh, 1998), lack of strong leadership (Fedor et al., 2003), lack of awareness of benefits of implementing security policies—“why for” (Hansche, Berti, & Hare, 2004)—, or ineffective communication with users (Jackson, Chow, & Leitch, 1997; Walker & Cavanaugh, 1998) may cause problems. Resolving all of the above issues can help in successfully implementing security policies.

Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

A team is a focal component of incident response plan, policy and procedure creation so that incident response is dealt effectively, efficiently and consistently. The team should cooperate with other teams within the organization towards a central goal which encompasses the plan, policies and procedures. Outside parties such as law enforcement, the media and other incident response organizations can also be contacted. Computer Security Incident Response Team is regarded as the nerve center of an incident response plan. It is normally composed of a team manager, a management advisory board and other permanent and temporary team members. The temporary staff provides advice on technical, business, legal or administrative issues, depending on the nature and scope of the incident. The team assists the organization to identify and document the nature and scope of a computer security incident handling service. The team manager supervises labour of the team members, presents ongoing status information to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and other senior management and requests assistance on expert advice outside of IT department when needed. This role leader should be accustomed with computer security issues, the function of IT areas and staff, general company operations as well as the duty of other employees in the institution who may serve as resources for the CSIRT. Under challenging situations, the team manager must be able to coordinate teamwork with other staff and to deal properly with circumstances that necessitate discretion or confidentiality. The technical leader’s role is to assess the characteristics and severity of an incident, propose recommendations on security control and recovery issues to the team manager and requests on additional technical resources if needed. This role should possess a broad understanding of operational and systems security. Other employees can join the team on a spontaneous basis and remain team members until closure of incident. Additional resources may be required to serve areas such as: law enforcement, legal, audit, human resources, public relations, facilities management or IT technical specialties. The table below shows a list of members who should be included in the CSIRT and their roles in the team.


IRT Member

Role in IRT


Senior Management

Apart from providing the team the authority for operation, the management has to make business-related decisions based on input from the other members of the team.


Information Security

Assess the extent of the damage incurred and perform containment, basic forensics, and recovery.



Minimise the impact to system end users, and to assist the Information Security team with technical issues.


IT Auditor

Understand the cause of the incident, ensure procedures are complied with, and work with IT/Security to eradicate the incident.



Assess physical damage incurred, investigate physical evidence, and guard evidence during a forensics investigation to maintain a chain of evidence.



Ensure the usability of any evidence collected during an investigation if the company chooses to take legal action. The role also includes providing advice regarding liability issues in the event that an incident affects customers, vendors, and/or the general public.


Human Resource

Provide advice in situations involving employees. HR will only be involved in handling the incident if an employee is found to be responsible for the intrusion.


Public Relations

Communicate with team leaders to have an accurate understanding of the issue and the company’s status before communicating with the press and/or informing the stockholders of the current situation.


Financial Auditor

Assess the damage incurred in terms of monetary value, which is frequently required for insurance companies or if the company intends to press charges against the perpetrator.

Table 1: Team members in IRT

Source: table from page 4-2 of Incident Response Procedure for Account Compromise Version 1.2 2004 by Visa International Besides their technical expertise, CSIRT staff distinctive quality is their motivation and talent to stick to procedures and to present a professional image to customers and other parties working together with them. In other works, it is more convenient to appoint staff with less technical expertise and excellent interpersonal and communication skills and subsequently train them in a CSIRT-specific environment than vice versa. Communication of a team member who is a technical expert but has poor communication skills may brutally ruin the team’s reputation while interactions that are dealt with competently will assist to improve the team’s standing as a valued service provider. Possessing a broad range of interpersonal skills is significant since team members are frequently in contact with each other and other parties such as law enforcement, legal, human resources. Thus, these professional interactions that CSIRT employees adopt will influence the reputation of the team and special concern to an individual’s interpersonal skills matters. Some interpersonal skills, required for incident handling staff, are listed below:

  • logical judgment to formulate effective and suitable decisions in time of crisis or under pressure or strict time constraints
  • effective oral and written communication skills for interaction with other parties
  • discretion when dealing with the media
  • aptitude to follow policies and procedures
  • enthusiasm to learn new things
  • challenge to work under pressure
  • teamwork
  • reliability to maintain team’s reputation and status
  • readiness to accept one’s own mistakes
  • problem solving skills to efficiently handle incidents
  • time management skills for high priority tasks

Apart from interpersonal skills, CSIRT staff should possess fundamental understanding of technology and issues on which they base their expertise. The following technical know-how is crucial for CSIRT staff:

  • public data networks (telephone, ISDN, X.25, PBX, ATM, frame relay)
  • the Internet (aspects ranging from architecture and history to future and philosophy)
  • network protocols (IP, ICMP, TCP, UDP)
  • network infrastructure elements (router, DNS, mail server)
  • network applications, services and related protocols (SMTP, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, TELNET, SSH, IMAP, POP3)
  • basic security principles
  • risks and threats to computers and networks
  • security vulnerabilities/weakness and related attacks (IP spoofing, Internet sniffers, denial of service attacks and computer viruses)
  • network security issues (firewalls and virtual private networks)
  • encryption technologies (TripleDES, AES, IDEA), digital signatures (RSA, DSA, DH), cryptographic hash algorithms (MD5, SHA-1)
  • host system security issues, from both a user and system administration perspective (backups, patches) [6]

It is crucial that one division of the team possess a thorough understanding of the full range of technologies and issues used by the team. This contributes to expand and intensify the technical resource and capability of the team and train other team members through education and documentation. It also makes sure that the team can provide a full range of services. Besides an in-depth understanding of the technical skills listed above, the following specialist skills are required:

  • technical skills such as programming, administration of networking components (e.g. routers, switches) and computer systems (UNIX, Linux, Windows, etc)
  • interpersonal skills such as human communication, experience in presenting at conferences or managing a group
  • work organization skills

Obviously, a team will be unable to employ individuals who possess all the necessary interpersonal and technical skills. But there are opportunities to address such deficiency in those skills, such as training of staff to develop and retain such skills and support continuous progress.

Hiring CSIRT Staff

For any staff vacancy, the hiring process to select the most talented applicant is a complicated task. Even a candidate who appears on the surface to possess the right skill set might not be able to work within CSIRT setting. It is true when a crisis has been declared where the candidate may not be able to cope with the situation and inefficiently carry out their duties. Therefore, it is recommended to present the applicant to a hiring process, specifically designed to reveal the applicant strengths and weaknesses. Based upon the findings of the hiring process, the team will make up their mind to train the applicant in the specific skills that the candidate may require or decide not to employ the candidate. Compared to a regular hiring process, additional steps should be included in any CSIRT hiring process and they are:

  • pre-interview document check
  • pre-interview telephone screening
  • interviews that cover topics from technical abilities to interpersonal skills
  • candidate technical presentation
  • reference checks, including criminal records

The complete hiring process should be devised to detect potential employees who possess appropriate interpersonal skills and technical skills. Such candidates can undergo further training to acquire more competence. Before calling the applicant for a personal interview, the pre-interview document check and telephone screening determines in the first instance whether the candidate is an ideal match for the selection process. At this stage, more information is gathered about the applicant’s broad level of interest in computer security and other more specific details on items covered in his or her resume. The telephone screening will give a good impression of the candidate’s oral communication skills. Before CSIRT staff begin to interview potential candidates, it’s better to decide in advance what particular issues ranging from technical issues and ethical issues to social skills are most likely to be discussed during the interview process and select which existing staff are most suitable to talk about those issues with the candidate. Thus separate topic areas are covered by each of the various interviewers, saving any duplication of effort. Each interviewer will be in a position to review and consolidate feedback on the issues covered. Another strategy may be carried out where similar topics may be discussed by other team members involved in the interview process to agree on the candidate’s faculty about a particular topic and identify any weaknesses. To ensure proper recruitment, the applicant should have the opportunity to meet up with CSIRT team members through a lunch meeting or at the candidate’s technical presentation. A candidate, required to give a technical presentation, offers CSIRT an opportunity to measure other technical and interpersonal skills of the candidate. It also gives an idea how much common sense the candidate has and whether the applicant will be able to cope under stressful situations. Other qualities such as overall presentation skills, an eye for detail, technical accuracy and ability to answer questions on the fly are also taken into account. After an individual has been appointed, there is also an enormous task to make them adapt to CSIRT. The new staff will need to undergo training for some period of time to get used to the CSIRT working environment as well as specific policies and procedures for the team. Some new recruits may be given access to limited information until relevant certificates or clearances such as government or military clearances are obtained. Staff training is compulsory in order to make the new recruits acquire the necessary skill level to take on their new responsibilities. Secondly, training is necessary to expand existing staff skills for personal career growth and overall team progress. Staff training also helps overall CSIRT skill set updated with emerging technologies and intruder trends. When considering the overall training needs of the team, it is necessary to spot out the overall skills needed for each individual, as well as the common skill set required for the whole team. Obviously, new staff member should acquire immediate training in any deficient skills to perform effectively quickly. From a general viewpoint, the whole team should be assessed to determine any training that needs more attention to enlarge skill set exposure in the team. At the same time, this assessment focuses on an individual’s skill set. Policies and procedures are a necessity and should be enforceable to support initial training of new team member and to guarantee ongoing training as policies and procedures get amended. Besides the interpersonal and technical skills discussed earlier, each team member should be trained in areas specific to the incident handling functions in a normal CSIRT work environment. Training should cover up the following issues:

  • new technical developments
  • CSIRT team policies and procedures
  • incident analysis
  • maintenance of incident records
  • understanding and identifying intruder techniques
  • work load distribution and organizational techniques

Initial training is conducted through on-the-job training. Since incident handling profession is different in work nature from other professions, there is no formal educational path for CSIRT staff and limited documentation in the literature. Most printed materi

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