The Definitive Guide to Becoming an Incident Responder

What is an Incident Responder?

An incident responder (also known as an intrusion analyst or CSIRT engineer) is the first person an organization turns to in a cybersecurity incident. Incident responders are the front liners who assess the impact of a security breach and determine how to minimize or contain the damage.

According to the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, an incident responder is responsible for “coordinating and supporting the response to a computer security event or incident.” Depending on the size of the company you work for, a computer security incident response team (CSIRT) can consist of one to several people.

As with all cybersecurity positions, an incident responder should be active in staying up-to-date with evolving cyber threats. This is not one of those jobs where you can clock in your hours and check out for the day. Incident responders have to be ready to react to a cyber attack at the first indication of a breach.

Job Outlook for Incident Responders

The demand for incident responders is very high. A quick search on Indeed shows that there are currently more than 2,000 incident response analyst jobs available with annual salaries in the range of $70,000 to $110,000, and up.

The cybersecurity field is perfect for anyone worried about job security—in IBM’s own words, “cybersecurity job postings have exploded” with a 300% increase in demand. At the rate cyber threats evolve and technology changes, incident responders have no reason to worry about job security.

The reason for this high demand is multi-factored:

  • There are more cybersecurity jobs than qualified cybersecurity professionals
  • Skills for cybersecurity are different from general IT positions, requiring knowledge of specific security practices
  • Cyber threats are always evolving and the need for cyber professionals worldwide is critical
  • The ever-expanding Internet of Things makes the role of an incident responder essential
  • As global businesses become increasingly dependent on technology and the Internet, incident responders become a more and more necessary and invaluable resource

Job Responsibilities for Incident Responders

For an incident responder, typical responsibilities include:

  1. Ability to not just respond to but detective security threats. An incident responder is not a passive position. You aren’t just sitting and waiting for an attack to happen. It’s your duty to monitor your organization’s security and make sure that your assets are well-protected.
  2. Responsiveness in quarantining attack. If an attack is detected, you’re the person who determines the impact of the attack. If the attack is ongoing, you know how to contain it and limit the attacker’s capabilities. What’s required here is speed and precision, recognizing the type of attack and knowing the most effective method of countering it.
  3. Determine a solution to prevent further attacks. When the threat is over, it’s time to decide how to guard against a similar future attack. It’s up to you to recommend the best method for safeguarding your organization from future exploits.
  4. Document security incidents. It may not be as exciting as the thrill of preventing an ongoing cyber attack, but it’s essential for incident responders to keep good records. Document your findings, identifying the type of security incident, your recommendations for guarding vulnerabilities, and what data may have been affected by an attack.

Here are examples of job responsibilities for incident responders from current open job positions:

  • Analyze communications with threat actors to identify patterns, anomalies, and attributions
  • Draft presentation materials for internal and client-facing threat presentations
  • Assist in the creation and maintenance of enterprise security policies, controls, and standards
  • Recommend solutions to optimize both technical and process/procedure aspects of an end-to-end incident life-cycle
  • Assist in day to day support of security controls managed by Incident Response Team
  • Support forensic investigations and data acquisition supporting legal holds
  • Coordinate the response for confirmed security incidents, including efforts to contain, remediate, recover, and preventing
  • Perform forensic analysis of digital information and handle evidence
  • Run daily reports, checklists, and security tool scans
  • Support several security tools and monitoring platforms
  • Provide vulnerability monitoring and patch management oversight support
  • Ensure a timely response to cyber incidents through appropriate technical and operational channels
  • Maintain situational awareness and keep current with cybersecurity news and threat actor Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)

Job Requirements of Incident Responders

While job requirements for incident responders vary by positions, these are a few general requirements:

Degree Requirements:

Typically, a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or a related field is required. Sometimes, professional experience substitutes for a degree.

Experience:

For entry-level positions, generally, one to two years of hands-on experience is required. Certificates or a degree can occasionally count towards your experience.

Certifications:

Industry certifications can only increase your chances of landing the job you want, proving the skills you need as an incident responder:

  • CEH – Certified Ethical Hacker
  • CISA – Certified Information Systems Auditor
  • CPT – Certified Penetration Tester
  • CCFE – Certified Computer Forensics Examiner
  • GCFA – Global Information Assurance Certification Forensic Analyst
  • ITILv.4 Foundation
  • CompTIA Security+

Technical Skills

The technical skills required for an incident responder vary depending on your position, but can include:

  • Scripting languages
  • Linux
  • SIEM
  • Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems
  • Firewalls
  • Vulnerability Management Platforms
  • Cloud Security Infrastructure
  • Logs
  • Wireshark
  • Metasploit

Soft Skills

Non-technical skills can include:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Ability to document findings
  • Ability to work in a collaborative environment

Work Environment

Incident responder jobs are mostly on-site in an office environment. Because you will be working with a team, you should be available for face-to-face communication. Even if you are the only member of your response team, you still need to interact with your organization’s management and other employees.

Incident responder jobs are ADA accessible with no physical demands.

As cyber incidents can happen at any time, incident responders may have to reachable 24/7.

Typical Dress Code

As an incident responder, business casual is the way to go. You want to look professional but there’s no need to go overboard. If you are giving a presentation after documenting an incident, however, you should choose formal wear.

Salary Information

According to CareerBuilder, the current median salary of a cyber incident responder is $106,000.

Similar Jobs

While looking for opportunities as an incident responder, you may notice that the job requirements are very similar to other cybersecurity positions. Below are just a few positions that share responsibilities with an incident responder:

Asha Azariah-Kribbs

Asha Azariah-Kribbs

Asha Azariah-Kribbs studies computer science and cybersecurity. She has a degree in English.