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Uptime Blog

The differences between reactive vs proactive incident response

Most commonly, businesses take a reactive approach to incident management. After all, the concept of incident response seems inherently reactive. However, it is possible—and often necessary—to take more proactive measures. This entails identifying potential problems and taking steps to remediate them before they become incidents.

Let’s explore both proactive and reactive incident response methods, the strategies that differentiate the two approaches, and how you can use them concurrently to prevent system outages and performance lapses.

Reactive incident response

To mitigate risks to business operations, organizations must be prepared to resolve incidents as they arise. This means having a framework that supports the ability to respond quickly to emergent incidents while maintaining stability, resilience, and continuity throughout their operations.

In the reactive incident response model, site reliability engineering (SRE) teams try to determine the root cause of an outage or other issue. Then, they must identify strategies for remediation.

This plan arises from the idea that if you can identify and address issues as they arise, you’ll be able to prevent them from happening again. Successful implementation requires establishing processes that enable you to quickly identify problems and respond accordingly—as soon as possible.

Incidents are inherently unpredictable, and there is no perfect system. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain the capability to respond to emergent incidents should they occur.

Proactive incident response

Proactive incident response seeks to identify and fix issues before they lead to problems, outages, or performance issues that could affect your systems. When you already know what to look for and how to fix it, you can avoid downtime and reduce the risk of your systems becoming compromised. As a result, this saves time, money, and personnel resources that might have been necessary to address such issues.

At the core of this strategy is vigilance. SRE teams must be able to remain perpetually alert regarding potential problems. They must be constantly aware of their systems to assess any potential issues that might arise. Then, they need to ensure that they’re ready to respond quickly when something does happen.

This isn’t an easy task. Actively identifying potential problems can be time and resource intensive for SRE teams. Therefore, it is crucial that you closely examine your current procedures to assess whether there are opportunities for improvement.

The differences between reactive and proactive incident response

It’s not possible to provide complete protection against all possible attacks. However, by identifying common threats and vulnerabilities and creating plans to block them before they occur, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful attack.

Proactive incident response

Proactive incident response can provide significant benefits by reducing the impact of incidents and increasing the efficiency with which they are handled. This might include addressing systems that have not yet been patched or upgraded for known vulnerabilities. Additionally, it should ensure that your network does not contain any unauthorized access points (for example, rogue wireless access points). This approach ensures that any sensitive data is appropriately encrypted when it is stored or transmitted over public networks.

Even with a well-structured proactive approach, your defensive mechanisms may sometimes fail, giving malicious actors the chance to launch an attack. If such an event happens, it is crucial to assess and repair any damage.

This is why you should implement a reactive incident management plan alongside your proactive strategy. A reactive approach is an ongoing process that helps build and maintain a more secure environment. It also helps prioritize the steps needed to ensure that incidents don’t occur.

Reactive incident response

Reactive strategies are based on findings from previous events. As this approach assumes that a threat will inevitably occur, SRE teams can use that event to learn more about how to avoid similar breaches and update their security measures accordingly.

Reactive incident management is the best possible way to solve a security problem that has already occurred. The approach employs defense mechanisms like spam filters, firewalls, and antivirus software to manage intruders and counter common security attacks. With a practical reactive approach, you’re better able to prevent malicious attackers from causing significant damage to your system.

Proactive security methods and strategies

Securing data

One data security best practice is to keep data grouped according to the information it holds, its use cases, the level of authority required to access the data, and the data sensitivity. Once you segment data, you can easily establish authentication rules and security parameters for a given data segment. This exposes less data to security breaches because you’ve already built a security perimeter around your high-value datasets.

Besides, you should make any data you store on mobile devices unreadable. This ensures your data security even if your portable device is lost or accessed by an authorized user. Any data you transmit across unsecured connections should be unreadable. Intercepting such data is difficult.

Monitoring endpoints

You also need to monitor the security of endpoints such as laptops, IoT devices, workstations, phones, servers, or virtual environments that have access to your system accounts. Your endpoint-monitoring strategy should focus on detecting hidden vulnerabilities, updating security patches, and monitoring logs. Attackers wanting to breach data or compromise networks target unsecured endpoints because they provide an easy access point. The attackers may also use the endpoints to plant malware.

While antivirus is significant to securing your endpoints, protecting your system from polymorphic malware, memory-resident, and other more sophisticated threats requires a deeper detection level. You need to look beyond signature-based ID systems and look for more advanced tools that use behavioral analytics to detect threats. Examples include Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPP) and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR).

Reactive security methods and strategies

Recovery planning

When an attack occurs, reactive incident response helps mitigate damages and initiate recovery. Security attacks are highly stressful; to avoid making snap decisions, you need a data recovery plan that describes the steps to be taken during and after an attack.

Vulnerability analysis

Evaluating security weaknesses helps you discover existing vulnerabilities in your systems. Vulnerability assessment will help you identify, analyze, estimate risks, and provide solutions to a security risk. SQL injections and cross-site scripting (XSS) are common attacks that could invade your system.

Switching to alternative systems

You also need an alternative system that will enable you to continue operations, especially when the incident becomes a prolonged event. An alternative system can have the minimum set of capabilities to allow impacted users to perform some essential functions as they wait for complete system restoration.

You may also need to operate dual data centers that run in parallel with synchronized data: this ensures you resume operations quickly if the original data center becomes compromised.

Regardless of its type, any incident may take time and financial resources to resolve. Reactive incident management strategies play a significant role in stopping losses when outages, downtime, or attacks occur—even preventing future occurrences of similar incidents. However, the landscape is evolving, and reactive incident management strategies alone may not protect your system from newer, more complex, or ultimately unpredictable incidents. Therefore, you also need a proactive approach to prepare for new and emerging vulnerabilities.

Reactive and proactive incident management plans have unique use cases and can yield the best results when they work together. It is time to stop thinking of security from a proactive versus reactive viewpoint and consider both reactive and proactive strategies part of your incident management plan!!

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