A business continuity plan is a critical component of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. It outlines the policies, procedures, and plans in place to help the business continue operating in the event of a cyber attack or other IT security incident. Having a solid continuity plan can help minimize downtime and disruption to business operations if the organization’s systems or data become compromised.
Why is a business continuity plan important for cybersecurity?
A business continuity plan for cybersecurity helps ensure an organization can respond effectively to and recover from a security breach or IT systems failure. Some key reasons a continuity plan is important include:
- Helps maintain business operations – A continuity plan helps the business continue critical functions and minimize disruption to customers/clients.
- Supports incident response – It provides a framework for responding quickly and effectively to contain a cyberattack.
- Meets compliance requirements – Regulations like HIPAA require healthcare organizations to have contingency plans for data breaches or system outages.
- Reduces costs of downtime – Outages can result in significant financial losses for businesses. An effective continuity plan helps limit these costs.
- Protects reputation – Quickly responding to and recovering from incidents protects the trust and confidence customers have in the business.
Having robust continuity planning for cyber incidents helps facilitate a rapid return to normal operations. It demonstrates an organization’s commitment to managing risk, protecting critical assets, and serving customers even in the face of an attack.
Key elements of a business continuity plan for cybersecurity
An effective business continuity plan will include a number of important elements, covering pre-planning, incident response, and post-incident recovery. Major components include:
Conducting a risk assessment focused on cybersecurity helps inform the overall continuity planning process. This involves identifying potential threats, vulnerabilities, and estimated business impact if systems and/or data are compromised. Often called a business impact analysis (BIA), this process helps prioritize systems and resources to focus on in the plan based on their criticality to operations.
Incident response plan
The incident response plan outlines the immediate actions the organization will take in the event of a security incident like a data breach, malware infection, or distributed denial of service attack. It designates who will coordinate the response, as well as processes for investigating, containing the incident, eradicating threats, and gathering evidence.
Cyber insurance policies
Having cyber insurance or data breach insurance can help hedge against costs incurred from security incidents. Policies can cover elements like incident response support services, lost income, regulatory fines, customer notification expenses, PR crisis management, and hardware/software repair or replacement.
Public relations plan
A plan focused on public relations and communication outlines how the organization will communicate about an incident with customers, employees, shareholders, regulators, partners, and other external stakeholders. Quick and transparent communication helps maintain trust and minimize reputation damage.
Maintaining recent backups of critical systems and data and storing them offline helps ensure this information can be restored quickly if compromised. This is essential for fast recovery after an incident like ransomware.
Alternate work locations
Identifying alternative work sites or facilities employees can utilize if the primary location is inaccessible supports business continuity. Options like working remotely from home, relocating to a backup office site, or shifting work to the cloud can maintain productivity.
Vendor contacts list
A current contact list for vendors and contractors critical to operations helps accelerate the response process. This includes providers like cybersecurity forensic analysts, PR specialists, hardware suppliers, and data recovery services.
Conducting regular cybersecurity and incident response training ensures employees understand their role in executing on the continuity plan. Exercises like annual tabletop simulations of breach scenarios also improve readiness.
The continuity plan should be formally documented and easily accessible. Many organizations place key details onto laminated cards or posters for easy reference during crises. Plans should be evaluated and updated regularly as the organization and threat landscape evolves.
Example business continuity plan outline
Below is an example table of contents showing the high-level elements often included in a cybersecurity-focused business continuity plan:
|Plan Maintenance Procedures|
|Business Impact Analysis Results|
|Incident Response Plan|
|– Detection & Assessment Procedures|
|– Response Activation|
|– Incident Containment Strategies|
|– Eradication & Recovery Steps|
|– Forensic Procedures & Evidence Gathering|
|– IT Systems Recovery|
|– Returning to Normal Operations|
|Cyber Insurance Policies|
|Crisis Communications & Public Relations Plan|
|Secure Data & Systems Backup Overview|
|Workforce Continuity Strategies|
|– Remote Work/Telecommuting|
|– Alternate Facility Plans|
|Vendor & Service Provider Contact List|
|Staff Training & Exercise Plans|
|Plan Appendices & Supporting Documents|
The executive summary provides a high-level overview of the continuity plan, summarizes key elements, and outlines the organization’s priorities for maintaining operations during cyber incidents.
This section outlines how the plan will be regularly reviewed, updated, and distributed. Details on the annual schedule for testing, training, and exercise participation should also be defined.
Business impact analysis
Results from the BIA identify the organization’s critical business functions, systems, and resources based on incident impact. These help inform incident response and recovery prioritization.
Incident response plan
The detailed incident response plan provides procedures for detecting incidents, responding based on incident severity, containing impacts, eradicating threats, gathering forensic evidence, restoring systems, and eventually returning to normal operations.
Crisis communications plan
This section outlines strategies and procedures for communicating with internal and external parties during and after an incident. Sample press releases, holding statements, social media posts, and talking points should be defined.
Details on the organization’s secure data and systems backups help underscore their importance for quick recovery after incidents like ransomware or data corruption occur.
Alternate work arrangements for staff including telecommuting, shifting operations to the cloud, or moving to a secondary site enable workflow continuity during outages.
The vendor and service provider contact list has phone numbers, emails, and off-hours emergency contacts for critical suppliers needed in response and recovery.
Training and exercises
Plans for orienting staff to continuity procedures and testing via tabletop or simulated breach exercises improves readiness. Training should be required annually at minimum.
Appendices like specific IT disaster recovery plans, equipment inventories, and samples of forms or reports used in response may supplement the core plan.
Example incident response process
A sample high-level incident response process that could be outlined in a business continuity plan is described below:
Detection and analysis
- Threat detected by IT/security monitoring tools, reported by staff or external parties
- Response team investigates and performs initial impact assessment
- Determine if incident warrants plan activation based on protocols
Activation and containment
- Notify response team members per call tree or other protocols
- Incident commander assumes role as lead coordinator
- Isolate and shutdown compromised systems as appropriate to contain incident
- Execute any needed quarantine or blocking steps like restricting account access
- Determine original attack vector and take steps to block
- Remove malware, corrupted files, or unauthorized access
- Work with forensic analysts as needed to study artifacts
- Begin IT systems and data restoration using backups
- Restore business systems and operations in order of priority per BIA
- Confirm restoration through testing and verification
- Return to normal operations once recovery objectives met
- Conduct post-incident review to identify improvements
Developing, maintaining, and testing a robust business continuity plan is an indispensable part of managing cybersecurity risk. An effective plan provides a framework for responding quickly to limit the impacts of an attack and outlines proven strategies for restoring normal operations. While no plan can eliminate all uncertainty or disruption, continuity planning represents an important investment that can significantly mitigate the potential consequences of cyber incidents.