Perfecting the Proactive Security Playbook

It's more important than ever for organizations to prepare themselves and their cybersecurity postures against known and unknown threats.

Nabil Hannan, Field CISO, NetSPI

June 4, 2024

5 Min Read
Hand draws a play for football on a blackboard
Source: Ivelin Radkov via Alamy Stock Photo


Any good sports coach will tell you a playbook is a critical tool in ensuring a team's continued success — and the same applies to cybersecurity. Without an effective security playbook, organizations expose themselves to vulnerabilities by not preparing for potential outcomes, ramifications, and remediations. To stay ahead of bad actors and combat emerging attacks, security leaders must turn the focus from being reactive to being proactive — which starts with creating a comprehensive security playbook.

Consider these three things to get a proactive security playbook started, ensuring long-term success:

Create an Incident Response Plan

A key first step in creating any playbook is planning. Just as coaches have to make customized playbooks for each new opponent, security leaders must have plans in place for various crises and situations so that all involved parties — from employees to customers to contractors — know what's expected of them in the event of a breach.

Internal planning is essential, and activities such as tabletop exercises, process panning, and product strategy can help assess the current security landscape. Tabletop exercises are particularly effective in testing and perfecting playbooks. In conducting these exercises, chief information security officers (CISOs) lead their teams through a variety of scenarios, both typical and atypical, to determine what red flags to be mindful of and when, as well as to work through any backup strategies. Testing both normal and abnormal incidents is an important point here. It's not enough to practice traditional breaches that are common to remediate. Instead, challenge teams to think critically in the event of unique, unknown vulnerabilities.

While playbooks prepare an organization for eventual breaches, they also prepare teams to proactively identify them — especially since technology cannot serve as the sole identifier for all threats. Instead, teams should know how to use technology to recognize, report, and resolve threats when there's a deviation from a standard alert. Overall, incident response planning is a critical step in the planning process — just like a winning sports team needs to establish a game plan before the big game, cybersecurity teams need to do the same to support the organization's success.

Establish an Effective Measurement Strategy

In the world of sports, wins are determined by the score on game day. A team's "win" is a bit more ambiguous in cybersecurity. No matter what success looks like, teams must hold practices to assess strategy, pinpoint weak links, and identify hurdles to success.

To do this, cybersecurity teams must identify what success means to them. In most incident response cases, the less time it takes to respond to a breach (i.e., report a deviation internally, determine the threat level, and remediate), the better. The less time it takes, the more of a "win" it is. Once teams can align on a target time for remediation, they can work together to identify kinks in the process, technology constraints, or process issues that prohibit them from improving with each breach simulation activity.

Furthermore, it's critical to understand your business needs and what adds value to decision-making — in this case, reducing incident response times. Once understood, leaders can effectively measure success beyond simply eliminating a threat and shift their focus to helping their teams respond in the most timely, efficient manner possible. By establishing a constructive metric strategy ahead of a real-life breach, leaders can accurately measure the success and efficacy of the playbook and team.

Assess Strengths and Weaknesses

The threat landscape continues to evolve and become more complex, largely due to skyrocketing AI adoption. And while not everyone is an AI expert — and nor should they be — security leaders need to understand where their team is at in the AI journey. To address any skill gaps and ensure AI-based threats are detected, leaders should ask themselves, "How do we deliver the best value to our internal team, given their technical capabilities?" Knowing this at the onset of the playbook's creation helps paint a complete picture of where the team is starting from and where they need to grow in order to identify and remediate evolving strains of malware and ransomware.

From there, leaders can lean on internal training and third-party vendors to analyze mass amounts of data, allowing security teams to address and remediate events more easily. The challenge with this is blending external experts with knowledge in threat hunting and rapid response with internal teams who know the organization's environment the best and can contextualize these issues. As a rule of thumb, don't take things at first glance and assume they tell the full story: Ask questions, dig deeper, and look at the bigger picture to figure out when to take action.

The Evolving Proactive Approach

Cybersecurity is no longer an issue that concerns only IT departments; it's now a business enabler. With generative AI adoption on the rise, it's more important than ever for organizations to prepare themselves and their cybersecurity postures against known and unknown threats. In addition to these three elements, as a solid foundation, it's essential to have a reliable cyber-insurance company engaged from the second an incident occurs. If or when a breach happens, having a pre-planned retainer with a cyber agency ensures that issues concerning privacy regulations and customer data are handled efficiently and appropriately.

A proactive security playbook is key to helping organizations maintain their customers' data confidentiality amid rising ransomware threats. Without a proactive security playbook and plan, teams will be ill-prepared to deal with potential issues that threaten their security integrity and put customers at risk. By prioritizing incident response planning and effective measurement strategies, and understanding the team's skill levels, leaders can help put their organization in the best position to combat all variations of threats.

About the Author(s)

Nabil Hannan

Field CISO, NetSPI

Nabil Hannan is the field CISO at NetSPI. He leads the company's advisory consulting practice, focusing on helping clients solve their cybersecurity assessment and threat an vulnerability management needs. His background is around building and improving effective software security initiatives, with deep expertise in the financial services sector. Most notably, in his 13 years of experience in cybersecurity consulting, he held a position at Cigital/Synopsys Software Integrity Group, where he identified, scoped, and delivered on software security projects, including architectural risk analysis, penetration testing, secure code review, malicious code detection, vulnerability remediation, and mobile security assessments.

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