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Scenario-Based Incident Response Questionnaires

I was talking with someone about incident handling, and one of the points that came up was whether some standard sort of incident response questionnaire existed.
I was talking with someone about incident handling, and one of the points that came up was whether some standard sort of incident response questionnaire existed.While I've seen some basic questions included in various texts about what to do in each phase of responding to an incident, I haven't come across a good consolidated reference -- a checklist, possibly, that a first responder or security investigator might follow to learn more about the situation in order to handle it better.

That said, Lenny Zeltser has a security incident questionnaire that is a good start for what I'm getting at. His list covers enumerating background information surrounding the incident, defining the necessary communication structure, incident scope, and more. The questions are good and logically segmented, but I'd like to see something more structured for new incident handlers.

While not all incidents are created equal, they do tend to have a relatively structured flow of events that could be put into a flow chart. There will always be exceptions because you can't imagine every scenario you'll face, but certain basic questions will help lead you down the right path during the investigation once an incident has been identified.

For example, the questionnaire could start off with questions asking about the criticality of the possibly compromised resource. Is the server mission-critical? Can it sustain downtime for a forensic analysis? Is one system affected, or many? What was the method of compromise (if known)? Does it store sensitive information?

A huge number of potential questions and answers could impact the course of an investigation. Just before posting this, I saw a similar topic over at the ISC on whether having customized procedures offered any return on investment. I think it depends on the asset and how critical it is to the organization.

I'd like to see some questionnaires that are more scenario-based. If the attack is SQL injection, then ask questions that get you more details about what access the application's database user account had and whether logging was enabled.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.