NIST: Computer Security Incident Handling Guide (Draft)

Date of Publication: 
February 2012

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Computer security incident response has become an important component of information technology (IT) programs. Security-related threats have become not only more numerous and diverse but also more damaging and disruptive. New types of security-related incidents emerge frequently. Preventative activities based on the results of risk assessments can lower the number of incidents, but not all incidents can be prevented. An incident response capability is therefore necessary for rapidly detecting incidents, minimizing loss and destruction, mitigating the weaknesses that were exploited, and restoring computing services. To that end, this publication provides guidelines for incident handling, particularly for analyzing incident-related data and determining the appropriate response to each incident. The guidelines can be followed independently of particular hardware platforms, operating systems, protocols, or applications.

Because performing incident response effectively is a complex undertaking, establishing a successful incident response capability requires substantial planning and resources. Continually monitoring threats through intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPSs) and other mechanisms is essential. Establishing clear procedures for prioritizing the handling of incidents is critical, as is implementing effective methods of collecting, analyzing, and reporting data. It is also vital to build relationships and establish suitable means of communication with other internal groups (e.g., human resources, legal) and with external groups (e.g., other incident response teams, law enforcement).

This publication seeks to help both established and newly formed incident response teams. This publication assists organizations in establishing computer security incident response capabilities and handling incidents efficiently and effectively. This revision of the publication, Revision 2, updates material throughout the publication to reflect the changes in threats and incidents. Unlike most threats several years ago, which tended to be short-lived and easy to notice, many of today’s threats are more stealthy, specifically designed to quietly, slowly spread to other hosts, gathering information over extended periods of time and eventually leading to exfiltration of sensitive data and other negative impacts. Identifying these threats in their early stages is key to preventing subsequent compromises, and sharing information among organizations regarding the signs of these threats is an increasingly effective way to identify them.