Cybersecurity best practices, data protection, and disaster recovery are frequently hot topics that overlap but require distinct planning roles. Data protection is crucial because it centers on safeguarding critical information from compromise, loss, exploitation, or corruption. Business continuity and disaster planning address the “What Ifs” and the “How-Tos” of getting the business back up and running. A “disaster” within an organization could be detrimental because a sudden onset event may cause short-term business impact and long-term damage or loss. Proactively identifying and preparing for events such as natural disasters or malicious activity from bad actors could set an organization up for a faster recovery. Is physically and logically safeguarding data more important than an efficient recovery in the event of an inevitable disaster? Which concept is more important? —Trick question! They are both equally important.
An organization’s ability to continue operations regardless of the current circumstances allows data protection and disaster recovery to work seamlessly together. Although the priority list of data protection and disaster recovery actions can be quite long, there are a few topics that you cannot ignore. The following is our list of data protection and disaster recovery priorities that every organization should consider.
To proactively identify and prepare for disaster events, a company must define what constitutes a disaster for their organization. For example, a natural disaster could result from an earthquake, flood, hurricane, or fire. A disaster could also be human-made or technological, impacting critical business systems through a security breach, corruption of data, a service or site outage, a server or application outage, or loss of critical staff. Data protection becomes manageable when the variables that can cause a negative impact are identified, and plans can be implemented to recover from these failures and events efficiently.
Defining various disaster scenarios for your organization is crucial when considering data protection and disaster recovery, but it is only the first step to preparing for an actual disaster. You must also consider the following questions:
There are different types of assets within your organization. Overall assets are the things a company values or something that can increase the liability related to the company. The primary asset for every company is the data that they own or are responsible for. For example, business processes and procedures related to the company’s products, employee PII/PHI used for payroll and benefits, trade secrets, etc. Another type of asset is secondary assets. Secondary assets are usually the tools, physical and software, that allow employees of the company to interact with the primary asset. For example, hardware assets could include servers, desktop computers, laptops, wireless access points, switches, etc. Software assets could consist of installed applications that may or may not be used by personnel regularly. If you are not aware of all the organization's assets, how can you ensure security measures are functioning as expected.
Establishing a centrally managed asset inventory means that your organization understands the assets that the business must access to be operational. This asset inventory should be a living database regularly reviewed and maintained for accuracy. An appropriately positioned owner from the organization must take responsibility for the asset inventory and ensure access to the database is restricted to authorized personnel. If your organization does not have an owner to manage and maintain the asset inventory, you cannot make plans to protect all assets on which the data exists.
When it comes to the criticality of organizational assets, some assets are more critical than others. Defining the importance and required reconstitution of assets to the organization is vital. For example, an on-premises server could run accounting software, which processes payroll for the organization. The data, hardware, and software assets could be considered critical in this instance. If the payroll system had a dependency on other systems with prerequisites, that also needs to be considered. If you have not identified which critical assets require more attention, you cannot ensure that the related business processes recover quickly if a disaster occurs. Knowing the proper criticality of the assets helps to ensure that everything is restored in the right order to return the business to normal operations efficiently.
Critical assets will require more protective measures than non-critical assets. Knowing which security controls are used to protect each asset is essential. For example, suppose your organization has an enterprise-grade firewall to provide network security. You should ensure that the connection to the critical on-premises server (which is running the critical accounting software) is protected and logically secured behind the firewall. For the data in the accounting server, a witness server can independently track the data locally in case of a fail-over event. For each asset classification, the asset inventory manager should document, and be familiar with, the function of each asset and how it is protected. If an asset is unprotected, remediation measures should be taken before it becomes a problem.
Three critical attributes of any successful disaster recovery plan are organization, coordination, and execution. If an organization's plan is unorganized, lacks defined roles and responsibilities, and does not set guidelines on making and executing decision points, quickly recovering from a disaster may not be possible.
When outlining the various disaster scenarios that may impact your organization, it's also essential to define the how, when, and who of a disaster. Meaning who can declare a "disaster" and what are the steps to resolution. Assignment of relevant roles and responsibilities must be established early in the planning process, in coordination with scheduled tabletop exercises that run through different disaster scenarios from beginning to end.
This type of planning will allow your organization to identify and document lessons learned before a real disaster scenario.
When determining your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), it is important to establish realistic timelines for your organization. Key components of realistic RTO and RPO timelines may revolve around the availability of critical resources and your recovery sites. Are they hot or cold sites? How often are the sites’ data synchronized between the servers? The schedule and frequency of your backups are also contributing factors to setting realistic timelines for the organization.
Establishing a data backup schedule that is right for your organization is key to successfully protecting your data. The more frequent and granular your backups are, the more likely your organization can recover in a real-time disaster scenario. As an organization, you must ask: How long do we go between backups and replica snapshots? Days? Hours? Minutes? Based on that answer, what impact would it have on your organization if you could not recover hours, days, or months of data? What happens if you cannot recover any data because backups do not exist or cannot be restored?
When it comes to disaster recovery, backups mean nothing without testing restoration. Always test restoration of organizational data, critical data in the least, should be scheduled for regular occurrence. Even if your organization is operating entirely from the cloud, a regularly scheduled test restore is necessary to ensure that business operations recover quickly and efficiently. If you are unsure where to start when it comes to backups and test recovery, begin by breaking down the data by type or system (Exchange, files and folders, etc.). A loss of data can lead to a loss of opportunity, customers, revenue loss, and catastrophic reputational damage.
One of the best ways to protect your organization is to ensure that your employees are trained to assist with potential disaster events before they occur.
For example, proactively scheduling and documenting regular tabletop exercises for disaster scenarios allow your employees to think through the recovery response processes for efficient execution in the case of a real disaster.
Another example is to train employees on best practices in detecting and preventing potential malicious activity that could also result in a disaster event. Properly trained employees are the first line of defense for data protection and could be the most reliable line of defense when it comes to disaster recovery.
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