The Anatomy of a Great Threat Response

In today’s world, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t familiar with cyber threats and the severity of damage they can cause. From Hollywood interpretations to very-real attacks in the news, terms like “ransomware” and “phishing attacks” have become canonized in our vocabulary. While most businesses understand the seriousness of cyber threats, understanding the appropriate threat response is a lot more complicated— especially with an increase in the sophistication and precision of threat actors in today’s landscape.

It’s crucial to understand the components of a strong cyber threat response so you can successfully act on them when they arise. A successful cyber threat response involves detailed plans for detecting and mitigating threats, including processes, procedures, and policies implemented alongside easy-to-deploy tools to help minimize both probability and impact.

Taking Action: Components of a Strong Cyber Threat Response

In addition to democratizing cyber threat management with customizable detection and incident response capabilities, a strong cyber threat response begins with proper planning and preparation. Proper planning and preparation components include scalable visibility and insight into corporate infrastructure, including the location of endpoints, data sources, and other identity management vectors. Another valuable component is the ability to access and leverage threat intelligence, which consistently delivers proactive alerts and advisories on efficiently containing and recovering from security incidents.

Unfortunately, cyber threat response can be overwhelming, even with comprehensive preparation — especially for IT teams without extensive security expertise. Because of this, strong cyber threat response must operate with a customized incident response playbook that is user-friendly, simple, efficient, and eliminates the need for an army of cybersecurity experts.  The playbook should incorporate machine learning capabilities to ensure a lean or one-person IT team to deploy operational security processes.

Verifying Responses with Evidence

Once a security alert is received, it’s easy (and human) to panic and rush to resolve an incident. However, knee-jerk reactions are often more detrimental than helpful—IT teams should take the time to investigate incidents to ensure a thorough understanding of the context, impact, and severity. Conversely, carelessly dismissing incidents can result in oversight and unintentionally allowing an attack to take place. Because organizations are fielding a ton of information and data, knowing which alerts to take seriously can be time consuming and confusing.

Pairing Automation with Human Oversight

AI and automation are powerful tools to help bridge the skill gap and improve the efficiency of IT teams. With advanced threat detection skills, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation, IT teams can stay ahead of cybercriminals without needing to excessively sort through data 24/7. Automated incident response helps cover more incidents with fewer resources, so there’s less room for human error. However, organizations cannot rely on AI and automation alone: even artificial intelligence makes mistakes. AI decision-making maturity needs time to evolve and develop. Naturally, human leadership comes with its own set of challenges, too— for example, human micromanagement diminishes the effectiveness of the AI system, and IT teams simply do not have the time or bandwidth to continuously review complex data and alerts.

While automation covers tedious and redundant incident response, IT teams can focus on other areas of business, like investigating:

  • Suspicious access, like attempts to access restricted files or systems. For example, an organization may have a superuser with the right to access sensitive information (but no real reason to actually do so). If the user suddenly starts accessing restricted areas, though, it may signify a cybersecurity incident.
  • Network traffic irregularities, which include unexpected network traffic patterns from unrecognizable IP addresses. This event most likely indicates initial access compromise, connectivity misconfiguration, or reconnaissance attacks.
  • Excessive consumption that can manifest as rapid increases in resource demand, drops in performance, or significant data exports. These behaviors could signify data exfiltration, malware infections, or abuse of resources.

IT teams may find User and Entity Behavioral Analytics (UEBA) capabilities critical when assessing these issues. Such devices can be designed with baselines of “acceptable” behavior and notify the team when a rare event occurs. A team can then evaluate the event and make informed decisions based on the information provided by these tools.

Creating a cyber threat response plan

Cyber threat response plans provide specific guidelines for handling security incidents —defining the roles and responsibilities of the team members, the tools required for managing the security breach, steps to take for mitigating it, and what actions to take following the incident. In addition, threat response plans protect data assets by incorporating procedures like secure backups, monitoring logs, and alerts to detect malicious activity, restrict access to prevent insider threats, and patch management to close security gaps.

Data breaches are a massive blow to an organization’s reputation (60 percent of small businesses are unable to withstand the six months following a cyberattack). Robust threat response plans protect against reputational damage and retain customer trust, thereby stabilizing revenue generation. Strong cyber threat response plans address suspected cyber threats in the following phases:


Advanced planning is critical during a cyber threat incident and helps organizations respond to security incidents quickly and effectively. All information in these response plans should be accessible to everyone on the incident response team. The team members must understand their position and role in the event of a breach clearly and without any confusion. Proper planning and regular testing of the cyber threat response plans — including conducting mock data breaches — increases the chances of shutting down any attack effectively and without further issues.


This phase focuses on uncovering potential and ongoing security breaches and attack vectors. In this phase, a strong threat response considers an organization’s risk appetite, vulnerabilities, and how an attacker can exploit them. Effective cyber threat response plans leverage multiple security frameworks, such as MITRE, NIST, or ISO, to help analyze behavioral patterns for accurate attribution. Above all, the identification phase of takes on a proactive posture to accelerate threat mitigation and recovery processes.


Containment prevents the breach from spreading and causing further damage. If possible, disconnect compromised devices from the internet. Have short- and long-term containment plans prepared. It is also necessary to gather all available evidence about the attack for internal and external use and analysis later on.


Eliminate the root cause of the breach. Then, securely remove all malware, harden and patch all systems, and apply updates.


Restore and return affected systems to their working environments. This phase includes the security updates for the vulnerabilities and employee training to prevent similar incidents from repeating.


Battling a cybersecurity incident ain’t easy. Depending on the severity, you may have to deal with aggrieved bosses, panicked employees, government regulators, and frustrated customers. These outcomes can be demanding, even under the best conditions— but with proper plans and preparedness, threat resolution is much less daunting.

ContraForce is everything you need to manage your security service delivery with confidence.

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