Establishing Security Impact Levels for Effective Incident Response

June 7, 2024

A Guide for IT Security Professionals

Everything Starts with Security

With the average cost of a ransomware attack soaring to $5.23 million in 2023 and the average time to detect a data breach exceeding 200 days, the importance of robust incident response strategies cannot be overstated. At the heart of an effective incident response plan lies the concept of security impact levels – a framework designed to assess the severity of incidents and prioritize response efforts accordingly.1

Don’t have an incident response plan yet? Download our free template.

Understanding Security Impact Levels

Security impact levels serve as a vital tool for IT teams in gauging the potential impact of cybersecurity incidents on their organization. By categorizing incidents into low, medium, and high impact levels, teams can streamline their response efforts and allocate resources where needed most. For instance, while a low-impact incident may warrant routine maintenance and monitoring, a high-impact incident demands swift and decisive action to minimize damage and restore normal operations.

Well-known security impact level frameworks include FIPS 199 (Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems) and the Department of Defense (DoD) Impact Levels. The main focus of these frameworks concerns storing and securing data with cloud services.

Does your organization have a cyber insurance policy? Here’s Why Cyber Insurance Matters.

The Strategic Framework Overview

At the core of security impact levels lies a strategic framework comprising low, medium, and high-impact categories. Each category is defined by specific criteria tailored to the organization’s unique risk profile and operational needs. By establishing clear guidelines for incident categorization, organizations can ensure consistency and coherence in their response efforts, regardless of the nature or severity of the incident.

The DoD has four defined impact levels, starting with IL2 – information approved for public release – and finishing with IL6 – classified information up to the secret label. FIPS 199 has three levels, marked as Low, Moderate, and High potential impact. The levels are matrixed, with the Potential Impacts on the X-axis and Security Objectives on the Y-axis. The security objectives include Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. For example, the description for the cross-section of Moderate and Availability says that a disruption of access to an information system could have a serious effect on operations.

Learn more about the DoD’s Impact Levels

Read more about FIPS 199

The Strategic Significance of Security Impact Levels

The strategic implications of security impact levels extend far beyond incident response alone. Organizations gain invaluable insights into their cybersecurity posture and vulnerabilities by adopting a structured approach to incident categorization. This, in turn, enables more informed decision-making, efficient resource allocation, and enhanced communication and transparency – essential components of any effective cybersecurity strategy. Moreover, by employing a standardized methodology for assessing impact levels, organizations can identify and prioritize critical assets and data, enabling them to focus their time and energy where it matters most.

Want to increase security and save your team effort? Read about Advanced Network Scanning & Vulnerability Management.

How to Implement Security Impact Levels

Implementing security impact levels requires a systematic approach, beginning with a comprehensive risk assessment and incident categorization process. Once an organization understands the risks it faces, it can categorize them in a matrix like that used in FIPS 199. At Dewpoint, we offer a suite of security services tailored to help organizations of all sizes and industries. From risk assessment and incident response planning to tailored training and preparedness exercises, our cybersecurity experts leverage decades of experience to guide organizations through enhancing their security postures. With our proven methodologies and best practices, organizations can fortify their defenses against cyber threats and emerge more robust and resilient in the face of adversity.

Looking Forward

The need for robust incident response strategies has never been greater. By establishing security impact levels as a cornerstone of their cybersecurity efforts, organizations can effectively enhance their ability to detect, mitigate, and recover from cyber threats. With a clear understanding of the strategic significance of security impact levels and the guidance of experienced partners like Dewpoint, IT security professionals can navigate the complexities of incident response with confidence and resilience, safeguarding their organization’s assets and reputation.

Dewpoint, an award-winning, Michigan-based technology firm, has been helping businesses prepare for, stay ahead of, and respond to IT challenges for over 27 years. From IT security to infrastructure management to automation, cloud migration, and beyond, Dewpoint has long been a trusted technology resource for businesses.


  1. 2023 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report

Contact Us