What Is an Incident Responder?

| Cynthia-Widmayer Modified on August 4, 2022

What Is an Incident Responder?

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There are many jobs in the incident response field, including cyber incident responders, computer network defense incident responders, and incident response engineers. Other positions include forensics intrusion analysts, intrusion detection specialists, and network intrusion analysts.

Regardless of the job title, most incident responders use forensic tools to address cybersecurity incidents. When not working on an incident, these professionals may lead threat prevention and education workshops with company employees.

Typical duties of an incident responder include providing immediate response to cybersecurity threats and intrusion, network management, vulnerability testing, intrusion detection and prevention, risk management, and sometimes security audits.

Most employers require incident responders to have a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, information technology, computer science or a related field, while some companies also offer on-the-job training.

Explore more details about incident responder jobs, career outlook, daily tasks, and key skills in this guide.

History of Incident Response Jobs

The first massive denial-of-service (Dos) attack took place in 1988, when Robert Tappan Morris created the first internet virus. The Morris Worm affected approximately 6,000 computers and cost between $200 and $53,000 to remove the virus from each infected computer.

Such was the impact of the Morris Worm that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT), which is now part of the Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute.

Today, every company — regardless of its size or scale — maintains an incident response team or practices to mitigate cybersecurity threats. There are also federal regulations that require many industries to have incident response plans. With increased digitization of services, incident response has become more vital, opening up newer career opportunities for cybersecurity professionals.

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Incident response is rooted in computer science and cybersecurity, providing the required skills and experience for many other tech jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% growth for information technology and computer science occupations between 2020 and 2030. The following table indicates the job, education, and salary details for a few of these positions.

Career Description Required Education Required Experience Average Annual Salary
Computer Forensic Analyst Computer forensic analysts gather and analyze data about cyberattacks and malicious online activities. They assist in the criminal investigation of espionage, fraud, hacking, and other forms of cybercrime. Bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer forensics, or a related subject 1-2 years of experience in the cybersecurity field $74,800
Security Specialist Security specialists create and and implement security measures to protect computer systems and networks. Their job involves securing data networks, developing solutions to improve security, and prevent breaches. Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or a related area Experience in information technology, network, or security $77,093
Security Manager Security managers oversee information security operations. They also manage employees in the cybersecurity department. Bachelor's degree in IT, cybersecurity, or related field; master's degree often preferred 5+ years of professional experience in cybersecurity $119,240
Security Architect Security architects design, apply, and monitor computer and network security systems. They also design systems to detect and stop security threats. Bachelor's degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field required; master's degree in IT or infosec preferred 5+ years of professional experience in information security or related positions $127,510
Software Developer Software developers create security technologies, as well as apply security protocols to current programs. Bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field Preferred experience with computer programming languages such as Python and JavaScript $73,440

Source: Payscale, April 2022

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What Does an Incident Responder Do?

Incident responders protect and improve organizational security by preventing and mitigating security threats. Prevention duties include system monitoring, assessment, testing, and analysis to identify and correct potential security breaches. Incident responders often create security plans, policies, and training that prepare organizations to respond efficiently and effectively to cyberthreats.

These professionals often work under pressure to assess and respond to threats through intrusion detection, security auditing, and risk analysis. Addressing security threats can involve use of network forensics, reverse engineering, and penetration testing skills. Incident responders also create reports for management and law enforcement.

Companies hire incident responders to protect finances and reputation from losses due to cybercrime. Incident responders may work as consultants or as employees of large companies with computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs). Many incident responder positions require 2-3 years of prior experience in computer forensics or information security. System, network, or security administrator positions can provide relevant experience for this career.

Key Soft Skills for Incident Responders

  • Adaptability: Cybercrime techniques and technology evolve rapidly, so incident responders must adapt to the change and stay ahead of cybercriminals.
  • Communication Skills: Incident responders need strong verbal and written communication skills because their job is crucial to the effective prevention and detection of malicious internet activities.
  • Collaboration: Incident responders often work with other cybersecurity professionals since collaboration is a key element of successful teamwork.
  • Attention to Detail: Incident response requires the use of complex processes and handling of sensitive data, calling for keen attention to detail.

Key Hard Skills for Incident Responders

  • Understanding of Law: Incident response involves prevention and detection of online malicious practices. Professionals need an understanding of cybercrime laws to a certain extent.
  • IT Knowledge: The job of an incident responder includes computer networks and systems, requiring thorough IT knowledge.
  • Ethics: The ethical handling of recovered data is a significant part of an incident responder's job.
  • Cybersecurity Code of Practice: All incident responders must possess a sharp understanding of the code of practice to ensure occupational compliance with regulations.

A Day in the Life of an Incident Responder

A cybersecurity first responder has varied duties depending on the industry they work in. Typical tasks and responsibilities include detecting vulnerabilities or errors in the computer network, devising a system to handle emergencies, and overseeing applications that detect suspicious online activities. These professionals also take part in risk management, penetration testing, and security audits, and incident report creation for senior management.

Incident Responder Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS does not list the salary estimate for incident responders, but it does list a median annual salary of $97,430 for computer and IT-related careers. The agency also projects that these careers will grow at a rate of 13% between 2020 and 2030.

Payscale lists the average annual salary of incident managers at $87,812 as of April 2022. Payscale also indicates that New York City, Washington, and Seattle are the top-paying cities for incident responders and managers, while the most popular industries for incident response careers are information technology, business and consulting, and finance and banking.

Annual Average Salary (April 2022)

$73,944

Source: Payscale

How to Become an Incident Responder

Bachelor's or master's degrees in computer forensics, cybersecurity, or a related field can prepare students for incident responders careers. For those seeking a career transition, earning a master's in information security or incident response management can help position you for upper-level roles such as senior incident responder, senior intrusion analyst, or CSIRT manager.

Many incident response professionals also earn relevant professional certifications such as certified incident handler, certified intrusion analyst, or certified forensic analyst. Regardless of degree requirements, many incident responder jobs require some of these certifications. Keep in mind that certification requirements vary depending on position, employer, and industry.

Most incident responder jobs require at least 2-3 years of relevant work experience in fields like computer forensics, cybersecurity, or network administration. Online courses, bootcamps, and training can bolster your resume. Earning a CSIRT certification can help qualify you for CSIRT teams, where you can learn from CSIRT managers and other cybersecurity professionals.

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Professional Organizations for Incident Responders

FIRST is a nonprofit that brings together cybersecurity teams from all sectors to share knowledge, tools, and resources that improve effective response to security incidents.

CISA is a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security providing training for beginner and intermediate cybersecurity professionals.

SANS is a professional organization that offers courses and certifications in cybersecurity for all experience levels. Membership to the community unlocks access to free resources.

ISAlliance is a nonprofit that focuses on creating a sustainable cybersecurity system worldwide. The association provides resources for better online security for all industries.

Learn More About Incident Responders

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How to Become an Incident Responder

Read all about the steps to a career as an incident responder.
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Salary and Career Outlook for Incident Responders

Learn how education, experience, and location affect salary and career outlook for incident responders.
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1

Day in the Life of an Incident Responder

Explore the typical tasks and duties of incident response professionals.
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1

Certifications for Incident Responders

Get information about the top certifications that incident responders can earn to help boost salary and employment.
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Questions About Incident Responder Jobs

What does an incident response specialist do?

An incident response specialist oversees an organization's online security by preventing, identifying, and mitigating cybersecurity threats. Their job involves monitoring, testing, and assessing computer networks and systems to detect and remove potential security threats.

How does the role of incident responder differ from other cybersecurity jobs?

Incident responders are usually the first in line in the event of a cybersecurity breach. They assess the situation, the extent of damage, and then use mitigation strategies to restore defenses quickly.

How do I become an incident response manager?

A bachelor's degree in information technology, cybersecurity, or a related field is the minimum qualification to become an incident response manager. Employers prefer at least 2-3 years of experience in the field. For more senior roles, applicants may need a master's degree.

Does incident response pay well?

According to Payscale, the average annual salary of an incident responder is $73,944 as of April 2022. The compensation also varies by location, industry, and the seniority of the position.

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