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Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

Contributor(s): Stan Gibilisco

A Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT, pronounced "see-sirt") is an organization that receives reports of security breaches, conducts analyses of the reports and responds to the senders. A CSIRT may be an established group or an ad hoc assembly.

There are various types of CSIRTS. An internal CSIRTs is assembled as part of a parent organization, such as a government, a corporation, a university or a research network. National CSIRTs (one type of internal CSIRT), for example, oversee incident handling for an entire country. Typically, internal CSIRTS gather periodically throughout the year for proactive tasks such as DR testing, and on an as-needed basis in the event of a security breach. External CSIRTs provide paid services on either an on-going or as-needed basis.

CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team) lists the following among the roles of CSIRT members:

  • Manager or team lead.
  • Assistant managers, supervisors, or group leaders.
  • Hotline, help desk, or triage staff.
  • Incident handlers.
  • Vulnerability handlers.
  • Artifact analysis staff.
  • Platform specialists.
  • Trainers.
  • Technology watch.

The specific services provided vary from one CSIRT to another. A computer security incident can involve a real or suspected breach or the act of willfully causing a vulnerability or breach. Typical incidents include the introduction of viruses or worms into a network, DoS (denial of service) attacks, unauthorized alteration of software or hardware, and identity theft of individuals or institutions. Hacking in general can be considered a security incident unless the perpetrators have been deliberately hired for the specific purpose of testing a computer or network for vulnerabilities. (In that case, the hackers can form part of the CSIRT, in a preventive role.) CSIRTs may provide proactive services, such as end-user security training, besides responding to incidents.

Response time constitutes a critical consideration in assembling, maintaining and deploying an effective CSIRT. A rapid, accurately targeted, and effective response can minimize the overall damage to finances, hardware, and software caused by a specific incident. Another important consideration involves the ability of the CSIRT to track down the perpetrators of an incident so that the guilty parties can be shut down and effectively prosecuted. A third consideration involves "hardening" of the software and infrastructure to minimize the number of incidents that take place over time.

Alternate terms for CSIRT include CIRC (Computer Incident Response Capability), CIRT (Computer Incident Response Team), IRC (Incident Response Center or Incident Response Capability), IRT (Incident Response Team), SERT (Security Emergency Response Team) and SIRT (Security Incident Response Team). Internal CSIRTs often use one of the terms along with an identifier. The national CSIRT in the United States, for example, is US-CERT.

This was last updated in August 2012

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