Research Hub > Building Modern Integrated Cyber Recovery Environments

February 21, 2024

5 min

Building Modern Integrated Cyber Recovery Environments

New cyber threats have introduced novel challenges that disaster recovery plans alone can no longer account for. Building a cyber recovery environment that ensures business viability following a cyber incident involves a strategic shift in approach.

More than ever, cyber threats have become inevitable realities. IT leaders in all industries — especially those who have experienced a major cyber incident — have found themselves at a crossroads as they reassess the viability of traditional disaster recovery methods against the harsh fallout that others have faced in the wake of sophisticated cyberattacks.

Traditional disaster recovery strategies have long been the cornerstone of cyber resilience planning and, as a result, many organizations’ disaster recovery processes have become faster and more effective than ever before. However, the rise of new cyber threats has introduced novel challenges that disaster recovery plans alone can no longer account for. Such incidents make it very difficult to rely on traditional measures to recover as quickly as the business expects.

Though disaster recovery is still important, building a cyber recovery environment that ensures business viability immediately following a cyber incident involves several key steps and a strategic shift in approach.

Can You Trust Your Data?

What’s the difference between traditional disaster recovery and cyber recovery? While both approaches involve recovering essential data and applications in the event of a catastrophic cyber incident, disaster recovery typically assumes that data backups and foundational infrastructure to recover to are “good.”

During a disaster recovery scenario, for example, teams are focused on restoring all critical data to a second location as quickly as possible. Following a cyber incident, however, cyber recovery strategies ask the question, “How can you be sure that the data you’re recovering is still trustworthy?”

Cyber recovery strategies never assume data integrity. After all, cyberattacks may delete, encrypt or exfiltrate key data across applications, infrastructure and multiple locations — so how do you assume data integrity in recovery processes? Unlike the swift mechanisms of traditional disaster recovery, cyber recovery contends with the reality that replicated data may be compromised.

This fundamental difference necessitates a more intricate and meticulous approach to recovery, one that involves extensive verification and validation processes to ensure the reliability of restored systems.

One way to address this is by identifying trustworthy data with the clean room approach to data verification.

Think of it this way: when doctors bring a patient into an operating room, they must know with 100% certainty that the room is sterilized before beginning surgery. A clean room approach to cyber recovery works similarly. Recovered data undergoes thorough evaluation in an isolated environment, ensuring it is free from compromise before reintegrating it into normal operations.

The Reality: Cyber Recovery Requires More Time and Resources

Even with a modern cyber recovery capability and a thorough understanding of what is most critical, cyber recovery is a complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive undertaking — much more so than traditional disaster recovery. It may be a significant challenge to restore enough of the business to remain viable and requires the business to focus priorities.

So, where should your organization start to prioritize recovery efforts?

The first step is for leaders to ask themselves a tough question: What does an extinction-level event look like for our organization? An extinction-level event occurs when business operations become so impacted by a cyber incident that the organization is no longer considered viable.

Though this kind of worst-case-scenario style of planning may seem hyperbolic, there are many organizations who have witnessed their competitors fall victim to a cyberattack resulting in so strong an impact that they cease to be competitors. Understanding what constitutes an extinction-level event is a key step in defining what your minimum viable company (MVC) or minimum viable organization (MVO) may be.

Managing Resources Effectively While Navigating the Shift to Cyber Recovery

Once you’ve identified what needs to be recovered to maintain minimum viability, it will become clear whether or not you can continue to rely on your existing recovery capabilities.

Despite the promise of automation, cyber recovery still requires significant manual effort and decision-making. The need for data verification and establishing means that human intervention is still a crucial part of the recovery process — however, automated processes can still help to stretch resources as far as possible.

From here, continuous cyber recovery measures that emphasize perpetual exercises in preparedness, particularly for hyper-critical applications defining your organization's minimum viability, are a key step in streamlining cyber recovery efforts. Continuous cyber recovery is focused on constant verification and maintenance of the recovery environment to ensure trustworthiness and availability while restoring data to an alternative location ahead of any cyber event. By embracing this concept, your organization can potentially reduce downtime and get the most out of your cyber recovery resources.

Building a Cyber Recovery Strategy Tailored to Your Needs

Let’s say your organization has recently rehauled your disaster recovery process. Does that mean that you have to start over from scratch in order to integrate cyber recovery capabilities? Not necessarily.

Cyber recovery should be a cornerstone of your cyber resilience strategy; however, be aware that your organization’s overall cyber resilience strategy will depend on your organization’s unique goals. In some cases, you may find that your cyber resilience strategy involves cyber recovery methods and disaster recovery methods working in tandem.

Many clients have started to look at ways to strike a balance between a traditional disaster recovery model and a new, cyber recovery model. One customer happened to be in the process of retooling their disaster recovery processes at the same time. They called on us to rebuild their self-managed environments to allow for both disaster recovery and cyber recovery capabilities in the same facility — with sufficient capacity to handle either situation.

The First Step Toward Cyber Recovery? A Step Back.

In any case, employing the skills and capabilities of an expert partner when building a modern integrated cyber recovery environment can be essential to its success. Even something as simple as confirming the requirements for minimum viability can involve numerous stakeholders across all segments of the business — some of which may have difficulty coming to a consensus. Navigating the internal politics of the organization is one major hurdle we’ve seen organizations struggle to jump over when beginning their cyber resilience journeys.

A partner with deep expertise in all facets of security and cyber resilience can serve as a subjective third-party to take a holistic look at your organization’s business operations and the threats it faces to design a cyber recovery program that meets your business’s needs today and ensures its viability tomorrow.

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Gary McIntyre

CDW Expert
Gary McIntyre is the managing director of cyber defense at Focal Point Data Risk, a CDW company, focused on customer cybersecurity operations and defenses. He is a seasoned information security professional with over 20 years of experience focusing on the development and operation of large-scale information security programs. As an architect, manager and consultant, he has worked with a wide range