Cyber attacks are on the rise. As more and more of our personal and business data is stored online, hackers are finding new ways to access and exploit that data for financial gain. No one is immune – individuals, small businesses, corporations, and government entities have all been victims of cyber attacks. When an attack does occur, it can be devastating, resulting in data and financial loss, downtime, and damage to reputation. The key questions for any organization that has experienced a cyber attack are: What can be done to recover from the attack? And what can be done to prevent future attacks?
What are the immediate steps for recovering from a cyber attack?
When a cyber attack occurs, the most important first step is to identify and contain the attack to prevent further damage. This requires disconnecting affected systems from the network and shutting down key services that may have been impacted. Organizations should activate incident response plans that outline steps for assessment, containment, eradication, and recovery. Cybersecurity experts and forensic analysts should be called in to help determine the root cause and full scope of the breach. Steps like changing passwords, applying security patches, scanning for malware, and shutting down unnecessary ports or services can help contain the incident.
Another key recovery step is determining what data or assets have been compromised. Analysts need to identify which systems and data stores have been accessed or stolen. This allows notification to parties that may have been impacted by loss of data. It also focuses security efforts on the most critical areas moving forward. Communications and PR experts should be engaged to develop strategies for communicating transparently about the attack and steps being taken to aid recovery.
Restoration of normal operations in a safe manner is the next phase of recovering from an attack. This requires confirming that threats have been addressed, affected systems have been patched or hardened, user access controls are appropriate, and monitoring capabilities are sufficient. Backup systems and data should be utilized to bring services and data stores back online, while maintaining security. Close monitoring of systems and networks for anomalies is critical during the restoration period.
How can you get back online safely after a cyber attack?
Recovering from a cyber attack and restoring normal business operations must be done methodically, with safety and security top of mind:
- Apply all relevant patches and updates to compromised systems before bringing them back online.
- Scan restored systems and code for malware or irregularities.
- Change all passwords for user accounts and systems that were in any way impacted.
- Verify that perimeter controls like firewalls, proxies, and network monitoring tools are working properly.
- Load data from clean, protected backup sources where possible to repopulate compromised data stores.
- Develop “canary” systems to test restored infrastructure before reintroducing broader access.
- Conduct tests for vulnerabilities, logic flaws, and backdoors that may have been inserted.
- Limit access and functionality until full security can be validated.
Bringing systems back online without proper remediation and testing can simply reopen pathways for continued malicious activity. A slow and careful restoration process is essential.
What damages or losses can occur as a result of a cyber attack?
Cyber attacks can result in many types of damages or losses, including:
- Data loss or theft – Sensitive data like customer information, intellectual property, or financial records may be stolen or made inaccessible. This can severely impact operations and revenue while incurring compliance penalties.
- System downtime – Attacks that encrypt or destroy data and systems can cause prolonged outages that disrupt business activities. Downtime translates directly to lost productivity and revenue.
- Physical asset/infrastructure damage – Attacks targeting industrial control systems can lead to destruction of physical equipment and facilities.
- Costs for investigation and recovery – Expert forensic services, legal support, public communications, system repairs and upgrades can all add up quickly for organizations responding to an attack.
- Regulatory compliance violations – Failure to protect regulated data types often results in fines, mandated corrective actions, and loss of public trust.
- Reputational damage – Data breaches and service outages due to cyber attacks negatively impact consumer and partner trust in an organization.
Determining the full impact of a cyber attack requires careful assessment across all business areas affected. The cascade effects on revenue, costs, compliance standing, and reputation can be severe.
What steps can you take to prevent future cyber attacks?
Recovering from an attack should also involve learning from the experience and taking steps to prevent similar events going forward. Some key prevention best practices include:
- Conducting regular vulnerability testing and risk assessments to identify gaps in defenses.
- Installing software updates, patches, and configuration changes to address weaknesses.
- Enhancing detection capabilities through increased logging, security analytics, and network monitoring.
- Providing cybersecurity and data privacy training to employees to minimize human error.
- Performing regular backups of critical systems and data to enable faster recovery if needed.
- Developing and testing incident response plans to improve readiness and coordination.
- Applying the principles of zero trust and least privilege access to better protect key assets.
- Deploying layered defenses across network, endpoints, applications, and data to increase security posture.
Prevention is always preferable to having to recover from a cyber incident. Dedicating resources to continuous security improvements pays dividends over time by reducing risk and minimizing potential impacts of attacks.
How can cyber insurance aid in recovery from an attack?
Cyber insurance can provide resources to assist with response costs and some types of loss resulting from cyber attacks and data breaches. Key areas that may be covered include:
- Incident investigation – Forensic services to determine root cause and quantify impacts.
- Notification and credit monitoring – Notifying individuals of compromised personal data and providing credit monitoring services.
- Public relations – PR services to develop communications strategies around incidents.
- Legal costs – Paying legal expenses for compliance investigations, lawsuits, etc.
- System recovery – Funds to repair or replace hardware/software damaged in attacks.
- Lost income – Reimbursing income lost due to systems outages during recovery period.
- Extortion payments – In some cases, covering ransomware extortion payments.
The specifics of coverage depend on each cyber insurance policy. But having this supplemental source of funds and expertise can greatly aid organizations in responding to and recovering from cyber incidents.
Recovering from cyber attacks takes careful planning, coordination across security and business functions, patience during restoration, and a commitment to learning and improving defenses. Immediate focus needs to be on containment, technical restoration, and communication. A slower, dedicated effort follows to assess broader impact, update security controls, and minimize business disruption. With advanced preparation and testing of incident response plans, organizations can optimize efforts to safely recover critical operations after an attack. Cyber insurance provides another layer of financial resources and expertise to tap into following an incident. But prevention is still the best medicine – cyber attacks will happen, but continuous security improvements can reduce both frequency and impact.