The Cyber Battlefield: A Tactical Guide To Preparing For, Engaging in and Triumphing Over Cyberattacks

In the digital age, where information is power, and the battle for data integrity rages on, cyber threats loom like shadowy adversaries, ready to pounce on unsuspecting organizations. These stealthy assailants are relentless, exploiting every vulnerability to breach digital fortresses, wreak havoc and compromise the integrity of business-critical data. In the ever-evolving landscape of cyber warfare, organizations must be fully equipped, prepared for the subduing incursion and swift in their response to emerge victorious.

This strategic guide unfolds in three critical phases: Preparation, Engagement and Triumph — each vital to successful business continuity.

Preparation: Fortify the Cyber Arsenal

Before any battle, you will want to have as many allies and resources on your side as possible but knowing where to find accurate and helpful information can be difficult. In this case, the best place to start is to contact your vendors and ask for both hardening and recovery documentation — to ensure you are following the best practices to mitigate attacks and recover faster.

Acquire Cyber Insurance — Your Financial Bastion

Cyber security insurance is your financial nest egg, your safeguard against financial ruin. Cyber insurance can provide some of the resources needed to recover from the aftermath of a cyberattack or at least lessen the losses. Even more than financial benefits, cyber insurances companies employ and contract the top security experts to be on hand in times of attacks. Many of those industry experts are first line contracts to service the insurance providers, so the providers may be able to get you independent experts faster or who are better than the individuals you may have the ability to engage directly. Beyond the resources provided during and after attacks, these insurance providers generally require companies to meet minimum baseline security which in itself will enforce hardening methods and other best practices across an organization’s environment.

Establish Redundant Communications — The Battle for Connectivity

When the first shots are fired in the digital skirmish, communication lines are often among the first to be severed due to compromised and downed VOIP, email services or the underlying ‘plumbing’ (e.g., DNS/AD) for connecting users to their normal communications platforms. Establishing redundant communication channels is necessary in ensuring that critical messages and communications can still flow through the chaos. These alternate channels are your lifeline when the primary network crumbles under the attack. Keep in mind it’s not just your internal teams that need to be aware of these alternative forms of communication but also the external resources helping in the mitigation and recovery process, especially senior leadership and public relations.

Develop Contingency Plans — A Tactical Reallocation

In an attack, your digital infrastructure may be compromised or confiscated by the authorities. To ensure continuity of operations, you must have contingency plans in place, a strategic fallback to maintain momentum. Redundant systems, failover mechanisms and off-site resilient data backups are your secret weapons to ensure that business goes on. Take time to consider the “If-Then” scenarios you might encounter; example being, if law enforcement or your insurance carrier confiscates your hardware for investigation, then does your company have another site with servers to recover to or can your plan utilize cloud-based resources? How will you transfer the data to this location and what are the expected time to cost ratios in these options?

Engagement: The Cyber Battlefield Unleashed

In the midst of an attack, time is everything in terms of damage, time to recover and revenue lost. The key to early detection is good infrastructure monitoring and reporting. Creating the most effective monitoring plan is creating clear and defined criticality levels, alert chains to the proper stakeholders and tailored thresholds to mitigate alert fatigue.

Halt the Enemy — Swift Isolation

When the alarm bells ring and the digital ramparts are breached, swift action is your primary defense. The top priority is to cut off affected system whether what means physically unplugging network cables, powering off machines or terminating account access, the sooner the better. To stop the enemy in their tracks and prevent the contagion from spreading, having reference guides on hand for dependent systems can make this process exponentially faster. If there is ever any doubt if a component is affected or not, take the safe route and terminate the access.

Call in Reinforcements — Allies in the Digital Trenches

In the fog of cyber warfare, allies are invaluable. Cyber security professionals, vendors, are your comrades on the front lines. Call for reinforcements, they bring the expertise needed to identify, contain and mitigate the damage inflicted by the cyberattack. In addition to paid security professionals and supply vendors, many government agencies have cyber security resources who can help provide guidance and sometimes ransomware keys to get your data back as soon as possible.

Pause Before You Rebuild — A Tactical Regroup

In the wake of a cyberattack, the instinct to quickly rebuild is strong, however, patience is your greatest ally. Before you rebuild, you must analyze how an attack was able to enter your environment to prevent immediate reinfection. Once you seal the cracks in your defenses, then you can begin the admittedly tedious process of resuming business operations.

Triumph: Rising From the Digital Ashes

At this point, you have survived the storm and it’s time to start pivoting from the ‘mitigation’ and ‘alerting’ elements of your business continuity plan towards the ‘recover and resume’ aspects of getting mission critical machines operational. Keep in mind that most attacks are more sophisticated and run multi-tiered schemes. Always be suspicious of everything, especially if it seemed easy to isolate and remove. Many attacks not only have target malicious actions but also do reconnaissance of company data to sell attack kits to future attackers.

Report to Command — Transparency in Leadership

In the aftermath of the attack, expect leaders to seek answers — often before the tactical teams have finished recovery or have complete answers on causality. Transparency and honesty in communication helps to smooth unnecessary friction. Report to management about the expected timeline for recovery, potential costs and any legal or regulatory obligations. Managing their expectations empowers them to make informed decisions in the post-attack landscape.

Restore Methodically — Tactical Recovery

The most important part of recovery is to ensure that your recovery efforts do not reinfect your environment, thereby causing unnecessary extended down time. Many attacks will embed dormant hacks for extended periods of time before causing any real damage. Depending on the malicious code, this could be anywhere from hours to month of gestation or ‘lurking’ time. This means data needs to be examined for both integrity and dormant malicious code. Before directly restoring data to production, use a staged restore approach to first scan and clean the recovery points mitigating the chance your environment will be re-compromised.

Reinforce Strongholds — Fortify the Defense

In the post-attack phase, a meticulous assessment of repositories and network configurations is imperative. There is no one magic bullet that will ensure all malicious code has been cleansed and all backdoors have been shut. Take this time to tighten access controls, conduct exhaustive audits of repositories housing sensitive data and implement enhanced security measures to ensure that something was not missed.

Triumph in the Aftermath: Learning From the Digital Battlefield

Debrief the Troops — Post-Battle Analysis

It’s time to convene the leaders in all departments. Conduct a comprehensive post-mortem analysis to relay the attack chronicles. Take feedback on critical points. What worked well? What faltered? Insights gleaned from this analysis form the foundation for refining your digital security strategy.

Keep a Watchful Eye — Eternal Vigilance

In the realm of cyber security, the war never truly ends. New threats emerge, much like the tactics of a cunning adversary. To stay ahead, implement continuous monitoring and threat detection systems. Adapt your company strategies, regularly update your incident response plans and ensure your personnel are well-versed in the latest security protocols.

Train the Masses — A Well-Prepared Army

A well-trained employee is your greatest asset in cyber warfare. Make them fellow soldiers in your fight by regularly educating everyone on cyber security best practices and the dangers of not following ever evolving guidelines. Train them to recognize phishing attempts, avoid suspicious downloads and understand the ever-evolving threat landscape. Teach them to report anything suspicious regardless of if they think it is worth the company’s time. Create an easy to access reporting process and offer incentivized programs for reporting suspicious operations. Your workforce is an integral part of your cyber security defense and early detection.

The Final Triumph: Mastering the Art of Cyber Warfare

It is worth repeating that the digital battlefield is relentless and cyberattacks grow more sophisticated every day. Yet, with intentional preparation, swift engagement and resilient recovery, organizations can adapt and mitigate damage in an attack. The key to victory lies in continuous adaptation, unwavering vigilance and monitoring and rapid response. In this digital age, your organization’s survival hinges on mastering the art of cyber warfare.

Victory on the Digital Front: Forge Ahead

Cyber threats are unceasing, and the time for action is now. Implement these strategies to safeguard your digital dominion. Acquire cyber insurance, craft a robust incident response plan and educate your staff. For more statistics on cyberattacks check out the Ransomware Trends Report detailing lessons learned from 1200 cyberattack victims.

2023 Global Report
Ransomware Trends
Lessons learned from 1,200 victims
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