2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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February 6, 2024

Testing and preparing to recover from future ransomware attacks

This is the final part of our three-part series on recovering from a ransomware attack. Our first article offered an overview of the prevalence of ransomware attacks and the recovery methodologies organizations can adopt; the second article took a close look at the role of post-event analysis in improving recovery. 

To close this three-part series, we’re going to cover what your organization can do to ensure the effectiveness of your recovery processes through planning, testing, and ongoing improvement. If you would like to read our first article in the series on the ransomware recovery process, click here. The second article on the post-ransomware attack recovery analysis can be found here

If you’re interested in how Cutover’s Collaborative Automated runbook platform can optimize and streamline your recovery process, reach out to our team today

How testing strengthens an organization’s ransomware recovery posture

Continual testing and rehearsing of cyber recovery runbook plans helps to ensure your organization can rapidly recover from a cyber attack and that the learned improvements are effectively integrated into the organization's response strategy. 

This testing phase can strengthen your organization’s ransomware recovery posture in the following six ways:

1) Identification of weak points: Testing new runbook processes after a recovery event allows organizations to pinpoint specific areas across the full recovery process where their response was less effective. 

2) Verification of data integrity and restoration capabilities: The testing phase allows organizations to verify that their backup data is free from infection and can be reliably restored, confirming the reliability of their last known good data backups and fine-tuning their restoration processes for quicker, more efficient recovery.

3) Automation: Testing yields confidence in your integrations and automation functionality and ensures accurate recovery execution. It also enables teams to identify further opportunities for automation, thereby reducing manual intervention and optimizing the recovery process. Validate that these new automations work across the recovery technology stack as intended and do not introduce unexpected vulnerabilities.

4) Training and preparedness of response teams: Testing new runbook processes helps in training response teams and ensuring they are prepared for future incidents — building their ‘muscle memory,’ given the prompt nature of recoveries. This includes familiarizing them with new procedures, tools, and responsibilities. By engaging in simulated recovery scenarios, team members can build confidence and expertise in handling real-world ransomware attacks, leading to quicker and more coordinated responses. Similarly, testing allows organizations to evaluate the efficiency of their communication channels and the coordination among different teams, working to identify any communication gaps that could impede a swift response and recovery.

5) Compliance with regulatory requirements: Testing recovery processes helps ensure that an organization remains compliant with regulatory bodies by providing immutable documented evidence of due diligence and preparedness. 

6) Post-event analysis and improvement

Following a testing event, the right platform automation tools will gather all data and reveal insights on your plan’s performance, such as RTAs compared against RTOs and where bottlenecks occurred so you can more easily find areas for improvement. It allows you to analyze the orchestration of tasks between the people and technology involved in recovering applications and data after the ransomware attack, understand the efficacy of these actions, and see how quickly systems are restored to normal operation.

Due to the increased risk and sophistication of ransomware attacks, the traditional ways of testing recovery processes are no longer sufficient. The adoption of automated runbook software, like Cutover’s, has become increasingly necessary to ensure comprehensive and effective recovery testing. Cutover’s platform enables organizations to not only rapidly recover from cyber attacks, but also allows for more rigorous, frequent, and realistic testing of ransomware recovery scenarios, enabling organizations to thoroughly evaluate and refine their recovery strategies under controlled conditions.

Cutover’s Collaborative Automation platform provides a 50% reduction in recovery execution time and a 70% reduction in time spent planning and testing. This is due to the platform’s centralized, intuitive runbook technology paired with its comprehensive reporting, analytics, audit logging, and integration capabilities. 

Testing and preparing: The fundamentals 

Testing is the practical validation of recovery processes that acts as a simulated emergency, aiming to ensure that each stakeholder comprehends their role and can execute their tasks seamlessly during a future ransomware recovery. 

With Cutover, organizations can facilitate realistic scenario-based testing, allowing teams to regularly practice responding to specific ransomware attack scenarios — enabling them to identify and address any potential weaknesses in their recovery procedures. Cutover provides a centralized platform for managing and orchestrating these tests, making it easier to track progress, document results, and collaborate across stakeholders and teams.

During a tabletop test, for example, stakeholders can simulate a ransomware attack scenario and walk through the steps required to mitigate and recover from it — from assessing the impact and notifying relevant parties to isolating affected systems and restoring data from backups, ensuring that all necessary security measures are in place to minimize any future attacks' impact. Cutover's platform streamlines this process, ensuring that all participants are on the same page and can effectively carry out their roles, ultimately enhancing an organization's overall readiness to recover from a ransomware attack.

Furthermore, Cutover's analytics capabilities come into play post-testing, offering data on the performance and efficiency of the recovery process. This includes measuring the recovery time actuals (RTAs) it takes for each task against predefined recovery time objectives (RTOs). By comparing expected recovery timelines with actual performance, organizations can realistically assess their preparedness and make informed decisions on where to focus improvement efforts.

Lastly, Cutover’s approach to testing and recovery planning emphasizes continuous improvement. By regularly conducting these tests and analyzing the results, organizations can adapt their recovery strategies to evolving threats and technological changes. This proactive stance ensures that recovery plans remain robust and effective, reducing the negative impacts of increasing cybersecurity threats.

Testing in practice: How a financial institution leveraged Cutover for effective simulation 

A financial services institution demonstrated how effective testing and simulation can drastically improve ransomware recovery processes. They faced significant challenges with their manual and uncoordinated failover procedures, which were both time-consuming and error-prone — a common occurrence in many organizations where complex systems and multiple teams are involved in recovery operations.

Before implementing Cutover's platform, the institution had a highly manual process for simulating data center failovers involving approximately 50 service-related applications. The process required extensive coordination across 14 teams and relied on various software tools, including Jenkins and Rundeck, with procedural information scattered across different platforms like Confluence.

The simulation of these failovers was inconsistent and labor-intensive, demanding several hours of commitment from team members who had to be present on bridge calls throughout the test duration. This setup not only reduced productivity but also increased the likelihood of human error, particularly in post-event reporting.

With Cutover, the institution experienced a transformative change in how it conducted its testing and simulation exercises. Cutover’s automated runbooks centralized the planning and execution process, integrating seamlessly with existing technologies like Jenkins and Rundeck. This integration meant that all necessary information and scripts were readily accessible within a single platform, streamlining the entire process.

The most notable change was in the execution of the test itself. Instead of being tied up in long bridge calls, team members were notified when their input was needed, allowing them to focus on other tasks in the meantime. This shift not only enhanced efficiency but also reduced the operational strain on the staff.

The real-time dashboards provided by Cutover offered an invaluable resource for measuring and comparing RTOs with RTAs, enabling the fine-tuning of plans to meet their RTOs more effectively. Post-event, the significant reduction in time required for reporting — from hours to minutes — allowed for quick, accurate assessments and faster turnarounds in preparing for subsequent tests.

The institution’s testimonial speaks to the impact of Cutover’s solution: “The ability to leave comments in a centralized place and access performance metrics post-event has changed the game for our post-mortem activities and preparations for the next event.”

Assessing the effectiveness of your recovery 

The strength of your recovery processes can be conceptualized through the following maturity stages, each hierarchically decreasing the potential impact of a ransomware attack. Ideally, your organization should be positioned in stage five, wherein cross-organizational buy-in, automated processes, state-of-the-art technologies, and routine testing/refinements maximize recovery efficiency and minimize risk.

Stage one: Unstructured recovery 

Stage one is a reactive approach wherein an organization will take an ad-hoc approach to its recovery efforts. Such efforts are unstructured in terms of the steps taken and in terms of the dedicated budget and general resources. 

This stage is generally accompanied by completely manual, often spreadsheet-based, processes that commonly yield a general lack of confidence in the organization’s ability to recover, as well as a risk of lacking regulatory compliance measures. 

Stage two: Regular recovery 

Stage two generally involves recovery processes that are managed at the department level. While the organization’s recovery processes are more systemized when compared to level one, the process structures are siloed and may lack necessary coordination across different departments. 

A company at this stage may engage in regular reviews and make adjustments accordingly. However, such reviews generally occur in the wake of a significant organizational change rather than as a part of a proactive and ongoing improvement strategy. While not all preventative and recovery measures are initiated, the regular testing that does take place works to minimize possible damages and instill confidence. 

Stage three: Integration with ITSM/CMDB

This stage is characterized by two primary additions: The funding of recovery initiatives and the adoption of automation technology. 

An organization’s senior management is involved as stakeholders in the recovery process and is committed to funding efforts, bringing in the necessary resources to streamline and optimize recovery processes. 

While an organization at this stage may not utilize the full capability of automation technology, it does likely integrate technology recovery tools with the ITSM suite for managing change, problem, and configuration. Furthermore, a company at this stage may utilize customer intelligence data from the CMDB to augment its ransomware response plan. 

Stage four: Automation and improved scenario coverage 

At this stage, an organization ensures that recovery staff and infrastructure are funded, the process is documented, tested recovery plans are in place, automation measures are adopted, and RTOs are clearly defined. Yet, while there is a general preparedness, the enterprise may still lack executive buy-in. 

Stage five: Optimized recovery

This stage is characterized by cross-organizational buy-in, tested and refined automation processes, and state-of-the-art technologies. The organization’s recovery processes and infrastructure facilitate real-time monitoring of progress, continual enhancement of processes, immutable audit logs, and the active involvement of senior management across the full recovery process. 

It’s at this stage, in particular, that organizations will fully leverage automated runbook software to enhance their recovery efforts. Via real-time dashboards, collaboration technologies, and integration capabilities, runbook software acts as a central repository for all relevant information — providing a single source of truth for recovery operations. This enables seamless coordination and communication across all stakeholders, ensuring standardization across the full recovery effort. 

Gain confidence with Cutover

Organizations face the continual advancement of cyber threats and a lack of effective recovery measures that can restore systems within impact tolerances can potentially yield detrimental outcomes — whether financially, operationally, or reputationally. 

With Cutover, organizations can have confidence in recovering their applications when faced with a ransomware attack. Cutover’s automated runbook technology allows you to build comprehensive, dynamic runbooks that codify all the tasks required in the cyber recovery process. These runbooks can be rehearsed and simulated in a secure environment, allowing all stakeholders to be prepared for the unexpected. 

Furthermore, with extensive reporting capabilities, the Cutover platform allows teams to gather relevant data in real time on both simulations and the status of live events. This works to ensure that RTOs and recovery point objectives (RPOs) are met, regulations are adhered to, and that all stakeholders are kept on the same page. Further still, the platform’s analytics allow teams to:

  • Analyze, iterate, and audit their ransomware recovery posture.
  • Make process changes according to identified vulnerabilities. 
  • Reduce the potential damages associated with ransomware attacks. 

With Cutover’s platform, you can seamlessly integrate automated runbook technology with other applications across your existing technology stack, offering a centralized, consistent, intuitive, and executable approach to cyber recovery. 

It’s for these reasons that major enterprises trust Cutover to streamline their recovery efforts. Cutover helps users reduce recovery execution time by 50% and audit preparation time by 60% — ultimately helping to reduce downtime, lower costs, and increase recovery success rates. 

To learn firsthand how Cutover can optimize your ransomware recovery, book a free demo of our platform today.

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