When I talk to security (S&R) leaders, they always tell me that in an ideal world, they would have enough advanced warning of impending business and technology disruptions in order to understand the security, privacy and overall risk implications and then prepare and present their business executives with a balanced opinion about how best to proceed if and when the enterprise decides to move forward. Unfortunately, most often, business and IT colleagues move on these disruptions and technology shifts far in advance of the security team’s readiness, and we don’t have to look far for examples; just think of employee BYOD, mobile apps for customer engagement, cloud services, social technology for marketing and collaboration, massive big data projects for business intelligence, or virtual and converged infrastructures within the data center.
On Monday, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, flooding entire towns in New York and New Jersey, triggering large-scale power outages and killing at least 17 people. The health and safety of individuals is the first and foremost priority, followed by the recovery of critical infrastructure services (power, water, hospital services, transportation etc.). As these services begin to recover, many business and IT leaders are wondering how they will resume normal operations to ensure the long-term financial viability of the company and the livelihoods of their employees and how they will serve their loyal customers.
Most likely, if you have offices that lie in the path of Hurricane Sandy, you are experiencing some sort of business disruption, large or small. The largest enterprises, especially those in financial services, spend an enormous amount of money on business, workforce and IT resiliency strategies. Many of them shifted both business and IT workloads to other corporate locations in advance of the storm, proactively closed offices and directed employees to work from home or a designated alternate site.
If you are small and medium enterprise and, like many of your peers, you didn’t have an alternate workforce site, robust work-from-home employee capabilities, an automated notification system or a recovery data center, what do you do now? While it’s too late to implement many measures to improve resiliency, there are several things you can do now to help your organization return to normal operations ASAP. Here are Forrester’s top recommendations for senior business technology leaders:
My house sits atop a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (hence, the neighborhood name of “Beachmont”) and was built sometime in 1890. It’s one of the tallest houses in the neighborhood and as I write this post, my house is swaying back and forth from 50 mile an hour winds (I’ve been told it’s meant to sway which is somewhat comforting but not entirely) and from my porch, I can see waves crashing over the sea wall and slamming into my neighbor’s homes below me. Needless to say, I have a vested interest in the emergency response to Hurricane Sandy.
There will be time for more detailed analysis later but here are just some initial observations and thoughts:
FEMA has come a long way since the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina.
The response at the federal, state and local level has been much more proactive than I’ve ever seen it in the past. Many New England and Northeast states began communicating to cities and towns about the seriousness of the storm almost a week in advance, many declared emergencies as early as Saturday, and many insisted on mandatory evacuations for the riskiest areas.
The overall approach is better safe than sorry, even if worst fears about the storm don’t materialize.
Each year, Forrester Research and the Disaster Recovery Journal team up to launch a study examining the state of business and technology resiliency. Each year, we focus on a particular resiliency domain: business continuity, IT disaster recovery or crisis management and enterprise risk management. The studies provide BC and other risk managers an understanding of how they compare to the overall industry and to their peers. While each organization is unique due to its size, industry, long-term business objectives, and tolerance for risk, it's helpful to see where the industry is trending, and I’ve found that peer comparisons are always helpful when you need to convince skeptical executives that change is necessary. For better or for worse, it is a fundamental part of human nature to want to go with the herd. For those who are interested, there is a great Freaknomics podcast on the subject called “Riding the Herd Mentality: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast.”
At the recent Disaster Recovery Journal Fall World conference, I gave a presentation of the state of BC readiness. I had some great discussions with the audience (especially about where BC should report), but one of the statistics that really stood out for me and I made it a point to emphasize with the audience, is the state of partner BC readiness.
According to the joint Forrester/Disaster Recovery Journal survey on BC readiness, 51% of BC influencers and decision-makers report that they do not assess the readiness of their partners. If this doesn’t shock you, it should. Forrester estimates that the typical large enterprise has hundreds of third-party relationships – everyone from supply chain partners to business process outsourcers, IT service providers and of course cloud providers. As our reliance on these partners increases so does our risk – if they’re down, it greatly affects your organization’s business performance. And with the increasing availability of cloud services, the number of third parties your organization works with only increases, because now, business owners can quickly adopt a cloud service to meet a business need without the approval of the CIO or CISO and sometimes without the approval of any kind of central procurement organization.
Even among those organizations that do assess partner BC readiness, their efforts are superficial. Only 17% include partners in their own tests and only 10% conduct tests specifically of their critical partners.
There is truth to the meme, “data is the new oil.” Data is the lifeblood of today's digital businesses, and for economic and even political gain, highly skilled cybercriminals are determined to steal it. Meanwhile, customers around the globe have become highly sensitive to how organizations track, use, and store their personal data, and it's very difficult for security pros to stay one step ahead of changing privacy laws and demands. Plus, as data volumes explode, it's becoming a herculean task to protect sensitive data and prevent privacy infringements (today we talk in petabytes, not terabytes).
Every day, vendors introduce a new product that claims to be the silver bullet to data security challenges. Consider that DLP remains one of the most popular search terms by security pros on Forrester.com. In the case of data security, there is no silver bullet. There is no way to solve the problem without a process framework that outlines how you go about discovering, classifying, analyzing, and then ultimately defending data. Forrester has created a framework to help security pros protect data – we call it the Data Security And Control Framework. If you take a framework approach, you will:
Traditional antivirus techniques have been fighting a losing battle for years. Popular hacker exploit kits pounce on new vulnerabilities quickly while advanced tools such as polymorphic viruses propagate their malicious intents. As a result, signature databases (known as “blacklists”) have ballooned in size, causing strain on a company’s infrastructure and endpoint performance. Combined with the fact that antivirus vendors miss a significant number of the unknown or zero-day threats, many security professionals are left questioning their antivirus-centric approach to endpoint protection. As the number of malware samples rise, this traditional "Whack-A-Mole" blacklist strategy of signature-based antivirus protection is simply unscalable.
During the past three years, you may have noticed that security and risk professionals have added a new term to their lexicon – business resiliency. Is this just an attempt by vendors to rebrand business continuity (BC) and IT disaster recovery (DR) in much the same way that vendors rebranded information security as cybersecurity to make it seem sexier and to sell more of their existing products? Some of it certainly is rebranding. However, like the shift in the threat landscape from lone hackers to well-funded crime syndicates and state sponsored agents that precipitated the use of the term cybersecurity, a real shift has also taken place in BC/DR.
If you look up the term “resiliency” in the dictionary, it’s defined as “an occurrence of rebounding or springing back”. Thus, business resiliency refers to the ability of a business to spring back from a disruption to its operations. Historically, BC/DR focused on the ability of the business to recover from a disruption. Recovery implies that there was in fact a disruption, that for some period of time, business operations were unavailable, there was downtime as the business strove to recover. Resiliency, on the other hand, implies that an event may have affected the business’ operations, perhaps the business operated in a diminished state for some period of time, but operations were never completely unavailable, the business was never down.
The current state of business continuity management (BCM) standards? Abysmal. According to a joint Forrester/DRJ study, 69% of respondents said that British Standard (BS) 25999 did not influence or only somewhat influenced BCM at their company. It’s not much better for NFPA 1600, 70% of respondents said that it did not, or only somewhat, influenced BCM at their company. I find this shocking. BS 25999 is one of the most widely recognized standards for BCM worldwide and NFPA 1600 has been popular in the US for years. In addition, the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s Private Sector Preparedness Program (PS‑Prep) recognizes both of these standards for assessing preparedness. If you’re wondering what standards respondents named in the “Other” category, it was mostly the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and NIST. Not surprising but also a little disheartening, it’s clear that unless compelled to do so, most BC professional would not adopt or follow a BCM standard.
Even if you don’t intend to certify to these standards, they should strongly influence your BCM program. Why? It’s because:
They provide a foundation and a common vocabulary for BCM best practices and processes. This is important if you need to implement BCM across a geographically dispersed enterprise or you have to work with a multitude of global partners on joint preparedness.
In a recent Forrester/DRJ joint survey on BC preparedness, of organizations that have invoked a BC plan in the last five years, 37% said that their BC plans had not adequately addressed communication. In my experience, I’ve found that many organizations:
Don’t appreciate the importance of effective communication. Many organizations focus the content of their BC plans and the goals of their BC exercises on the details of recovery procedures but don’t focus on how they will contact and coordinate response teams, employees, partners, first responders and customers. If you can’t communicate, you can’t respond to anything.
Rely on manual procedures like call lists or email alone. By themselves, manual procedures are unreliable, they don’t scale for organizations with thousands of employees (or citizens) and they don’t provide any kind of reporting.
Underestimate the difficulty of communicating effectively under stress. During the incident is not the time to attempt to craft effective communication messages or look for a secondary mode of communication because your first mode of communication (land lines and email) is no longer available.