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What Is a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)?


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The Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) is a team charged with incident response, handling all security incidents affecting an organization in a timely and effective manner. They are responsible for protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) of business assets, mainly computer systems and networks, as well as the organization’s valuable data.

Some large organizations maintain an in-house, dedicated CSIRT team. But many organizations cannot sustain the cost of a full security operations center (SOC), and so they outsource the CSIRT to external service providers (MSSPs). In smaller organizations, hybrid teams are often assembled to respond to security incidents, where only some of the members are dedicated security staff and others work in IT or other departments.

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Learn more about Cynet incident response services.

How Does a CSIRT Work?

At the heart of the CSIRT is incident management. The key to effective incident management is to respond quickly to incidents, with the goal of minimizing damage caused by attackers, eradicating the threat, and rapidly restoring operational systems.

The CSIRT takes responsibility for the following incident management activities:

  • Security policies—a CSIRT develops security policies in collaboration with other departments, and helps enforce them in the organization. The CSIRT can support other teams by helping them define security rules and standards.
  • Incident prevention—a CSIRT deploys and operates security tools and processes that can prevent attacks before they take place. Examples include anti-malware scanning, vulnerability assessments, firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems (IPS).
  • Triage and analysis—the incident response team analyzes threats, often using threat intelligence tools to add more information about threat actors, attack patterns and techniques. Using this information, they assess the severity of the threat and its potential impact on the organization and identify the best response.
  • Incident detection and response—when an incident is detected, the CSIRT immediately acts to contain the threat, prevent further damage, clean the threat from the environment, and restore affected systems.
  • Forensic Investigation—this involves investigating the root cause of the attack, steps involved in the kill chain.

Related content: Read our guide to incident response team.

Additional Responsibilities of a CSIRT Team

Apart from overall responsibility for security policies and the day-to-day work of incident management, the CSIRT members have additional important responsibilities:

  • Perform a detailed post-mortem of security incidents and create a prevention and response protocol after each incident.
  • Training security staff and others in the organization on security best practices and effective response to evolving threats.
  • Establishing auditing systems and providing audit data to auditors, law enforcement authorities, or others in the organization.
  • Notify relevant departments of changes to new technologies, policies, and protocols after a security incident.
  • Maintain internal communications during and after a major incident, and report on the incident to stakeholders and management.

Types of CSIRT

Distributed CSIRT

A distributed CSIRT unit consists of several independent teams collaborating and sharing incident response responsibilities. It is typically managed by a coordinating team that distributes responsibilities and resources according to the unique needs of each project.

Coordinating CSIRT

A coordinating CSIRT manages other, typically subordinate CSIRT units, coordinating incident response activities, workflows, and information flow among distributed teams. Typically, a coordinating CSIRT does not provide independent incident response services. Rather, it ensures resources and activities are effectively distributed between disparate teams.

Hybrid CSIRT

A hybrid CSIRT consists of a centralized full-time unit and distributed units employing subject matter experts (SMEs). Typically, SMEs participate in incident response activities ad-hoc—as needed during specific events. This model employs a central CSIRT unit to detect a potential event and analyze it to determine the appropriate response. Next, the relevant distributed CSIRT experts are asked to assist in incident response activities.

CSIRT/SOC Hybrid

A CSIRT/SOC Hybrid model puts the security operations center (SOC) responsible for receiving all security alerts, reports, and alarms that indicate potential incidents. The CSIRT is activated only if the SOC requires help with additional analysis. The SOC performs incident detection and passes incidents to the CSIRT, acting as a front end for the CSIRT.

Outsourced CSIRT

An outsourced CSIRT helps organizations that lack the staff or resources required to build an in-house incident response team. This model typically supplements an internal team with external contractors or outsources CSIRT services and tasks on-demand, like digital forensics.

Related content: Read our guide to the security operations center (SOC).

Best Practices for Building an Effective CSIRT

Use these best practices to build an effective CSIRT team.

Maximize CSIRT Availability

Ideally, a CSIRT team should provide 24/7 incident response support. Realistically, many organizations don’t have enough security experts to achieve this level of coverage. The solution is to develop a shift system to ensure consistent coverage, or at least have individuals on call in case of a severe incident.

Cross-training can be very helpful—by ensuring all members of the team are trained in multiple security disciplines, the same individuals can serve in different roles at different times, depending on their availability.

Another problem is the lack of in-house expertise. An organization may have multiple security professionals, but naturally they will not be skilled in responding to all types of incidents, all the necessary tools or techniques. These knowledge gaps can be a challenge when unique or rare events occur.

You can address this by modeling your threats, identifying important threats that might be challenging for your team to address, and augmenting their skills by training, consulting, or outsourcing.

Get an Executive Advocate

Security teams, tools, and responses require large budgets to deploy and maintain over time. In addition, when a security team is highly effective, and there are no major security incidents, they might appear to be an unjustified expense to executives and shareholders.

In order to get the resources a CSIRT team needs to operate effectively, it must be supported by the executive team. An executive advocate supporting the CSIRT can help other executives understand the importance of security, and ensure that budget cuts or restructuring do not jeopardize the organization’s incident response capabilities.

Refine Your Security Processes

One of the most important steps in an incident response plan is to evaluate response after every incident and improve the process. For CSIRT to be effective, it must have effective policies, procedures, and technologies, which are regularly updated to reflect current and evolving threats.

Allow time for the team to review activities, structure, and skill levels on a regular basis. If changes can be made to improve the process, leadership should support those changes. Cybersecurity is highly dynamic, and the best way to ensure the overall effectiveness of CSIRT and security is to continuously evolve CSIRT capabilities.

Cynet: Respond in Minutes to a Critical Cyber Attacks

Cynet provides a security platform that can be deployed in minutes across hundreds to thousands of endpoints to scan, identify and remediate threats. CyOps, Cynet’s Cyber SWAT team, is on call 24/7/365, allowing enterprises of all sizes to get access to the same expert security staff that protect the largest enterprises.

Cynet’s CyOps provides always-on incident response services, threat hunting, forensic investigations for breaches, and malware analysis to automatically prevent threats like malware, fileless attacks, Macros and LOLBins.

Contact Cynet for immediate help

For emergency assistance from Cynet’s security experts, call them at US 1-(347)-474-0048, International +44-203-290-9051, or complete the form below.

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