Prioritizing your incident classification process for faster response times


The security of your business or organization depends on your response to incidents. Although the process of responding involves many steps and often many teams of people, it's difficult to know what to do and who to call without first knowing exactly what type of security incident has occurred. That's where an incident classification system comes in. Here, we've broken down how to classify incidents, and why it's so important to do so in the first place.

What is incident classification?

In the world of DevOps, incident classification is the process of categorizing adverse events according to specific criteria. Incidents can include cyberattacks, data breaches and security threats that can harm your business assets, systems, or reputation.

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It’s important to identify the type of incident, its scope and severity and the impact on your organization. Classifying incidents according to a set of predetermined standards will help you prioritize your response activity, mitigate damage and ultimately, improve your security.

How incidents are generally classified

Incidents are classified using various criteria based on the nature and severity of the breach. Some standard incident classification examples are:

Incident type

Incident type refers to the specific type of security incident that has occurred, such as a malware attack, phishing, unauthorized access or data breach. Knowing what kind of incident has occurred will help you understand the cause of the incident and the steps you should take to mitigate the damage. It will also help you evaluate your security structure and practices to prevent similar incidences in the future.

Incident severity

Incident severity refers to the level of impact or harm that the security incident has caused. The severity level can range from low to high priority incidents. You can determine the severity by analyzing the scope of the incident, the extent of data loss, the level of system compromise and the overall impact on your company.

Incident category

The incident category refers to the area that has been affected by the security incident. For example, the category could be the network, system, application or data. Categorizing the incident helps determine which areas are most vulnerable and need the most protection.

Expected impact

The expected impact outlines the most likely potential consequences of the security incident. For example, the expected impact includes financial costs, reputational damage, legal implications and possible loss of intellectual property. Understanding the expected impact will allow you to take the appropriate action to minimize the damage caused by the incident and determine which stakeholders you should consult first for optimal outcomes.

Why it’s important to accurately classify your incidents

Your incident classification strategy will serve as the foundation of your response plan. Accurate incident classification will reduce impulsive decision-making and help incident responders apply the most effective solution the first time. In addition, once an incident is resolved, accurate classification and analysis can help improve your future security posture to prevent similar incidents from recurring.

However, accurate classification isn’t just a good practice for your organization. Many organizations are governed by regulations requiring you to report critical incidents to relevant authorities. If you misclassify an incident, you may expose yourself to fines or other penalties.

Prioritize your approach to your incident classification process

Following some best practices can optimize the process of developing an incident classification matrix.

Have a classification strategy in place

Creating an incident severity classification strategy involves first identifying the different types of incidents that can occur in your organization. These incidents may include physical security breaches, cyber attacks, equipment failures and more. Once you have identified the types of incidents, defining the severity levels associated with each class is essential. Severity levels can be based on factors such as the impact on operations, potential for data loss and financial cost.

Tie your incident response to your classification types

Once you have defined the classification levels and severity for each type of incident, you need to determine which classifications require which responses. Response plans outline the specific steps necessary to contain, mitigate and recover from the incident.

For example, a response plan for a low-severity incident may include steps such as documenting the incident, notifying the appropriate personnel and monitoring the situation. On the other hand, a response plan for a high-severity incident may involve tracking leads, implementing immediate remediation efforts, following communication plans and coordinating efforts with external stakeholders.

Your classification strategy should also define the roles and responsibilities of different folks involved in the incident response process, including incident responders, security personnel, management and external stakeholders.

It’s essential to regularly review and update these response plans to ensure they remain relevant and effective. In addition, you should conduct drills and exercises to test the methods, analyze incident data to identify areas for improvement and solicit feedback from stakeholders.

Use the data from incident management tools to your advantage

Incident management tools are essential for learning and improving incident classification practices. These tools can help you track incident trends and identify areas for change.

When using incident reporting tools, you should ensure that you consistently and accurately document incidents. You’ll need to capture details such as the type of incident, severity level, response actions taken and any lessons learned. You can use this information to identify vulnerabilities and make data-driven decisions about incident response.

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Luis Gonzalez
Content Marketing Manager