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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards, guidelines, and best practices play a pivotal role in maintaining the security and resilience of the nation’s information systems.

These cybersecurity standards and guidelines form a structured framework that is employed by both government agencies and private sector businesses to create policy, increase security, and mitigate risk.

According to a report published by Malwarebytes, known ransomware attacks increased by 68 percent in 2023, while another study found that 94 percent of the organizations surveyed had been hit by a phishing attack in 2023.

With cyberattacks becoming more frequent and more destructive, adding a NIST-compliant incident response playbook to your cybersecurity strategy can reinforce your organization’s security posture, especially if your business operates primarily in a Software as a Service (SaaS) environment.

Understanding NIST Guidelines for Incident Response

A cybersecurity incident playbook is your manual for ensuring your organization’s security team can leverage a coordinated and effective response to a cybersecurity event.

Aligning that playbook with the NIST guidelines for incident response enhances your security posture and ensures your security team has the resources to effectively detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity incidents.

NIST defines four phases of a cybersecurity incident response lifecycle:


Establish a plan to respond to incidents and proactively prevent them by securing systems, networks, and applications.

Detection and Analysis

Implement continuous monitoring to detect suspicious activity and analyze incidents to determine their nature, impact, and root cause.

Containment, Eradication, and Recovery

Limit the “blast radius” of an incident, identify and remove the root cause, and restore affected systems and services.

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Post-Event Activity

Review and refine the incident response process, document the incident and the response, update the incident response plan, and implement changes to strengthen your security posture.

The standards and guidelines for each phase are outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-61: Computer Security Incident Handling Guide. Below we walk through how to incorporate these best practices into your organization’s cybersecurity incident playbook.

5 Steps to Creating a NIST-Compliant Cybersecurity Incident Playbook

SaaS-centric business environments are frequently targeted by malicious actors due to their cloud-based architecture and remote accessibility.

Here’s how to create a NIST-compliant incident playbook that prioritizes a proactive approach to preventing and responding to cybersecurity events.

1. Assess your SaaS environment.

Conduct a thorough assessment of your SaaS infrastructure, applications, and data handling processes. Identify potential vulnerabilities and threat vectors specific to your SaaS platforms.

2. Define incident response roles and responsibilities.

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities for incident response team members removes any question of who does what during a crisis.

Assign tasks such as detection, containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident analysis. Regularly review and update roles and responsibilities to ensure seamless coordination and communication among team members during incident response. Identify any unfilled roles.

3. Develop specific incident response procedures.

Tailor incident response procedures to address the unique challenges of SaaS environments and different types of security events, such as data breaches, service disruptions, or ransomware attacks.

Create step-by-step procedures for each type of cybersecurity incident. Document escalation paths, communication protocols, and decision-making processes.

4. Implement incident detection and monitoring mechanisms.

Deploy continuous monitoring tools to detect, identify, and respond to potential threats and cybersecurity incidents in real time.

5. Test and refine the incident response plan.

Conduct regular tabletop exercises and simulation drills to test the effectiveness of the incident response plan and identify weaknesses and areas for improvement.

Iteratively refine the incident response plan based on lessons learned and evolving threat landscapes.

The Most Important Step: Documenting and Maintaining the Incident Playbook

We can’t stress enough the importance of documenting all incident response procedures, protocols, and contact information in a centralized, accessible playbook—and of backing up a copy of that playbook away from your network in the cloud.

Regularly updating the playbook to reflect changes in the SaaS environment, technology stack, regulatory requirements, and response team roles will help increase resilience, prevent data loss, and expedite recovery after a security incident.

NIST Compliance is a Game Changer for SaaS Cybersecurity

Incorporating NIST standards, guidelines, and best practices into your cybersecurity incident playbook will give your security team the tools it needs to not only respond to active security events but prevent them from happening in the first place.

A NIST-compliant playbook addresses the unique vulnerabilities of SaaS business environments by incorporating cloud-security best practices that keep data secure, prevent unauthorized access, and mitigate threats quickly.

Take the first step toward a NIST-compliant cybersecurity incident playbook. Book your security assessment today!

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