14 September 2023
Expert Insights

Cyber Crisis Management: how to respond to cyberattacks?

Publié par Arnaud Le Men

Cyber crisis definition

A cyber crisis has become an unavoidable reality for all organizations with a digital presence. It is defined as a critical situation resulting from a successful cyberattack. These attacks aim to compromise the security of data, infrastructure, and computer systems and most often manifest through major incidents such as ransomware attacks, data breaches, and fraud, posing a threat to the continuity of businesses and institutions.

In the face of these threats, and organizations must be responsive and prepared. Swift detection and response to a cyberattack can help mitigate damage and operational disruptions, as well as maintain the trust of customers and partners.

Anticipating the cyber risks to which the organization is exposed, establishing robust crisis management strategies, and training teams ready to respond are among the key elements that enable organizations to navigate a cyber crisis and emerge from it with enhanced resilience and digital security.

The importance of cyber crisis management

Identify the primary threats

Carried out by various malicious actors, cyberattacks and their motivations vary. Among the most common objectives are financial gain, industrial espionage, the pursuit of intelligence and sensitive information, or even the desire to disrupt computer systems for ideological or political reasons, which is referred to as hacktivism.

Identifying the primary threats and understanding their motivations enables cyber crisis management to target the prevention and preparedness measures to be implemented according to various threat scenarios.

The various types of cyberattacks and cyber crises

Cyberattacks come in various forms, constantly evolving as attackers reinvent themselves to find new modi operandi. Each attack is different and exploits different vulnerabilities to gain access to organizations’ computer systems and infrastructure.

However, among the most common attacks are phishing attacks (which deceive internet users to obtain information), malware attacks that encrypt data and demand payment (viruses, ransomware), and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks (which flood servers with traffic to make them inaccessible).
Understanding attackers’ tactics and the types of attacks a company faces during a cyber crisis allows for the preparation of appropriate response and recovery strategies, thereby minimizing the impact of the attack.

Who is involved in a cyber crisis ?

Far beyond the technical actors, a cyber crisis involves a wide range of stakeholders, from the attacker to internal members of the organization.

To prepare for the management of a cyber crisis, it is essential to understand the various actors involved and their roles in crisis management. Indeed, employees who are not trained in cyber culture could inadvertently play into the hands of hackers and harm the organization.

For this reason, raising awareness about cybersecurity among the organization’s employees is one of the cornerstones in both preventing and managing cyber crises. Companies must implement regular cybersecurity awareness and education programs, as well as clearly communicate a cybersecurity policy, to teach all internal stakeholders to recognize potential threats and report information.

It is essential to keep in mind that 90% of attacks begin with human error, including what is known as ‘brain hacking.’ Therefore, training in good cyber practices significantly reduces the risk of human error and serves as the initial defense against the increasing cyberattacks.

How to establish an effective cyber crisis management strategy ?

Every organization faces different cyber risks based on its size, market, and activities. Each crisis management strategy must, therefore, be tailored to the company’s crisis management needs. However, to develop an effective crisis strategy, certain essential elements need to be established, regardless of the organization’s size or industry.

Such a strategy relies on meticulous planning specifically designed to address the types of attacks to which the organization is most likely to be exposed. The cyber crisis management plan should outline the steps to be taken in the event of an incident and adapt to various possible scenarios. It should include threat identification protocols, prioritization, internal and external communication, coordination of the various teams involved, and business continuity.

Successful crisis management requires the adequate allocation of human, technological, and financial resources to handle critical situations. Clearly defining the responsibilities of each stakeholder in the event of a crisis within the organization, especially within the crisis management team, is also necessary to ensure effective coordination during a cyber incident.

crisis management extends beyond internal organizational teams, and so it is crucial to ensure effective collaboration among all stakeholders, both internal and external. Whether it involves IT suppliers, partners, government agencies, or regulatory bodies, clear and transparent communication will facilitate the coordination of response efforts, information sharing, and the implementation of the devised plan to mitigate crisis-related damages.

However, all these recommendations remain purely theoretical, and in crisis management, practical experience is the cornerstone for learning how to face and overcome a crisis caused by a cyberattack. Organizing crisis exercises in real conditions, either on an occasional or regular basis, remains the most effective way to test the efficiency of established crisis management strategies. Crisis management exercises also help identify vulnerabilities, improve the decision-making process, and strengthen coordination among the various parties involved.

Essential steps to implement a crisis management strategy

Risk Assessment and Preparedness: before the crisis

An essential asset for the organization’s stability, crisis management should be prepared long before the occurrence of a cyber attack. Organizations must adopt a proactive approach and rigorously prepare for crisis management in advance.

This preparation primarily involves a comprehensive understanding of your cyber risks, your environment, your professional, geopolitical, and cyber context, as well as your assets (physical, intangible, human, business). You must be able to identify potential threats, and for this purpose, constant economic, political, and cyber monitoring is necessary.

Conducting risk assessments and prioritizing them is also necessary to develop clear and suitable procedures.

Anticipating the organizational aspects of a crisis is also of paramount importance: meticulously plan the staff dedicated to crisis management logistics, and consider everyday life aspects—all of these factors help to face the crisis and demonstrate cyber resilience.

In this process, establishing a decision-making chain is imperative: it should be clearly defined, with designated responsible parties and precisely established organizational and management procedures. The decision-making chain in crisis management is divided into two crisis cells, each with its specific role: a decision-making cell, bringing together members of the leadership and IT representatives, and an operational cell, focusing on technical aspects.

Cyber crisis management is not merely about incident response; it represents a proactive approach that can transform crises into opportunities for strengthening and development. Investing in meticulous preparation, allocating resources, and establishing a decision-making chain can make cyber crisis management a true strategic pillar in cybersecurity.

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Detection and Response to a cyber attack: managing the crisis

At the heart of a cyber crisis, detection and response take center stage, determining the path to crisis resolution and business resumption.

Swiftly identifying cyberattacks by detecting any anomalies in IT systems (inaccessible servers, massive file changes, sudden appearance of a ReadMe document) helps limit the damage caused by the incident. The earlier an attack is detected, the lighter its impact on the organization.

While the attack, the carefully crafted crisis management plan from the preparatory exercises becomes the guiding framework. It is crucial to follow the communication protocol (internal and external) to efficiently gather and disseminate information to employees and service providers. Initiating proactive crisis communication is recommended to inform, reassure, and anticipate potential media inquiries. Consider alternative communication channels, as the usual ones may be compromised during a crisis.

Containing and mitigating the attack are paramount: isolate infected parts of the network, disconnect the system from the internet, engage an internal or external Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), and safeguard your backups to prevent contamination, all actions to take upon detecting an attack.
Swift deployment of the crisis management team is also fundamental. Following the defined protocol while ensuring that Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is up-to-date helps anticipate the necessary steps to restore your information system.

Through experience, crisis management and cyber resilience experts at Erium have identified seven key points that makes crisis management and resolution easier .

The first hours of a crisis require crucial decisions: Should you involve your insurance? Should you hire an external service provider? Have the criteria for activating the crisis management team been met? Should you inform the relevant authorities? In the case of a ransomware attack, should negotiations be initiated, or should other alternatives be explored?

Maintaining control of time and communicating realistic estimates to stakeholders within your ecosystem is essential. Here are the questions that will be most recurring during the cyber crisis: when will operations resume? when will customers be served again? when will production be restored? when can we anticipate a return to normal?

A methodical and proactive approach ensures that the company navigates the cyber crisis as effectively as possible and emerges from it stronger and better prepared for the future.

Anticipating risks to ensure effective response

While most organizations aim to avoid cyber crises and prefer not to contemplate the possibility of facing one, it is, nevertheless, necessary to anticipate and understand the risks to which the organization is exposed in order to respond better when a cyber crisis occurs.

A well-founded anticipation relies on several essential pillars. Firstly, it is vital to know the exact context of the company and identify the risks to which it is most exposed. Sensitizing and even educating employees to cyber dangers and threats is a vital step in creating a culture of security and minimizing the risk of incidents. Tools such as Cyber Investigation, for assessing the cyber maturity of employees and guiding appropriate measures, can be the solution.

To enhance cyber defenses, real-time attack simulations by tools like BlackNoise’s Breach and Attack Simulator (BAS) facilitate vulnerability understanding, while measuring and managing the organization’s cyber maturity.The ‘zero trust’ model also strengthens the security posture of organizations that have adopted it.

Finally, choosing cyber insurance tailored to the specific needs of the company completes this proactive approach, ensuring an effective response in the event of a crisis.

Anticipating cyber risks proves to be the foundation for an effective response to today’s digital challenges.

Tools and Solutions for Cyber Crisis Management

Effective crisis management that ensures an organization’s resilience in the face of a cyber crisis relies on several tools and solutions.

The appointment of a competent risk manager is crucial for crisis management and prioritizing risks.During the crisis, tools like Shadline, which ensure the continuity of vital activities by providing instant access to data in all circumstances and secure communication, should also be integrated into the organization’s IT systems.

The establishment of internal communication and crisis management plans that define appropriate procedures and responses in the event of a cyber incident is vital for crisis management.
Finally, real-world crisis simulation remains the best way to optimize the speed and effectiveness of the actors involved in a cyber crisis situation.

By leveraging these various solutions, an organization can better prepare itself to face the challenges of a cyber crisis and maintain its vital operations, even during the crisis period.

Conclusion: best practices for Cyber Crisis Management

An unavoidable imperative for businesses and institutions operating in an occasionally hostile and constantly evolving digital environment, effective crisis management relies on a few essential pillars that are crucial to understand.

Sound cyber crisis management requires continuous employee awareness, conducting crisis management exercises in real conditions, and meticulous planning of a crisis management plan.

Allocating the necessary technical, human, and financial resources to crisis management strategies enables organizations to demonstrate cyber resilience and minimize the impact of a cyber incident.