Cyber-incident response often addresses short-term needs, but we need to broaden the view of crisis management to be more forward-thinking.

James Hadley, CEO at Immersive Labs

July 30, 2020

5 Min Read

With an average cost of nearly $4 million, breaches are more than a cybersecurity issue — they're a serious and costly business problem. Effective cyber-crisis preparedness is not a single activity but a constantly advancing mindset. Cyber-incident response capabilities often address short-term needs and crises, but we need to broaden the view of crisis management to be more forward-thinking. To create this mindset requires senior security leaders to think about creating the right conditions to encourage teams to learn and develop continually from real-life crisis scenarios.

Security awareness training is already a more than $1 billion-a-year market, but just spending money on a series of trainings is not guaranteed to translate into favorable results. According to Deloitte, crisis simulation is effective in preparedness because it enables management to understand what can happen, which steps to take, and whether the organization is truly prepared. When the worst-case scenario occurs, your security team cannot present a certificate from a course that they attended six months ago; they need to be ready to think clearly and confidently make the right decisions. Here are five ways that organizations can better prepare for a cyber crisis.

Obtain Buy-In from Senior Management
First, lay the right groundwork for crisis preparedness exercises by empowering the right people with senior management buy-in. Security is a companywide issue and the board and the C-suite are likely to ask infosec managers about the team in place to ensure they're able to fight off advanced cyber threats. CISOs can apply their budgets to their teams or on new technology, and the more they can invest in adequate training, the better off they'll be. The confidence in the infosec team's skills must be instilled from the top.

To create this mindset, infosec leaders must encourage their teams to learn and develop continually. Having an appropriate budget in place for crisis planning is also critical. Those in the C-suite (including board members) should do more than just write the checks; they should also be involved in simulation training to ensure they're prepared for a cyber crisis. Once the key decision-makers for a crisis are identified, trained, and prepared, the impact of a real crisis decreases.

Train Inside a Real-World Narrative
Regular repetition of simulated crisis situations is another important factor. It is important to not only build cadence but also ensure the lessons from these are consistently fed back into an organization.

Numerous academic studies tout the psychological benefits of running scenarios that are played out "as real" in preparation for crisis situations. Broadly, these say that simulating real-world scenarios enhances learning by providing a valuable feedback loop, using context to make it applicable. With hackers becoming more sophisticated, training needs to be in real time and constantly updated to ensure your infosec team members are increasing their skills and are able to fend off bad actors and their evolving techniques.

Embrace Failure
Building mental muscle memory through repetition is important; however, this means nothing in today's highly changeable threat landscape without being able to adapt. Faced with a creative, advanced cyber adversary, gradually advancing the crisis response team with just the right difficulty of challenge is vital. Legacy corporate culture has traditionally held up failure as an indicator of poor performance and even used it as a way to scapegoat people. However, contemporary business learning theories argue that failure is a crucial part of building better individuals and teams. After a breach, organizations can learn from mistakes and bottlenecks to ensure the next one is preventable. Failure should be embraced in cyber-crisis training by holding solid "wash-up" sessions and debriefs after each one.   

Encourage Play
Training can be boring, but building elements of play into the learning cycle improves engagement. A wide range of companies are gamifying the way they do business, using it to build deeper, longer-lasting relationships with customers and leveraging human competitiveness. Build gamification into-cyber crisis simulations to bring to life what otherwise might seem dry. The more infosec teams can become familiar with crisis scenarios in a game-like setting, the more they'll be prepared for real crises.

Evaluate to Keep Employees Accountable
Many organizations don't have visibility into how capable their people are when it comes to performing during a cyber crisis. This is one of the drawbacks to traditional in-person training seminars that don't give thorough visibility back to the organization about what their employees have been trained in and how it can apply to that individual company's risk profile. Having data-driven insights about the infosec team in place and their skills — or lack thereof — will better prepare an organization for a future breach. After all, the humans behind the computer are helping to mediate breaches, not the technology alone. The technology alone won't prevent a breach if you can't trust the people operating it.       

Not being prepared for a cyber crisis can have a devastating impact on the financial health and reputation of a company, capable of dragging down share price and even costing executives their jobs. If a company's approach to cyber-crisis preparedness reflects this risk, we'll all be better off.

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About the Author(s)

James Hadley

CEO at Immersive Labs

James Hadley founded Immersive Labs in January 2017 after delivering GCHQ's cyber summer school. It was during these sessions he realized that passive, classroom-based learning doesn't suit the people, or pace, of cybersecurity. Not only did the content date quickly, its one-dimensional nature meant the creative minds in the room would quickly disengage. James decided that a practical online solution was necessary — but that it must go beyond interactive content and allow learners to handle live threats, thus equipping them with skills suited to real-world cyber roles.

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