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Tips for keeping your business alive during the next disaster

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Soni Lampert is the principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. in Santa Rosa.

KLH is an underwriter of North Bay Business Journal's Protecting Your Business Cybersecurity Conference (nbbj.news/security18) in Santa Rosa on Sept. 28.

Disasters seem to occur more frequently than ever — cybercrime, fires, earthquakes, floods. Planning for disaster scenarios has become a fixture in all aspects of business and nowhere is it more important than in an organization’s IT strategy and system resiliency.

A well-executed disaster recovery plan can be the difference between a business recovering from a disaster or closing its doors. Properly executed, a disaster plan enables a business to continue to serve its customers, produce its products and meet its business commitments to the greatest extent possible, as quickly as possible, following disaster events.

Ideally, preparing for a disaster begins with the design of the IT system. In this scenario, disaster recovery is part of the business’s overall IT strategy and system resiliency is engineered in from the beginning. Each service critical to the operation of the business such as email, file storage, e-commerce sites and business applications is identified. Multiple ways to assure continued access or prompt return to service are built-in.

Conducting a risk assessment is a good first step to evaluate the current state of the organization’s disaster preparedness. It should identify:

• Business services critical to the company’s operation and the timeframe in which disruption of service would cause damage to the business.

• How the services are delivered to the business — secondary or tertiary means of obtaining the service if the primary delivery mechanism is compromised.

• Recovery time objectives for all IT services.

• Perceived risk of damage to the organization — monetary, business reputation and market share, should services become unavailable.

• Regulatory and compliance guidelines, if any, that could be impacted.

The results of the assessment provide a business framework for decision making and options for improvements to disaster planning. This assessment will allow you to balance budget realities against quantified risks.

As with most IT solutions there are good, better and best solutions for dealing with disasters. A well done assessment will help in identifying appropriate trade-offs, balancing potential business impacts, business liability and budgetary realities. Being unable to move immediately to the “best” disaster recovery options should not deter making improvements.

Recommended practice would include:

• Backup of data and system configurations. Backups permit restoration of data should a facility or IT equipment be destroyed, fail, or become compromised. Routinely scheduled backups, monitored for completeness, need to be performed at intervals appropriate to the business, but not less frequently than daily.

Backups should be “off-sited” to a secondary location, ideally geographically distant from the business location, i.e. outside of an earthquake zone. This is a “must have” to assure business continuity.

(Backups must be tested by periodic restoration testing. A backup is only as good as the results of the last successful restore.)

• Imaged systems. Entire servers are imaged and these digital images are sent to offsite repositories. Restoring an imaged system takes considerably less time than rebuilding hardware and restoring data files.

• IT recovery sites are identified and engaged. In accordance with the business’s return to service objectives, these sites will contain IT resources configured and ready to be put into production should the need arise. These locations can provide fully redundant systems where data is replicated on an ongoing basis or may simply offer hardware resources onto which applications and data can be restored.

Soni Lampert is the principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. in Santa Rosa.

KLH is an underwriter of North Bay Business Journal's Protecting Your Business Cybersecurity Conference (nbbj.news/security18) in Santa Rosa on Sept. 28.

• Network redundancy is established. Redundant equipment and circuits (access to internet, phones and multi-site office connectivity) are deployed to access secondary and tertiary service should a primary service provider experience disruption. Systems are implemented to automatically failover should primary services become unavailable.

• Hosted services may be selected. Hosted networks and applications reside in data centers which, by design have fire suppression systems, built-in redundancies for circuit and power failures and building security. Hosted services often have multiple locations with resources that can be accessed should the initial service location become compromised.

• A written disaster recovery plan is created and communicated to stakeholders. The plan outlines what the business will consider “a disaster” and assigns responsibility for business functions during a declared disaster scenario. Primary, secondary and tertiary communication mechanisms are identified. Restoration of IT services is prioritized and the planned response for each service is documented.

• Disaster response is tested. A simulation of various disaster scenarios is conducted periodically and disaster plans updated and communicated accordingly.

In the era of cybercrime, we see many IT disaster scenarios that are not tied to larger, natural phenomenon. These disasters are perpetrated by criminals and, unlike fires and floods, we can more actively and directly defend our businesses against these events.

Cyber disasters are of many types. They can be external threats or those that come from within, both intentional and unintentional. Cyber disasters range from those where criminals hack in to a network to steal sensitive data or to appropriate resources for illegal activity to attacks that trick users into taking actions to compromise the business.

Some of these attacks hold businesses for ransom, requiring that they pay in order to regain access to their data. Securing IT systems against cybercrime events is key to preventing, minimizing or quickly addressing disasters of this type.

A multi-layered approach to security is essential to thwarting cyber disaster or minimizing its impact. In this area, it is important to consider:

• Managed application of security patches for servers and workstations. Security patches are released by vendors as they become available. Application of these on a consistent basis can prevent many cyber disasters.

• Internal IT policy to define proper employee use of the business’s IT resources. This policy should define not only acceptable use of the system, it should also include information regarding the systematic process whereby proper use is confirmed and the internal reporting process should use be compromised.

• Strong, secure passwords that are not shared and are changed monthly or quarterly.

• Perimeter protection to prevent intrusion into the business’s network. Firewalls perform this basic security function. These devices are updated on a regular basis to ensure protection against current threats.

• Web content filtering to minimize intentional or inadvertent connection to sites known to introduce viruses into your environment or to take control of key elements of your network.

• Monitoring systems to detect possible intrusions and threats. These systems can be configured to auto-remediate possible threats.

• Continuing education to assist users in identifying phish attempts which are designed to trick them into allowing attackers into the business’s system or to trick them into activities such as wiring funds to those posing as legitimate suppliers, or sending personally identifiable information to those posing as company executives or payroll services.

• Protection of mobile devices to provide the same level of security when working remotely that a user would have while working at a company facility.

Whether manmade or naturally occurring, disasters are unnerving. The consequences to a business are substantive. In addition to obvious monetary and reputational impacts, regulatory and compliance guidelines can be compromised and market share eroded. Having a well-defined IT strategy for handling the difficult tasks of disaster recovery can make these most difficult times manageable.