The Power of Templates: From Crayons to Incident Response


Christopher Skinner, Access Point Consulting

The Power of Templates: From Crayons to Incident Response


For those who have served in the armed forces, the start of this article may bring a smile to your face because we're going to talk about coloring. While it's a common joke among service members to tease Marines about crayons, by the end of this article, we might all agree that coloring can be an incredibly effective way to get the job done!

In the business world, particularly cybersecurity, organizations often struggle to respond efficiently and effectively to incidents. The lack of standardized processes can lead to chaos, delays, and significant impacts on business operations.

As a child, I loved to color. I loved anything related to art but could have been more creative. I could sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper or doodle and then lose interest. But I loved coloring on templates. The smaller and more intricate, the better. I could create art using someone else's template instead of using my imagination to make something to hang on the fridge or get a smiley face from Mrs. Duncan (shout out to my 1st-grade teacher).

Now that I'm grown up, I see templates everywhere—templates for success, riches, and fitness, to name a few. These scenarios are all plans containing templates for achieving a goal efficiently. Each plan takes in user inputs and assimilates the data into information the planner can use to see the bigger picture and decide how to act or what specific service to provide.

I recently retired from active-duty service as a United States Marine Officer. The Marines used templates because the organization has been around for a long time and uses templates and forms with great success, but mainly because templates are used in high-stress environments to accomplish objectives.

During my career, I deployed in support of ongoing missions. Due to the time-sensitive nature of executing operations, we used a rapid planning process that gave us a six-hour window to accomplish detailed planning.

How did we do it?

Templates, rehearsals, and standardized processes. Each unit participating in the planning process understood their role and the information they needed to provide. And where did all this information go? Stress-tested templates were used effectively to plan, brief, and execute operations.

This experience as a Marine Corps officer using templates to run operations, translates to the corporate world, where any organization can use templates to achieve remarkable success in any functional area of its specialty.

Incident response experts will agree that templates and runbooks are critical components of a successful incident response program. The time to have templated documents ready for an incident response effort is now––before an incident occurs.

Crafting Your Blueprint for Success

Why are templates a critical tool for your organization?

A key to developing effective templates is understanding the scope and appetite for information requirements when an incident occurs.

How much information does the Chief Information Officer or Executive Suite like to see in a report? Do you know?

If you do not, you better ask before you start coloring.

Regardless of the information requirements, a core group of documents for incident response includes:

  • Incident Management Plan
  • Incident Report Template
  • Incident Management Communication Plan
  • Incident Update Report Template

Each document forms the base for success in an incident response effort. Here's how to create effective templates for your organization: 

Step 1:
Use Industry Standards

Start with industry standards like NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) SP 800-61 – Computer Security Incident Handling Guide. Familiarization with this document will set you on the path to success in creating your templates.

Step 2
: Draft Your Template

With this strong base knowledge, draft your template with headers based on the organization's information requirements. For example, an Incident Report Template could contain headers such as:

  • Purpose – What is this template used for?
  • Audience – Who will receive the information contained in this report?
  • Summary of Incident – Concise "5 W" format
  • Timeline of Response Actions – Brief synopsis of timing leading to the report
  • Damage or Business Impact – Any business impact the C-suite should know about
  • Changes – Any changes as a result of response actions (technical/non-technical)
  • Closing Statement – This is what happened, and this is what we are currently doing about it.
  • Contacts – Contact information for event responders

These headers can be changed or modified to fit an organization's needs and leadership's information requirements.


Step 3: Ensure a Feedback Loop

A repetitive step in developing templates is to ensure a feedback loop as you revise and edit your draft document. Various levels of the organization need to review a template to ensure it meets its intended purpose. Additionally, it is a good idea to have the document reviewed by peers outside of the IR program because, regardless of content, this is a process document that, if done correctly, should make sense to other functional areas during a review.


Step 4: Test and Evaluate Your Templates

Your template is complete; it is based on industry standards and has been reviewed by your peers and others in your organization. Now, it is time to put the process to the test. Use the crawl, walk, run methodology. Start testing your products slowly through rehearsals. Gradually test in more real-world relevant scenarios until the team is familiar and proficient with the process you are trying to create with your template.

This iterative process will ensure your template is ready for use when responding to an incident.

Templates can be a creative process for your organization's IR team or policymakers. Regardless of how innovative the group is, remember that it can be imperfect from the start. Starting with 'crayons,' create and re-create, edit, bring in your review team, and test to make your templates support their intended purpose.

Is your organization prepared to respond efficiently and effectively to a cybersecurity incident? Don’t wait for a crisis to start developing the tools you need. Begin today by leveraging templates to streamline your incident response efforts.

At Access Point Consulting, we specialize in helping businesses like yours create robust, stress-tested templates tailored to your unique needs. Our expert team can guide you through every step, from understanding industry standards to drafting, testing, and refining your templates.

Take the first step towards a more secure future. Contact us today for a consultation and discover how we can help you implement a comprehensive incident response plan. Let’s work together to ensure your organization is ready to face any cyber threat confidently.


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