2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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June 21, 2024

Creating a cyber security disaster recovery plan (DRP): a step-by-step guide

Ransomware attacks can be devastating, locking you out of your crucial data and demanding a hefty ransom for its return. But all hope is not lost. Planned and rehearsed cyber attack recovery plans allow you to regain access to your information without bowing to cyber criminals. By implementing these strategies before an attack occurs and following a clear course of action to recover when you are hit, you can minimize downtime and get your systems up and running again.

Having a DRP for cyber security in place is crucial for minimizing downtime, protecting sensitive data, and ensuring a swift return to normal operations after a security breach. This step-by-step guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to create a comprehensive DRP for cyber security, safeguarding your organization from the ever-evolving threats of the cyber landscape.

What is a disaster recovery plan in cyber security?

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a vital tool in cyber security. It's the defined strategy and process for how an organization will respond to a cyber attack, such as a ransomware attack. This plan outlines steps to take to restore critical systems and data, minimize downtime, and get the business back up and running as quickly as possible. By having a DRP for cyber security in place, organizations can lessen the impact of a security incident, protect sensitive data, and ensure business continuity.

Elements of a cyber security disaster recovery plan

When comparing cyber recovery vs IT disaster recovery, there are several similar requirements. Both types of recovery require:

  • The prioritization of critical and important business services 
  • An understanding of the teams that need to be involved 
  • Dependencies between tasks throughout the enterprise organization 
  • The orchestration and sequencing of tasks across technology and people
  • Regularly exercising and testing runbooks
  • Detailed audit logging for regulatory and compliance reporting 
  • Integrations into the recovery technology stack to minimize downtime and human effort

However, the cyber recovery process after an attack includes restoring any breached authentication services and restoring the last known good backup of data and application source code. In addition, a cyber recovery’s restoration of applications and data is most likely to be on a set of clean bare metal servers or cloud compute resources. 

In the event of a cyber attack, recovering applications and data to a warm stand-by site is not recommended as that secondary site might also be infected with some type of malware that is lying dormant and ready to be activated. Even high availability and cloud architectures, with containers and microservices, will increase the complexity as they can rapidly spread the malware infection. In either case, you will need a clean bare metal environment to rebuild your affected applications and data.

Steps to create a cyber security disaster recovery plan 

Preparation (before an attack):

  • Identify critical applications: Prioritize the applications that are crucial for business continuity
  • Implement a robust backup system: Regularly back up all data and include an isolated backup copy as a last known good source
  • Patch management: Ensure timely updates and common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVE) patching of applications and systems
  • Incident response plan: Establish a documented plan outlining roles, responsibilities, and communication protocols during an attack

Immediate response (during an attack):

  • Containment: Isolate the infected system(s) to prevent the ransomware from spreading further
  • Incident response team activation: Assemble the team as per the pre-defined plan
  • Threat assessment: Identify the nature and scope of the attack

Recovery phase (after containment):

System restoration:

  • Prioritization: Focus on restoring critical and important applications firstsome text
    • Outline the steps involved in restoring critical systems to functionality, including prioritizing system recovery based on recovery time objectives (RTOs)
    • Define the procedures for deploying disaster recovery solutions, such as failover to a secondary site or utilizing cloud-based infrastructure
  • Communication: Maintain clear communication with stakeholders throughout the processsome text
    • Define the communication plan for internal and external stakeholders during a cyber security incident
    • Identify the authorized spokesperson for media inquiries
    • Describe the strategy for managing public relations and minimizing reputational damage
  • Clean re-installations: Utilize recent, last known good backups to restore applications and data
  • Verification: Scan all restored applications for malware prior to being put back in the production network

Post-recovery phase (reporting and improvement):

Documentation and Review:

  • Incident report: Document the attack details, response actions, and lessons learned
  • Plan improvement: Refine the incident response plan based on the experiencesome text
    • Establish a process for reviewing and updating the DRP on a regular basis (e.g. annually or after a major incident)
    • Ensure the plan reflects changes in technology, business processes, and threats
  • Legal and regulatory compliance: Adhere to relevant data breach reporting regulations

Rehearsing the cyber attack recovery plan

  • Specify the process for testing and validating system recovery procedures
  • Define the schedule for conducting regular cyber attack DRP testing exercises to identify and address any gaps in the plan

Additional tips for creating a cyber security disaster recovery plan template

Finally, here are some additional tips to make your cyber security disaster recovery plan template the most up to date and effective if a bad actor ever penetrates your cyber defenses. 

  • Identify your critical data and systems: Not all data and systems are created equal. You need to determine which important business services must be readily available. It is important to identify the data and systems that are most critical to your business operations as this will help you to prioritize your recovery efforts.
  • Back up your data regularly: Regular backups are essential for cyber recovery. Make sure to back up your data to a secure location that is not accessible to attackers.
  • Test and exercise your cyber attack recovery plan regularly: It is important to test your recovery plan regularly to make sure that it is effective. This will help you to identify any potential problems and make necessary adjustments.
  • Post-review analysis: Analyze post-event performance metrics from both testing and live incidents to highlight areas for process improvements that can be built into your runbooks.

How Cutover can help you manage cyber attack recovery plans

Cutover’s cyber recovery solution provides a collaborative automation platform for teams to plan, orchestrate, and execute cyber recovery:

  • Cutover can be used to develop and execute detailed cyber security disaster recovery plans. It allows organizations to define and automate the steps involved in recovering from a cyber attack, ensuring a swift and coordinated reaction from relevant teams.
  • Collaboration features in Cutover allow disparate teams to communicate and collaborate in real time during the recovery process. This is crucial for coordinating activities, sharing updates, and managing tasks efficiently.
  • Cutover’s automated runbooks orchestrate the complex sequence of tasks involved in cyber disaster recovery, ensuring that teams and technology follow the set path in the correct order by automatically notifying people when to start their tasks and triggering automated processes. When orchestration is automated in the runbook, there is no need for a person to manually sequence the tasks or spend time letting teams know when they need to take action. 
  • Cutover provides real-time insights into the status of recovery activities. It can generate reports and dashboards to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and assess the overall effectiveness of the recovery process.
  • Cutover runbooks allow for integrations to IT service management (ITSM) tools, communications platforms, infrastructure as code (IaC) tools and many others to automate repetitive tasks to gain efficiencies and scale the recovery process.
  • The Cutover platform facilitates the creation of detailed documentation and audit trails for cyber recovery activities. This documentation is crucial for regulatory and compliance purposes and for analyzing the effectiveness of the recovery.

By using Cutover’s dynamic, automated runbooks, enterprises can develop a cyber recovery plan that will help them to minimize the impact of a cyber attack and get back to business as quickly as possible.

Strengthen your cyber recovery posture with Cutover

Cutover’s Collaborative Automation SaaS platform enables enterprises to simplify complexity, streamline work, and increase visibility. Cutover’s automated runbooks connect teams, technology, and systems, increasing efficiency and reducing risk in IT disaster and cyber recovery, cloud migration, release management, and technology implementation. Cutover is trusted by world-leading institutions, including the three largest US banks and three of the world’s five largest investment banks.

‍Find out more about Cutover for cyber recovery or book a demo to see the platform in action.

Walter Kenrich
Cyber recovery
IT Disaster Recovery
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