6 min

Can a Sound Cyber Resilience Strategy Help Ensure Business Continuity?

Cyber threats today are more complex — and damaging — than ever. To ensure business continuity during and after an incident, your organization needs a focused cyber resilience and cyber recovery strategy tailored to your business requirements.

In this next installment of our Cybersecurity Awareness Month series, we’re examining how a sound cyber resilience strategy backed by cyber recovery solutions can preserve business continuity efforts in a landscape that’s becoming acutely difficult to handle.

With cybercrime accelerating in both complexity and prevalence at an alarming rate, it’s no longer a matter of if your organization will encounter a cyber-related incident but when. Cyberattacks, system failures and even human error impact business continuity every day — the effects of which can potentially last weeks or months, even to the point of threatening the basic viability of the organization.

So, how can you ensure that your organization is able to not only maintain business operations in the face of known and unknown threats but weather the storm afterward?

Business recovery expectations are higher than ever, and cyber incidents become more widespread and damaging every day. A sound cyber resilience strategy can empower your organization to resist attacks when they happen and a cyber recovery strategy can help quickly recover your critical data to ensure that your operations remain up and running.

Why Is Cyber Resilience Important?

Cyber resilience refers to an organization’s ability to withstand, adapt to and recover from cyber threats and incidents effectively. By improving cyber resilience, organizations have a much better chance of enduring and recovering from sophisticated cyberattacks while avoiding extensive downtime and data loss.

A cyber resilience strategy requires planning for, simulating and testing your organization’s ability to withstand a cyber incident. One of the key components in any cyber resilience strategy is designing a well-defined incident response playbook (IR playbook). An IR playbook outlines the step-by-step actions that must be taken following a cyber incident, ensuring that every cog in the organizational machinery understands its role and responsibilities during a crisis.

Incident response playbooks can enable rapid response to cyber incidents by providing clear guidance on containing a detected threat, mitigating its impact and initiating cyber recovery processes. Generally, the swifter the response, the easier recovery will be.

Going beyond typical cybersecurity tactics, which primarily focus on preventing and responding to attacks, cyber resilience acknowledges that despite our best efforts, breaches may still occur. A strong cyber resilience strategy will emphasize preparedness and the ability to bounce back swiftly.

Often used in tandem with IR playbooks, cyber resilience and cyber recovery tabletop exercises also help ensure that once an attacker is thwarted, both executive and technical teams know which steps to take in order to restore business functionality.

Tabletop exercises simulate scenarios for both the technical and executive personnel, allowing them to test their incident response plans and the effectiveness of their cyber recovery strategies. While a technical tabletop exercise takes a close look at processes and procedures that must be implemented in order to recover data or applications, an executive tabletop exercise is typically more focused on the key decisions that must be made along the way during and after a cyber incident — including decisions about whether the business needs to invoke cyber liability insurance or engage legal counsel.

Of course, despite all of the preparation in the world, cyber incidents can still occur, and data may become compromised as a result. That’s where a cyber recovery strategy becomes critical to maintaining business continuity.

Business Continuity and Cyber Recovery

Even today, organizations large and small are on outdated recovery concepts in their business continuity strategies that assume too much and prepare too little.

Business continuity focuses on ensuring that essential operations can continue even in the face of disruptions, including cyberattacks that may severely impact business functions. This includes IT recovery capabilities such as disaster recovery planning designed to deal with natural or man-made disruptions like hurricanes, floods or war. Fewer organizations are equipped with cyber recovery strategies designed to help recover from the large-scale cyber incidents common today.

While previously, disaster recovery systems were built to back up and recover data following a catastrophic event, those systems assumed the data being backed up was safe or “clean.” Today, clean data is never a guarantee following a cyber incident.

To remedy this, your organization needs to be prepared with specialized and focused cyber recovery strategies, not just to restore systems and data but to restore trust in your environment as well. Cyber recovery solutions are designed to restore data following malicious, unauthorized intrusions by a bad actor with the intent of deleting, encrypting or exfiltrating key data — all while verifying the trustworthiness of the data being recovered.

What Should an Effective Cyber Recovery Strategy Address?

Overall, the goal of cyber recovery is to minimize downtime in the event of an attack by accelerating the necessary steps to restore trustworthy and essential applications and data quickly.

This means that a good cyber recovery strategy must meet your organization’s previously set business requirements for uptime while also addressing recovery scenarios where:

  • The business, its applications or data are wholly or partially compromised by a cyber incident
  • Impacted capabilities are no longer considered trustworthy
  • Current shared services and supporting infrastructure are also not considered trustworthy

Because a cyber incident today may span across multiple applications, infrastructure components and locations, compromising critical foundational services (like your network, active directory or DNS) in the process, your organization can no longer assume that your critical data is clean. The data may be damaged, unavailable, or no longer trustworthy, which means that an entirely new set of steps must be taken in order to verify the data.

Cyber recovery solutions should be applicable to distributed on-premises, cloud or mainframe environments as needed. It must also be able to address “high-bar” recovery requirements including rapid recovery time objectives (RTOs) and short-loss recovery point objectives (RPOs) — the objectives that your organization has identified as essential to restoring business operations after a disruptive event with minimal data loss.

Frequently updated files, for example, will likely need a very short RPO, where data can be recovered after just a few minutes. This should also address instances where some (but not all) business functions or portions of business functions can be recovered immediately in order to continue operations. 

Continuous data backups play a pivotal role in ensuring that critical and trustworthy data and systems can be restored promptly, allowing your business to continue operations with minimal disruption.

So, how do you get there?

Where to Take Your Cyber Resilience and Cyber Recovery Strategy Next

Recent, large-scale cyberattacks have frequently exposed gaps in current tools, processes and governance to isolate and remediate ransomware or other cyberattacks. And yet, despite all of the new security tools and strategies available today, the simple fact remains that many businesses are woefully unprepared for a successful, large-scale cyberattack.

Designing or improving your organization’s cyber recovery strategy starts by fully analyzing the processes, applications and infrastructure you have in place. Because it can be difficult to objectively review your organization’s current state, an outside party may be essential.

The first question any organization should ask itself is, what type of cyber event has the ability to compromise our business operations? From there, identifying the data that is essential to business operations and determining a timeframe in which that data must be recovered following a cyber incident is critical. After that, it’s a matter of designing and testing a plan for rapid recovery, leveraging a solution that continuously backs up immutable copies of your critical data and verifies that it has not been compromised.

An expert partner with deep expertise in cyber resilience and cyber recovery strategies can help you determine your cyber resilience and recovery goals, design solutions and develop plans to help support recovery, and even automate and manage those plans along the way. Even better, an expert partner with a mature cybersecurity practice can offer end-to-end solutions and services that run the gamut from business analysis to the design, implementation and management of full cyber recovery and cyber resilience capabilities.

Embracing cyber recovery solutions, implementing effective incident response playbooks, and conducting tabletop exercises can help strengthen your organization’s ability to withstand cyber threats, minimize downtime and protect its reputation. In an era where cyberattacks are a constant threat, cyber resilience and recovery are the keys to ensuring that business operations continue to thrive in the face of the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Story by 

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