Create a successful cybersecurity disaster recovery plan using these steps from the team at Reciprocity.

When disaster strikes, your organization needs to be prepared, and having a plan in place will help you resume operations as quickly as possible. From natural disasters to cyberattacks, the number of unpredictable events that could cause a disruption to your usual business operations is growing every year — cyber threats, in particular, are increasing and evolving at an unprecedented pace.

Disasters are any sudden event that creates widespread and detrimental damage to your organization. This includes natural disasters like hurricanes, cyberattacks and data breaches, and even global business disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic. The surest way to keep your business afloat after a disaster occurs is to create a disaster recovery plan (DRP) before it even happens.

In the context of cybersecurity, disaster recovery (DR) is the process of creating a plan for regaining access and functionality to your IT infrastructure after a disaster. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a cybersecurity framework (NIST CSF) that provides industry standards and best practices for organizations so they can better manage their cybersecurity risks, there are no such federal policies, standards, or guidelines that focus specifically on restoring your IT infrastructure after a disaster.

Therefore, it’s up to you to ensure that your business has a plan in place that includes clearly defined policies, tools, and procedures. This will enable you to recover from a disaster and to continue operating your vital technology systems afterwards. Your DRP will act as the set of instructions for you and your employees to follow in response to a disaster, whether cyber or environment-related.

Disaster recovery planning is one aspect of business continuity planning that often gets overlooked. A business continuity plan (BCP) is a set of contingency plans that outlines how your organization will continue business operations and essential services in the event of an emergency or unexpected event.

While your BCP will address what happens during an event to maintain operations, a DRP will deal with what happens after the event occurs. And while BCPs address all facets of your organization, your cybersecurity DRP should focus specifically on technology and data security.

Creating a BCP and a DRP is a critical component of a proactive risk management plan. Proactive risk management means that you identify risks before they happen and try to figure out ways to avoid or alleviate those risks. This approach seeks to reduce the risk potential for hazards, or even better, prevent the threat altogether.

A well-designed and executed DRP will enable a more efficient recovery of your critical systems, and it will help your organization avoid any further damage to your mission-critical operations.

Some of the benefits of disaster recovery planning include:

  • Minimizing recovery time and possible delays.
  • Preventing legal liability.
  • Improving security.
  • Avoiding potentially damaging last-minute decision making during a disaster.

When it comes down to it, your organization probably can’t afford to ignore disaster recovery planning. Planning for potentially disruptive events saves businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars, and can even mean the difference between your company surviving a disaster, or folding.

Depending on your disaster recovery strategy and the types of tools you decide to use, a DRP will ultimately give your business the capability to get up and running much faster after a disaster — or even continue operations as if nothing has happened.

So, what does a disaster recovery plan include? Next, we will examine the elements that a cybersecurity DRP should include to be most successful.

Elements of a Cybersecurity Disaster Recovery Plan

Before you begin the necessary steps for creating a disaster recovery plan, you need to consider what elements you need to include in order for it to be most successful. Keep in mind that the end goal of your cybersecurity disaster recovery plan is to make sure that your IT infrastructure is functional and secure.

At a minimum, your DRP should include the following elements:

  • A clear owner
  • Involvement from members throughout your organization
  • Clear paths for communication
  • Simple methods for execution
  • A comprehensive, multi-layered approach
  • Regular practice and continuous updates

Perhaps the most important element of your DRP will be the methods your disaster recovery team uses to communicate with each other, other employees, vendors, and customers, before, during, and after a disaster.

Planning for a disaster is a process that will require input from departments throughout your organization. This type of widespread communication can be difficult to track using emails and spreadsheets alone, so it’s important to consider other tools you might use to make this process more streamlined.

When it comes down to it, it won’t matter how much planning you’ve done if there aren’t clear and open communication channels that can distribute the appropriate information to the right people in the face of a real disaster.

What Are the Steps to Creating a Cybersecurity Disaster Recovery Plan?

  1. Establish an owner.

    You should begin by identifying someone in your organization who is willing and able to take ownership for the development of your cybersecurity disaster recovery planning. It’s often assumed that this will be a role or responsibility for your IT department. However, your IT department is likely busy with other issues that are more immediate.

    Whoever you choose to become the owner of your organization’s DRP needs to be organized, collaborative, and able to add the creation, review, and maintenance of the DRP as a core responsibility of their job description.

    This is a role that will also need to have the support of business leaders and management within your organization so it gets the attention it needs from the rest of the organization.

  2. Create a team.

    Next, you’ll need to assign a disaster recovery team that consists of a group of specialists who are responsible for creating, implementing, and managing your DRP. Your DRP should define each team member’s role and responsibilities, as well as an outline for the methods of communication between team members, other employees, vendors, and customers in the event of a disaster.

    Assembling the right team of experts is a critical component, and you should ideally choose people who are available to regularly participate in disaster recovery planning activities, including the tabletop exercises that will allow your business to practice “what if” scenarios that test your plan before you actually need to execute it.

    You should begin by tapping IT specialists and other key individuals to provide leadership in the following key roles:

    • Crisis management: the person in this leadership role will be responsible for commencing recovery plans, coordinating efforts throughout the recovery process, and resolving any problems or delays that might arise.
    • Business continuity: the person in this position should be a business continuity expert for your organization, as they will be responsible for ensuring that your DRP aligns with your company’s business needs based on a business impact analysis (BIA).
    • Impact assessment and recovery: the team responsible for impact assessment and recovery should have technical expertise in IT infrastructure including servers, storage, databases, and networks.
    • IT applications: the person in this role needs to monitor which application activities should be implemented based on a restorative plan. Tasks for this role will include application integrations, applications settings and configurations, and data consistency.
    • Executive management: an executive team will need to be available to approve the strategy, policies, and budget related to the DRP, as well as to provide input if any obstacles arise.
    • Critical business units: ideally, a representative from each business unit will provide feedback on disaster recovery planning so that their specific concerns are addressed.

    Once you’ve assembled your team and documented the roles and responsibilities in your DRP, it’s time to start examining the risks posed to your organization.

  3. Document risks.

    From natural disasters, to a vendor or business partner shutting down, to a ransomware attack — there are a number of risks your business might face, and it’s up to your disaster recovery team to imagine and document each risk to the best of their ability.

    This is where it’s helpful to have a full team collaborate to brainstorm all of the possibilities as well as the steps you’ll need to take to recover from each. Taking through these potential risks will help your team quickly identify the necessary actions to mitigate those risks and how you should prioritize them.

    You might also consider performing a risk assessment during this step, if you haven’t already. A risk assessment can help your organization to identify areas of high risk throughout your enterprise so you can prioritize those risks more effectively.

    After you add this list of risks and their priority levels to your DRP, you’ll need to identify all of your organization’s important data, technologies, and tools next.

  4. Identify important data, technologies, and tools.

    The next step in creating your DRP will require you to identify which rolls and data are most critical for each department to fulfill their duties — accounting needs access to payroll data, fulfillment needs order information, sales needs their customer lists, developers need their code repositories, etc.

    While all of your systems and technologies are probably important, you realistically won’t be able to fix everything at once in the event of a disaster. Your disaster recovery team should determine who owns each system, the amount of time your business can reasonably survive without each system or technology, and who will be responsible for restoring them.

    Then, your team should document this information, and include information regarding who has access to the tools and data they’ve identified. This part of your DRP will need to be updated as employees come and go, or move within your organization.

  5. Inventory your assets.

    Create and regularly update a list of all the equipment your business uses on a day-to-day basis. This list should include the obvious assets like computers, servers, printers, phones, and network hardware. But it should also include equipment like office furniture, product inventory, shipping supplies, and anything else your organization relies on to operate.

    As you are creating this list, consider what you might need to buy if you had to rapidly set up a temporary office location somewhere else. You should also contact your insurance agency during this step so they can help you understand what specifically you need to track and how they can help you get up and running post-disaster.

    Once your inventory is complete, add this list to your DRP, as well as any additional information regarding your company’s assets and their criticality.

  6. Determine data backup protocol.

    Deciding where and how your most critical business information will be backed up is an important step for any successful DRP. If your business stores most of its data on desktops and laptops, you need to ensure that every important file is covered.

    Determine what needs to be backed up or relocated to a data center, who should perform backups, and how backups will be implemented. You should also include a recovery point objective (RPO) that states the frequency of backups, and a recovery time objective (RTO) that defines the maximum amount of downtime allowable after a disaster.

    Together, your RPO and RTO will create the limits that will guide the choice of IT strategy, processes and procedures that make up your organization’s disaster recovery plan. The amount of downtime your organization can handle and how frequently you back up your data will ultimately inform your disaster recovery strategy.

    Whatever methods for backup your disaster recovery team decides upon, it needs to be clearly documented in your DRP so your critical data can still be accessed following a disaster.

  7. Make a communication plan.

    Communicating the steps for disaster recovery to your employees, clients, vendors and business partners is an important component of disaster recovery planning. Consider, for example, how you will notify employees if a disaster strikes during off-hours, and whether employees should report to the office or work remotely.

    This part of your DRP should also account for communication methods used for notifying stakeholders, as well as outlining where you will store and how often you will update contact information.

    Not every disaster will necessitate communication with every constituency, but you should nonetheless make a plan that identifies how and when these communications will occur as well as whose job it is to communicate with who.

    Make sure this part of your DRP is well-thought out and documented, as communication pathways after a disaster can often determine how successfully your DRP is carried out.

  8. Practice.

    Practicing for disasters is nearly impossible. Instead, your organization can rely on tabletop exercises between your disaster recovery team. Your team should practice by sitting around a table and discussing, in detail, how your company will respond to the various scenarios from your list of possible risks.

    Your organization should emphasize the importance of these tabletop exercises as well as testing — first to validate that your DRP is working, but also to solicit feedback on what isn’t working and then implement improvements. You should continue to run more testing and exercises at key milestones to assure that all the critical issues have been raised and incorporated into your plan.

    Your DRP will likely never be “done.” It should be a living document that changes as the threat landscape continues to evolve. This last step will inform the future decisions you make and any modifications your DRP might need at a later time. Disaster recovery planning is a cyclical process that will ultimately require a lot of time and attention.

Disaster recovery planning requires investment and involvement from multiple parts of your organization: IT, legal, finance, operational units, and public relations, to name a few.

While it might be tempting to develop a plan for disaster recovery that’s less costly upfront, you should consider how difficult it will be to keep your business operating with reduced services. Saving a few extra dollars during the planning phase probably won’t be worth it when the time comes to execute your DRP. After all, the worst plan is one that doesn’t work when you need it the most.

Make ZenGRC Part of Your Cybersecurity Planning

All of this planning requires communication — lots and lots of it. Keeping track of emails, chats, text messages, video call notes, and workflows can be an onerous task, especially when your team members are dispersed and working remotely.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can help. ZenGRC from Reciprocity is a governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that can help your organization create a comprehensive DRP program, focusing on risk management, incident response handling, documentation, and recovery processes. And because we’re a SaaS platform, you can even maintain operations when your physical facilities are down.

ZenGRC’s workflow feature allows you to create your own program for disaster recovery planning. It helps you assign, track, and manage tasks, maintain your operations from a distance, and share your pandemic DRP activities, time frames, and key performance indicators with your managers and board via an easy to use dashboard.

During a disaster isn’t the time to scramble to get organized. ZenGRC can be working for you within moments of activation, taking care of your disaster recovery planning and operations tasks automatically so you don’t have to.

Worry-free disaster recovery planning, the Zen way. Contact us today for a free demo and see how ZenGRC can help you plan and prepare for the next disaster.