A short introduction to writing incident response playbooks

Incident response playbooks provide a repeatable process for investigating and responding to security incidents. They can help organizations improve their incident response capabilities by providing a framework for managing incidents, documenting best practices, and sharing information with other responders.


A playbook is a critical document for your organization’s incident response (IR) plan. It provides a step-by-step guide for your team on how to handle specific incidents. It should be shared with all members of your incident response team. It should be used in coordination with your organization’s other disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

A playbook should be tailored to a specific organization and its systems. At a high level, it must include the following information:

  • A description of the incident and the systems involved
  • The steps that should be taken to contain and control the incident
  • The steps that should be taken to investigate and resolve the incident
  • The steps that should be taken to prevent a recurrence

The playbook should be reviewed regularly and updated as needed. It can be used as a training tool to help responders learn how to respond to incidents.

Why do we need Playbooks?

Playbooks are important because they help to standardize the response process. This makes it easier for responders to know what to do and helps to ensure that everyone is following the same process.

What should be included in a Playbook?

For small organizations, it is possible to have a single playbook. However, for larger organizations, it is more common to have one playbook per incident type. This allows for a more customized response to specific types of incidents.

At minimum, playbook should include information about the types of incidents that may occur, the steps that should be taken during an incident, and the contact information for the team responsible for responding to incidents.

The following are some tips for creating a playbook for incident response:

1. Define the types of incidents that may occur.

Your playbook should include a list of the types of incidents that may occur, such as malware infections, data breaches, and DDoS attacks. This will help you to prepare for and respond to these incidents quickly and effectively.

2. List the steps that should be taken during an incident.

Your playbook should outline the steps that should be taken during an incident. This may include steps such as contacting law enforcement, notifying the organization’s CEO, and resetting passwords.

3. Include contact information for the team responsible for responding to incidents.

Your playbook should include contact information for the team responsible for responding to incidents. This will ensure that everyone who needs to be involved in the response process is able to communicate with each other quickly and effectively.

4. Update the playbook regularly.

Your playbook should be updated regularly to reflect any changes in the organization’s security policies or the types of incidents that may occur. This will help ensure that the playbook is as up-to-date as possible and can be used as a reference during an incident.

Anatomy of an Incident Response Playbook

There are many different types of incident response playbooks, but most follow a similar format. The typical playbook includes sections on preparation, identification, containment, eradication, and recovery. Each section includes a series of steps that must be followed in order to respond to the incident.

Let’s dive into tips for writing really professional incident response playbooks.

The pre-incident phase

The pre-incident phase is the most important part of writing an incident response playbook. This is where you will lay the groundwork for how you will respond to an incident.

In this phase, you will establish your incident response plan and protocols. You will also create your incident response team, and identify and document your resources.

The incident response phase

The incident response phase is when you actually respond to an incident. This is where your playbook comes into play.

Your playbook should guide your team through the steps they need to take to mitigate the incident and protect an organization.

Incident identification: This section should include steps to take when an incident is first identified, such as assessing the severity of the incident and determining the cause.

Response and containment: This section should include steps to take to mitigate the effects of the incident and prevent it from spreading.

Recovery and forensics: This section should include steps to take to recover from the incident and investigate its cause.

Many of these sections can be presented in checklist that follows this format:

  1. Column A: Tickbox
  2. Column B: Action description (limit it to 1 line if possible)
  3. Column C: Owner of the action
  4. Column D: Date when the action was completed
  5. Column E: A comment section for the owner to write any information they thought was important to share with the rest of the team

The post-incident phase

The post-incident phase is the final stage of an incident.

In this stage, you will evaluate the incident and determine what lessons can be learned from it. You will also document any changes that need to be made to your playbook based on what happened during the incident.

Important Caveats

While playbooks can be extremely helpful, they should not be viewed as gospel. Incident responders should always be prepared to adapt their process to fit the specific needs of the incident.

Understanding the limitations of checklists:

Checklists can be time-consuming and difficult to follow. They can also be easily overlooked in the heat of the moment. Second, they can be difficult to customize for specific incidents. Finally, they can be ineffective if not updated regularly.

That said, checklists can be a valuable part of an incident response plan if used correctly. They can help to ensure that all necessary steps are taken during an incident.


By following the guidelines in this guide, your organization can create a playbook that will help to efficiently and effectively respond to any incident, reducing the overall impact on your business. Remember to tailor the playbook to your specific needs, and to continuously update and test it to ensure that it is effective.

Looking to expand your knowledge of incident response? Check out our online course, MDFIR - Certified DFIR Specialist. In this course, you’ll learn about the different aspects of incident response and how to put them into practice.