After having kicked off my SANS mentor class last week, we're going to start digging into the material for real this Wednesday. The SANS incident handling class that I mentor cycles around  a framework that defines incidents and introduces a process to deal with them.

The definition of an incident used in the Security 504 class is still one of the best ones. It is simple to comprehend, it does not rely on other definitions, and it is to the point.

An incident is a (potential) deviation from the norm which causes (or may cause) harm [reference].

other words: activity that you see each and every day is not an
incident; you should have processes in place that compensate for the
risk that may be associated with it. Activity that has no chance of
causing any form of damage is not an incident. That does not mean you
can ignore the activity completely, but it is also no all-hands-on-deck

The process that an organization must put
in place to respond to these incidents consists of a number of steps
(prepare, identify, contain, eradicate, recover, lessons learned [reference]),
and it is always followed to some extent. Not always can each step be
distinguished easily from the preceding or the following, but in a very
real sense, they are always there.

Having the ability to
recognize each action that an incident responder takes in relation to
each step allows the incident manager to remain in control of the

Especially when an organization may have to
handle multiple incidents in parallel, having an established process in
place that can be used to separate the incidents, and track the
progress of each individual incident is invaluable.

So, step back
and reflect on the last incident you handled. It might be a phishing
attack that had a chance of success, or even something as trivial as a
virus on a computer. What steps did you take? How would each step map
to the steps listed above? Was there something you could have done
differently in handling the incident? How was the incident detected?
Could it have been prevented?

Incident management is an art
instead of a science, but we can try to get close. Those who master the
art will be able to really add value to their organizations and ensure
that they work for an organization in which the human stakeholders have
confidence its information handling capabilities.