What is business continuity in security?

Business continuity in security refers to the strategies and plans that organizations put in place to ensure that critical business operations can continue during and after a security disruption or cyber attack. It is a key part of an organization’s overall security and risk management approach.

Why is business continuity important for security?

Cyber attacks and security breaches are becoming more frequent and sophisticated. Even with robust security measures in place, no organization is completely immune from a disruption. Business continuity planning enables organizations to protect critical assets and recover as quickly as possible when incidents do occur.

Without effective business continuity planning, even minor security disruptions can result in significant financial, operational and reputational damage. Customer data and intellectual property can be lost. Vital services and production capabilities may be halted for prolonged periods. And brands and stakeholder confidence can take a major hit.

An incident response plan focuses mainly on immediate triage and mitigation when an attack unfolds. Business continuity looks at the bigger picture – empowering the organization to maintain or quickly resume critical functions during the disruption and in the aftermath.

Elements of business continuity in security

Some key elements to business continuity planning for security include:

  • Risk assessment – Identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities that could impact critical assets and processes.
  • Business impact analysis – Assessing the potential consequences and damages associated with disruptions to important business activities and resources.
  • Recovery priorities – Determining the most important operations and assets that must be restored quickly if an outage occurs.
  • Continuity strategies – Developing strategies such as redundancy, failovers, backup systems and alternative processes to minimize interruptions.
  • Incident management – Defining incident response roles, responsibilities and actions to detect, manage and contain disruptions.
  • Communications and crisis management – Establishing crisis communications plans and procedures for internal stakeholders and external partners.
  • Testing and exercises – Running exercises to validate the effectiveness of continuity plans, identify gaps and make improvements.

Performing a business impact analysis

One of the key steps in business continuity planning is performing a business impact analysis (BIA). The BIA assesses the potential quantitative and qualitative impacts of different types of security disruptions to the organization’s most critical business functions and resources.

Criteria examined in a BIA may include:

  • – Maximum tolerable downtime – The time period after which disruptions become unacceptable and start generating severe impacts
  • – Recovery time objectives – The target recovery time for resuming particular operations after a disruption
  • – Impacts and losses associated with downtime – Financial, operational, legal, reputational etc.
  • – Dependency relationships – Interconnected processes and resources

This analysis allows continuity planners to tailor strategies and solutions to minimize the most severe potential damages. It also informs IT disaster recovery plans by defining specific recover point objectives (RPOs) and recover time objectives (RTOs) for systems and data.

Quantitative and qualitative impacts

The BIA examines both quantitative and qualitative potential impacts. Quantitative impacts refer to measurable financial losses, damages and disruptions, such as:

  • – Lost sales, transactions, production capacity and other revenues
  • – Contract penalties and service level agreement violations
  • – Regulatory fines and legal liabilities
  • – Costs to temporarily replace resources, capabilities and real estate
  • – Customer defections and loss of market share

Qualitative impacts are non-financial consequences such as:

  • – Harm to customer and stakeholder confidence, trust and loyalty
  • – Reputational damage and negative publicity
  • – Delayed product launches or business initiatives
  • – Impaired communications and managerial efficiency
  • – Inability to meet compliance obligations

Business impact analysis steps

Conducting a business impact analysis involves several key steps:

  1. Identifying critical business functions – Which processes, services and activities are essential for viability and success?
  2. Determining downtime impacts – What would the quantitative and qualitative consequences be if a function was disrupted?
  3. Linking business functions to technical resources – What people, facilities, technology and information are needed to perform and support key functions?
  4. Estimating recovery priorities and tolerances – How quickly must functions be restored after an outage? Which have the lowest tolerance for downtime?
  5. Reporting and approval – Documenting findings in a BIA report for review and sign-off by leadership.

This analysis creates a hierarchy of critical business functions, with defined recovery timeframes based on their downtime tolerance. The BIA provides a blueprint for continuity planning by revealing vulnerabilities and guiding investment priorities. It is periodically updated as business requirements evolve.

Developing continuity strategies

Armed with the findings of a business impact analysis, planners can develop continuity strategies tailored to the organization’s unique security risks and recovery requirements. Some common strategies include:

1. Backup and recovery

Performing comprehensive backups of critical data, systems, and software that can be restored in the event of corruption, deletion or encryption by malware. Backup regimes align with defined recovery point objectives for different information assets and applications.

2. Redundancy and failover

Maintaining resilient IT infrastructure and business operations with built-in redundancy and failover mechanisms. These may include redundant network links, redundant servers, data mirroring, power backups and hot standby systems that can rapidly kick in if primary resources are compromised.

3. Alternate processing sites

Establishing alternate data centers, cloud infrastructure and work facilities to allow business operations to continue if primary sites are unavailable. These may be owned and operated in-house or contracted from third-party providers.

4. Workplace relocation

Enabling staff to safely work remotely or from alternate facilities during disruptions through capabilities like laptops, secure VPN access, cloud-based apps and telephony services.

5. Supply chain resilience

Collaborating with critical suppliers to ensure they also have robust continuity plans. This is vital for supply chain resilience.

6. Crisis communications

Preparing crisis communications plans and pre-approved messaging templates to quickly and accurately communicate with internal and external stakeholders during disruptions.

7. Skillset redundancy

Accommodating temporary skillset gaps during recovery by cross-training staff in critical functions outside their normal role. This supports personnel redundancy if key staff are unavailable.

Continuity planners assess which combination of these and other strategies offers the best recovery capability for the various business functions and technology assets identified in the BIA.

Developing a business continuity plan

The business continuity plan (BCP) puts the continuity strategies into action. This is a comprehensive procedural document that guides the organization’s response before, during and after disruptions.

Key elements within the plan typically include:

  • Emergency response procedures – Actions to detect, assess and contain incidents.
  • Continuity plan activation – Criteria and process for plan activation.
  • Roles and responsibilities – Documentation of continuity roles, teams and responsibilities.
  • Communications procedures – Internal and external communication plans.
  • Key dependency information – Details of critical internal/external dependencies.
  • Continuity strategies – Instructions for executing continuity strategies like backups, relocations etc.
  • Recovery procedures – Steps to safely resume normal operations when disruption is over.
  • Testing methodology – Processes to regularly test and update the plan.

The BCP factors in various plausible incident scenarios based on risk assessment findings. It aims to establish coordinated continuity processes that help achieve defined recovery time objectives.

Copies of the plan are securely stored in multiple locations for accessibility during disruptions. Employees are made aware of its existence and trained on their individual responsibilities.

Testing and maintaining the business continuity plan

A sound business continuity plan is useless if it is not tested, updated and maintained. Continuity plans must evolve along with the organization’s risk profile, processes and business priorities. Regular testing is crucial to validate the effectiveness of continuity strategies and procedures.

Common ways to test business continuity plans include:

  • Walkthroughs/tabletop exercises – Talk through hypothetical response scenarios to assess planned actions, coordination and decision making.
  • Simulations – Mock continuity plan activation with participants performing assigned continuity duties in a simulated environment.
  • Technical recovery testing – Test the recoverability of systems, data and infrastructure.
  • Full-interrupt tests – Switch to alternate sites/means to perform normal work duties for a defined period.

Testing should involve all relevant stakeholders including management, employees in key continuity roles, technology teams, partners and suppliers. Results are used to identify plan gaps, resource shortfalls, outdated procedures and other areas for improvement.

In addition to testing, business continuity plans are updated whenever there are significant changes to business processes, policies, systems, staff or external risks. Continuity strategies must be reviewed at least annually to confirm they remain suited to evolving business needs and recovery time objectives.

Key business continuity standards and guidelines

There are various industry standards and guidelines that provide best practice recommendations for developing, implementing and auditing business continuity programs. Some key examples include:

  • ISO 22301 – International standard for business continuity management systems including continuity strategies, emergency response, performance evaluation etc.
  • NFPA 1600 – Standard on disaster/emergency management and business continuity programs published by the National Fire Protection Association.
  • ASIS SPC.1-2009 – Business continuity management standard from ASIS International covering continuity planning, plan implementation, maintenance etc.
  • BS 25999 – Now superseded by ISO 22301, BS 25999 was an early standard for business continuity management published by the British Standards Institution.
  • FFIEC BCP Handbook – Business continuity planning guidance for financial institutions published by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC).

These standards and guidelines outline proven approaches, deliverables and success factors for implementing holistic, organization-wide business continuity. They can provide helpful direction and audit criteria for continuity practitioners.

Business continuity challenges

Developing and sustaining robust business continuity capabilities poses some common challenges for organizations:

  • Underestimating downtime impacts – Lack of understanding around the severe damages that can stem from even brief outages of critical functions.
  • Focusing too much on IT – Centering continuity plans on IT and data assets without equal emphasis on business processes and personnel.
  • Lack of support from senior management – Failure to get buy-in and participation from decision-makers.
  • Insufficient testing – Neglecting to thoroughly test plans on a regular basis so weaknesses go undetected.
  • Poor communication – Not keeping employees and external stakeholders adequately informed around continuity plans and procedures.
  • No plan maintenance – Allowing continuity plans to become outdated because they are not updated to reflect business changes.

Ongoing education, testing and plan reviews driven by continuity steering committees can help avoid these pitfalls.

Business continuity career paths

Business continuity management is an established profession with diverse career development opportunities. Some typical business continuity roles include:

  • Business continuity analyst/coordinator – Helps develop, document and coordinate testing of business continuity plans.
  • Business continuity manager – Leads the design, implementation and ongoing management of business continuity programs.
  • Business continuity consultant – Assesses organization’s existing continuity capabilities and provides advice to enhance resilience.
  • Business continuity auditor – Performs independent audits of continuity programs to highlight gaps, risks and areas for improvement.
  • Business continuity trainer – Develops and delivers training to ensure employees understand continuity plans and responsibilities.

There are also opportunities to specialize in closely related domains like crisis management, IT disaster recovery and supply chain risk management. Business continuity roles suit professionals with strengths in areas like risk analysis, project management, process design, change management and problem solving.


Business continuity represents a strategic capability for managing enterprise risk and resilience. It empowers organizations to protect themselves before disruptions strike, respond decisively during crisis situations, and emerge stronger than before. By linking business impact analysis insights to tailored continuity strategies, business continuity planning enables organizations to systematically safeguard their mission-critical operations and reputation.

Robust business continuity management is no longer optional in today’s risk-laden environment. It offers a vital insurance policy for cyber-physical risks that can quickly spiral out of control. When properly funded, tested and maintained, business continuity delivers resilience and confidence even in the face of unplanned disruptions, technology failures and cyber attacks.