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Ep. 4: Evidence & Building a Case

BY eSentire

September 20, 2021 | 5 MINS READ

Cyber Risk

Incident Response

Cybersecurity Strategy

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Cybersecurity is not an IT problem to solve—it's a business risk to manage. In the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series, Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist with eSentire, and Cybercrime Magazine’s Hillarie McClure lead conversations with cybersecurity experts, using the dollars-and-cents language of the C-suite to expose the issues, challenges and pitfalls which are often obscured by ones and zeroes.

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In today’s cyber threat landscape, organizations are being targeted by nation states as part of a Cyber Cold War. However, setting aside nation-state attacks and geopolitics, financially motivated cybercrime by itself is enough to warrant serious discussion at the next board meeting (and every meeting thereafter).

Unfortunately, it seems that when an organization suffers from a cybersecurity incident and needs to engage in Incident Response, organizations must be clear about what they want to achieve from it. Security leaders must ask themselves, ‘What happened, and how do I fix it?’ not ‘What happened, and who do I hang for it?’

That guidance comes from E.J. Hilbert, former FBI Cyber Agent and Principal at KCE Cyber Consultants, in the latest episode of our Managing Cyber Risk podcast series.

According to Hilbert, many organizations don’t know how to perform cybersecurity incident response, and that this lack of knowledge stems from a wider misunderstanding of what incident response truly is—or at least what it should be.

“In our industry, Incident Response is what people talk about, not Incident Management. IR is ‘What happened and how do I fix it?’, but Incident Management is ‘OK, this is what happened. We’re going to shut it down,’ and then ‘Now what do we do?’”

Mark Sangster, eSentire’s Vice President and Industry Security Strategist, agrees with Hilbert’s observations but characterizes things a little bit differently.

“’Ready, fire, aim!’ is what happens in most cases when a company is hit by a cyberattack,” says Sangster. “It’s this leap to blame, to fire the employee, to ditch the vendor. But the problem in doing that—when you shoot before you know where you’re aiming—is later you realize there’s a lot of work here, there’s a lot of evidence that needs to be collected.”

In addition, the desire to prosecute can sometimes blind (or consciously distract from) the real need to understand a cyber security incident and extract lessons. Sangster clarifies, “It’s never a single failure, or some simple factor. If a malicious insider got away with something, then what were the controls that weren’t in place: monitoring, logging, least privilege, and so on.”

Understanding what you want to get out of a response (i.e., learning what happened and how to better prepare for the future should be on that list) is essential, especially if it has implications for the extraction and preservation of forensic evidence.

Responding with discipline and purpose

When a breach is detected, there is enormous pressure to make high-impact decisions quickly and correctly. Additionally, while it’s often overlooked, the emotional strain is significant and can lead to critical mistakes.

First of all, many organizations don’t realize the impact that prosecution can have on their reputation. However, prosecution publicizes all of the details related to the cyber security incident since court filings are a matter of public record. This can alert clients, competitors, and partners about the cyber incident—with a range of possible consequences (including losing valuable allies).

Secondly, public companies may be forced to include certain information in financial filings, while others may be required to report incidents to regulators because of the market in which they operate or the data they handle.

Unfortunately, while companies may have multiple reasons to perform a detailed investigation and secure evidence, most simply don’t know how to proceed. They haven’t planned for the situation, and it takes special training to know how to gather evidence to build a case for attribution and/or such that it will stand up in a court of law.

For example:

Faced with such complexities, most companies will turn to experts for digital forensics and incident response expertise.

Working with law enforcement agencies

The reality is that security leaders will have to deal with a malicious event or even a full-blown cyber security incident.

The prudent approach to risk management is to accept this unwelcome truth and prepare your organization. In addition to working with a company like eSentire to develop a cyber security Incident Response and Management plan, companies should also consider proactively working law enforcement agencies.

While many people think of law enforcement agencies as reactive, they are very proactive and can assist with IR planning, conducting tabletop exercises, training, securing executive buy-in, etc. In fact, law enforcement agencies work extensively with industry associations and chambers of commerce to reach small and medium-sized businesses.

Of course, the added benefit of establishing these relationships ahead of time means you know exactly who to call in the event of an incident.

Unfortunately, proactively consulting with law enforcement agencies, having an IR partner on retainer, or engaging an MDR provider are no longer ‘nice to haves’, but necessities.

“You are putting your business in the worst neighborhood in the world, called The Internet,” Hilbert reminds his clients. He explains that in the physical world, businesses take enormous measures to prevent and limit security incidents, but too many fail to put in place even basic protections in the digital world.

It’s important that CEOs, CFOs, board members, and other leaders treat cybersecurity as a top-of-mind business concern, not something relegated to the CISO or heat of IT, and listen when the security and IT people raise concerns, request budget, and issue warnings.

Learn more about forensic evidence and building a case by listening to Evidence & Building A Case from the Managing Cyber Risk podcast series. E.J. Hilbert joins Mark Sangster and Hillarie McClure from Cybercrime Magazine and shares his insights on:


eSentire, Inc., the Authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR), protects the critical data and applications of 2000+ organizations in 80+ countries, across 35 industries from known and unknown cyber threats by providing Exposure Management, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services designed to build an organization’s cyber resilience & prevent business disruption. Founded in 2001, eSentire protects the world’s most targeted organizations with 65% of its global base recognized as critical infrastructure, vital to economic health and stability. By combining open XDR platform technology, 24/7 threat hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire's award-winning MDR services and team of experts help organizations anticipate, withstand and recover from cyberattacks. For more information, visit: www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.

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