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What Is the NIST Incident Response Framework?

What Is the NIST Incident Response Framework?

The NIST Incident Response Framework is a set of guidelines and best practices designed to help organizations plan for, respond to, and recover from cyber incidents. It's a structured approach that provides a clear roadmap for dealing with everything from minor security incidents to major, business-disrupting events. The framework is widely recognized and respected in the IT industry, and many organizations use it as a basis for their own incident response plans.

Understanding this framework not only helps organizations protect their information systems but also plays a vital role in maintaining trust with customers and stakeholders. After all, in an era where data breaches and cyber attacks are all too common, having a robust incident response plan in place is essential to demonstrating that you take security seriously.

Core Components of the NIST Incident Response Framework

The NIST Incident Response Framework consists of four core components: Preparation, Detection and Analysis, Containment, Eradication, and Recovery, and Post-Incident Activity.


This component is all about being ready before an incident occurs. It involves developing an incident response plan, setting up an incident response team, and securing the necessary tools and resources for handling incidents.

The incident response plan should outline the steps to be taken during an incident, define roles and responsibilities, and establish procedures for communication and coordination. The incident response team should be composed of individuals with the necessary skills and expertise to deal with a wide range of incidents.

Being well-prepared can make all the difference when an incident strikes. It can help you respond more quickly, minimize disruption, and ensure that you're able to recover as effectively as possible.

Detection and Analysis

Detection and analysis involves identifying potential security incidents, analyzing them to confirm whether an incident has indeed occurred, and understanding the nature and scope of the incident.

Detection can be achieved through various means, such as monitoring network traffic, analyzing logs, or using intrusion detection systems. Once a potential incident has been detected, it's important to analyze it thoroughly to confirm whether it's a real threat or a false alarm.

Understanding the nature and scope of an incident is crucial for determining the appropriate response. This can involve understanding what systems or data have been affected, what vulnerabilities have been exploited, and what the potential impact of the incident could be.

Containment, Eradication, and Recovery

Once an incident has been confirmed, the next stage is containment, eradication, and recovery. This involves taking steps to limit the impact of the incident, removing the threat from your systems, and restoring services and data.

Containment is about stopping the incident from causing further damage. This can involve isolating affected systems, blocking malicious IP addresses, or changing passwords.

Eradication involves removing the threat from your systems. This could involve deleting malware, patching vulnerabilities, or implementing stronger security controls.

Recovery is about restoring services and data. This could involve restoring from backups, rebuilding systems, or implementing measures to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.

Post-Incident Activity

The final component of the NIST Incident Response Framework is post-incident activity. This involves learning from the incident to improve your incident response capabilities and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

This can involve conducting a post-mortem analysis to understand what went wrong and what could have been done differently. It can also involve reviewing and updating your incident response plan based on the lessons learned.

NIST Recommendations for Incident Response Teams

Models for Incident Response Teams

According to NIST, there are three main models for incident response teams: centralized, distributed, and coordinated:

●     The centralized model involves a single, dedicated incident response team that handles all incidents across the organization. This model works well in organizations with a high level of maturity in their cybersecurity practices, as it allows for consistent, organization-wide incident response.

●     The distributed model involves multiple incident response teams located throughout the organization. Each team is responsible for handling incidents in their particular area or department. This model works well in larger organizations where there is a need for localized knowledge and expertise.

●     The coordinated model is a hybrid of the centralized and distributed models. It involves a central incident response team that coordinates the efforts of multiple distributed teams. This model provides the best of both worlds, combining the consistency of a centralized approach with the localized knowledge and expertise of a distributed approach.

Establish a Cybersecurity Incident Response Team (CIRT)

To initiate an effective incident response plan, your first step is to establish a Cybersecurity Incident Response Team (CIRT). This team coordinates essential resources and personnel during a security incident to minimize its impact and facilitate a quick operational recovery.

The CIRT is tasked with defining incident response policies and procedures, managing incidents promptly, investigating and analyzing past incidents, creating reporting capabilities, training staff on cybersecurity awareness, and continuously improving the incident response program. It's important that the CIRT is well-trained and ready to act at all times, regardless of the size of your organization or the threats it may face​​.

Plan Incident Response Procedures in Advance

Pre-planning is critical. Your CIRT must have a clear understanding of how to address cybersecurity incidents effectively, with minimal losses, before they occur.

This includes determining what events are classified as incidents, developing response plans for each type of incident, prioritizing threats based on their business impact, and drafting standard operating procedures for common events like system failures and malware infections. Utilizing NIST's Computer Security Incident Handling Guide as a reference can provide a structured approach to planning these procedures​​.

Implement a Backup and Recovery Strategy

A comprehensive backup and recovery strategy is vital for any incident response plan. Start by identifying your most critical data and focusing on its protection. This approach helps you prioritize your recovery efforts during an incident, ensuring that essential data is recovered first. Implementing a hybrid backup solution that combines on-premises and cloud-based services is recommended for enhanced data protection. Your CIRT should focus on data recovery and service restoration as primary tasks in your organization's recovery from cybersecurity incidents​​.

Keep Incident Response Procedures Up to Date

Regularly updating your incident response plan is necessary to adapt to new cybersecurity threats and changes within your business. NIST recommends reviewing and updating the incident response plan at least annually, though more frequent reviews may be needed for organizations facing numerous or evolving threats. Updates should reflect significant changes in business operations, infrastructure, or the threat landscape, ensuring that the plan remains effective and relevant in mitigating current and future cybersecurity risks​​.


The NIST Incident Response Framework provides a robust and flexible approach to managing cybersecurity incidents. It can be adapted to suit the needs of different organizations and provides clear guidelines on how to structure and manage an incident response team. While implementing this framework involves a significant investment, the benefits in terms of improved security and resilience are well worth it.



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