Don’t Wait for the Next Breach – Simulate It

Over the past few months during the post-hoc analysis of WannaCry-Petya, we have spoken in great lengths about what should have been done during the incident. This is quite a tricky thing to do in a balanced way because we are all clever in hindsight. What hasn’t been spoken about enough is understanding more generally what we need to do when things go wrong.

This question isn’t as simple as it appears, as there are a lot of aspects to consider during an incident, and only a brief window to identify, contain and mitigate a threat. Let’s look at just a few of these:

Response times
This is often the greatest challenge but of utmost importance. The response is not only understanding the “how” and “why” of a threat but is also about putting the chain of events into action to make sure that the “what” doesn’t spiral out of control.

Creating an effective playbook
A playbook should be a guide on how your incident response plan must be executed. Orchestration platforms contain these playbooks/runbooks. Also, note that these are not generic plug and forget policies. They need to be optimized and mapped to your business and regulatory requirements and are often unique to your organization. Otherwise, the incident will be controlled by an incorrect playbook.

Skills and tool availability
Do you have the correct skills and tools available and are you able to leverage these. Do you understand where your security gaps are and do you know how to mitigate them?

On paper, incident response always works. Right until the moment of truth during a data breach that shows that it doesn’t. To avoid relying on theory only, it is best to run breach simulations and simulate some of the attacks that may affect your organization to find out if your processes and playbooks also work under more realistic conditions.

We’re always playing catch‒up for many reasons—new technologies, new vulnerabilities, and new threats. Software and hardware may possibly always be at the mercy of hackers, criminal actors and other threat actors, so prevention alone is futile. We have to become more resilient and better at dealing with the aftermath of an attack.

The key summary for me is this: How do you respond? Can the response be improved? Utilize the lessons learned in breach simulations to understand how you make the response better than before.