War games aren’t just for movies. In fact, they have a place in every business, up through the C-suite. When our experts from IBM Emergency Response Services (ERS) reported on the top developments they’d seen in 2015 engagements in the recent IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly, the rise in prominence of the CISO role and the prevalence of security concerns in the boardroom was one of the biggest trends for the year.

The CISO Enters the Fray

This isn’t just more face time for the CISO, however: It’s making security a priority for every department in the organization. Our ERS experts facilitated a range of engagements, from incident response planning to conducting workshops, to provide first responder-type training. These were followed by the run-through of custom-developed incident scenarios or a tabletop cyber war game.

The necessity for these war games goes beyond CISO and IT preparedness because the effects of a single incident can be devastating to the business. Although the impact may not be directly tied to dives in stock price, damages to multiple areas of the business can happen within hours of an attack.

The Players

The CISO and the security department identify an attack that exfiltrates sensitive data and shuts down parts of the internal network. The CISO alerts the chief officers and board of directors. Now what?

  • The chief executive officer is dealing with media attention and internal repercussions of operational shutdowns, among a myriad of other issues.
  • The chief information officer is working to restore internal communications and applications to get the business running again. Hopefully the backups are recent and complete because production databases were erased in the attack.
  • The chief marketing officer is doing damage control as news that cyberattackers are taking down the organization starts spreading. The CMO is also dealing with channel communication to business partners who are affected by the shutdown and leaked information.
  • The chief legal counsel is hit on multiple fronts since the legal department is dealing with law enforcement to investigate the incident, as well as repercussions from the theft of intellectual property from flagship products and potential litigation as sensitive client information is posted to public domains.
  • The chief sales officer is dealing with angry customers and business partners who want to terminate contracts while bolstering the existing pipeline that is impacted by the media attention.
  • The chief financial officer is revising forecasts to account for potential lost business and higher operational costs from the downtime and remediation.

Download the complete IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly – 4Q 2015

Le Clapotis in Action

With all that action happening for the main players, we start to see how an event in one area affects another. The downtime for the CIO’s internal communication systems can affect the CMO’s ability to respond to inquiries in a timely manner, which affects customer perception. In scientific terms, the overlapping ripples of these activities in the same area are known as le clapotis, a term coined by French physicist Joseph Valentin Boussinesq.

In extreme cases, clapotis gaufré, or waffled clapotis, occurs as the ripples amplify each other. The individual crests created at the intersections and the resultant vortices can erode material from the surrounding structure until it breaks down completely. In our example, this can occur if the company is quick to assign blame on an external vendor based on preliminary findings only to find the real cause of the breach was an insider. This can lead to erosion of consumer confidence, worsening partner relations and potential litigation.

In some cases, though, partial clapotis can happen: The ripples reflect off the surrounding areas and dissipate. How can a company achieve partial clapotis rather than the destructive ripple effect?

Making Fewer Waves

Because no company has precognition of when an incident might occur, the best way to minimize damage from a breach is to have an incident response plan in place. These plans need to be maintained, refreshed and practiced regularly. Knowing clear lanes of responsibility for each department is essential to avoid missteps, prevent premature blame placing and minimize the impact of the incident on the day-to-day operations of the business.

Practicing the plan is a key component; that’s where the war game scenario comes in. It may feel wasteful to spend time planning for what may never happen or may not shake out exactly as planned, but having the muscle memory so everyone knows their role and the order in which things need to happen is an advantage to minimizing disruption and maximizing recovery. Without a plan, everyone may throw rocks in the pond at the same time. With a plan, the team knows who is on the task so the ripples are minimized.

To learn more about other trends our experts have seen in the wild, download the latest security research from IBM X-Force.

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