Disaster recovery and IT security are closely related concepts in information technology. While disaster recovery focuses on restoring systems and data after a disruption, IT security aims to proactively protect systems and data from threats. Despite their different approaches, disaster recovery and IT security have significant overlap and are often considered complementary disciplines.
What is disaster recovery?
Disaster recovery refers to the policies, procedures and technologies used to restore critical systems and data after a natural or human-caused disaster. The goal is to minimize downtime and data loss in the event of system failures, power outages, cyber attacks and other disruptive events. Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity planning, which also encompasses crisis management and operations resilience.
A disaster recovery plan outlines the resources, actions and data required to reinstate technology infrastructure and resume operations after a disaster. This typically involves preserving critical data through backups and replicating systems at an alternate recovery site. When a disruption occurs, disaster recovery is activated to restore systems from backup data and shift operations from the primary production site to the recovery site.
Disaster recovery components
A comprehensive disaster recovery plan incorporates multiple components working together, including:
- Backups – Regular backups of important data, applications, configs and systems
- Secondary infrastructure – Alternate physical servers, networks, power systems
- Replication – Copying data to offsite servers in real time
- HA clusters – Groups of servers that provide automated failover
- Virtualization – Hosting virtual servers that can move across hosts
- Backup power – Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and generators
- Remote access – Secure VPN access to systems from any location
- Alternate facilities – Recovery sites with space, power and connectivity
- Staff training – Personnel skilled in emergency procedures
- Testing – Regularly exercising and evaluating DR plans
These capabilities working together aim to restart IT operations quickly while minimizing data loss and service disruption during outages.
What is IT security?
IT security refers to the policies, controls and safeguards implemented to protect computer systems, networks and data from unauthorized access, vulnerabilities and threats. The goals of IT security include:
- Confidentiality – Protecting sensitive information from unauthorized visibility
- Integrity – Safeguarding the accuracy of data and software
- Availability – Ensuring systems and data can be accessed when needed
IT security utilizes a layered defense model to secure the technology stack from end to end. This includes measures like:
- Firewalls – Monitoring and controlling network traffic
- Endpoint security – Hardening devices against malware
- Access controls – Managing user permissions to systems/data
- Encryption – Encoding data to prevent unauthorized access
- Network segmentation – Isolating systems from each other
- Vulnerability management – Detecting and patching flaws
- Security monitoring – Logging and analyzing activity
- Incident response – Investigating and remediating events
- User education – Training personnel on security best practices
Effective IT security requires regularly assessing risks, implementing layered controls and continually monitoring systems to identify and respond to threats.
The relationship between disaster recovery and IT security
There is significant overlap between disaster recovery and IT security. While their scopes and approaches differ, disaster recovery and IT security complement each other in important ways:
Overlap in tools and technology
Many of the same tools and technologies are utilized for both disaster recovery and IT security, including:
- Backups – Used in disaster recovery and for recovering from malicious data destruction or ransomware.
- Firewalls and network access controls – Help secure networks from threats and segment recovery infrastructure.
- Encryption – Protects data at rest and in motion for security and disaster recovery needs.
- Network monitoring – Essential for detecting security incidents and system outages.
- Virtualization – Allows quick recovery of systems and isolates environments.
Because disaster recovery and IT security share many common technologies, coordination between these teams and plans is critical.
Overlapping business requirements
Disaster recovery and IT security also serve many of the same business needs:
- Minimizing downtime – Both focus on maintaining continuous system availability.
- Preventing data loss – Protecting against data destruction from malware, corruption and disasters.
- Recovering from incidents – Restoring systems compromised by hackers or damaged in outages.
- Meeting compliance – Satisfying legal requirements around security, privacy and recovery.
- Securing infrastructure – Safeguarding on-premises and cloud platforms.
Because disaster recovery and security both satisfy critical business needs, integrating these practices is key.
Is disaster recovery a component of IT security?
While disaster recovery and IT security focus on different objectives, disaster recovery is considered an essential component of a comprehensive IT security program. The reasons disaster recovery falls under the IT security umbrella include:
Disaster recovery addresses security threats
Many of the most serious IT security threats necessitate disaster recovery. These include:
- Ransomware – Malware that encrypts data until ransom is paid, requiring restoration from backup.
- Data destruction – Hackers corrupting or deleting data, needing data recovery.
- Denial of Service (DoS) – Attacks overwhelm systems, requiring restarting from backups.
- Fire, floods, power outages – Natural disasters causing destruction requiring IT restoration.
Because disaster recovery focuses on recovering from these damaging events, it directly contributes to IT security.
Disaster recovery supports IT security operations
The capabilities provided by disaster recovery are essential for key security operations tasks including:
- Forensic investigation – Using backups to restore systems to pre-breach states for analysis.
- Malware remediation – Rebuilding infected systems from trusted images.
- Log retention – Storing logs remotely to analyze past security events.
- Evidence preservation – Maintaining data needed for legal proceedings.
By facilitating these activities, disaster recovery enhances security defenses and response.
Disaster recovery supports compliance
Most data security regulations and standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GLBA and SOX include requirements around recovering data and systems. By implementing compliant disaster recovery controls, organizations can satisfy these regulatory obligations.
Disaster recovery validates security controls
Testing disaster recovery plans also serves as a way of validating critical security controls around backups, redundancy, access controls and monitoring. Errors discovered during DR testing can reveal gaps that increase vulnerability.
For these reasons, while disaster recovery and IT security remain distinct disciplines, disaster recovery is considered a fundamental component of a complete information security program.
How to align disaster recovery and IT security
To maximize the effectiveness of disaster recovery and IT security, close coordination is required in these key areas:
Policies and procedures
DR and security policies and processes should be integrated where possible. This ensures consistency in areas like:
- Backup schedules, retention and testing
- Incident response and forensics procedures
- Compliance with regulations
- Third-party risk management
Where feasible, common technologies should be leveraged including:
- Backup systems
- Firewalls, VPNs and network security
- Security monitoring and analytics
- Encryption key management
This reduces costs while maximizing coverage across both disciplines.
Disaster recovery infrastructure should be integrated within the overall security environment. This involves measures such as:
- Isolating DR infrastructure in secure network segments
- Hardening DR systems against attack
- Maintaining coherent access control policies across primary and DR sites
- Encrypting replication traffic between sites
Disaster recovery testing should include components validating security controls including:
- Validating system integrity after recovery
- Testing access controls on recovered systems
- Confirming encryption/key management interoperability
- Verifying monitoring and alerting functions
This ensures DR effectiveness while identifying security gaps.
Response protocols should ensure coordination between security and disaster recovery teams in events like:
- Detecting an cyber attack or data breach
- Initiating disaster recovery for ransomware or data loss
- Assessing system integrity after restoration
- Preserving evidence for forensics
Aligning response procedures enables an agile, unified reaction.
Consider cross-training staff across DR and security to provide overlapping skills. Also ensure cooperation through measures like:
- Including security staff in disaster recovery exercises
- Reviewing disaster recovery plans for security issues
- Sharing threat intelligence that may impact DR plans
This builds an integrated team leveraging shared knowledge.
View budgets for disaster recovery and IT security holistically. Look for opportunities to gain efficiencies by funding initiatives that serve both domains like:
- Backup systems with security capabilities built-in
- Hardened, encrypted replication technologies
- Converged security and system monitoring tools
This reduces overall costs while maximizing cross-functional value.
Take an integrated approach to risk management by:
- Including disaster recovery in IT security risk assessments
- Analyzing the impact of risks on achieving disaster recovery objectives
- Prioritizing mitigations that address both security and availability needs
This ensures critical risks are not missed when operating in silos.
Challenges of aligning disaster recovery and IT security
While close disaster recovery and IT security alignment provides many benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks and implementation challenges to consider:
Greater integration across DR and security can add complexity to policies, technologies and processes. This requires additional coordination and diligence to implement correctly.
Comprehensively testing integrated disaster recovery and security capabilities may be difficult or disruptive. Streamlined testing procedures may be required.
Merging diverse teams with different perspectives can lead to conflicts if not managed carefully. Leadership must reinforce collaboration.
With shared budgets, disaster recovery or security needs could potentially be deprioritized. Appropriate cost allocation is necessary.
Converging previously separate teams and technologies may reduce agility. Ways of maintaining flexibility may be required.
Interconnecting disaster recovery and security systems can increase common weak points that could be exploited. Compartmentalization may still be beneficial in some areas.
With sufficient planning and oversight, these risks can be managed to gain the benefits of alignment while minimizing downsides.
Disaster recovery and IT security frameworks
Various information security and disaster recovery frameworks and standards provide guidance on integrating these practices. Key examples include:
NIST Cybersecurity Framework
Published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Cybersecurity Framework provides guidelines and best practices for managing cyber risks. The Recovery function directly addresses integrating disaster recovery and IT security capabilities.
The ISO 27031 standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides guidance on coordinating information security and business continuity across an enterprise. It outlines an integrated approach to managing availability, confidentiality and integrity risks.
SANS DISASTER RECOVERY
The SANS Institute provides a DISASTER RECOVERY security assessment framework containing requirements for aligning disaster recovery practices with data security objectives across different regulatory regimes.
Developed by ISACA, COBIT helps organizations govern IT activities to achieve business goals. The framework integrates practices for enterprise IT security and resilience under a shared risk management approach.
The resilience cycle model provides a method to visualize the process of continually assessing, establishing, maintaining, reviewing and improving resilience capabilities. This supports adaptive integration of disaster recovery and IT security over time.
These and other guidelines provide flexible approaches that can be tailored to integrate disaster recovery and IT security for diverse organizational needs.
Disaster recovery and IT security are distinct yet tightly aligned disciplines. Both focus on protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of IT systems and data – though from different perspectives. While disaster recovery concentrates on restoring services after incidents, IT security aims to prevent them proactively.
However, disaster recovery provides essential capabilities that enable key security functions like forensic investigation and malware remediation. And IT security helps safeguard the infrastructure underpinning disaster recovery systems. Integrating these practices is crucial for building robust, resilient IT capabilities able to both withstand and recover from destructive events.
By aligning their strategies, infrastructures, technologies and personnel – while minding important implementation considerations – organizations can maximize the effectiveness of their disaster recovery and IT security investments. When coordinated properly, these critical disciplines reinforce each other – enhancing availability and security across the enterprise.