What Is Disaster Recovery?


Disaster recovery is broadly defined as an organization's ability to respond to and recover from a catastrophic event that negatively affects its operations or infrastructure. It’s the basis for identifying, evaluating, and mitigating disasters and their subsequent recovery strategies.

In the wake of a cyber attack, teams need to have a disaster recovery plan in place to address problems as promptly and effectively as possible. Without it, every minute wasted can increase the cost of damages and the ability to recover.

Cybersecurity is an increasingly common area where disaster recovery is critical to handling threats. This glossary covers the fundamentals of disaster recovery and what you need to know about having a concrete plan in place.

What Is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

A disaster recovery plan is an organization's strategic documentation and process to restore access to compromised systems and infrastructure after a cyber attack, human error, natural disaster, or other catastrophic events.

It's the systematic methodology by which a team allocates its resources to efficiently regain control over critical data and information systems following a disaster.

How Does It Work?

Disaster recovery works two-fold to both maintain and reestablish critical IT systems and infrastructure following an incident. Maintenance works by properly replicating and backing up data and assets to specific restore points. Recovery is a reactionary effort to regain functionality and control over systems and data that become infected or breached.

A disaster recovery plan can be used to address matters both large and small. These could be specific program issues, like faulty software. Or they could be devastating tragedies, like a system-wide data breach or a pandemic. What makes a disaster recovery plan effective is anticipating threats before they arise and testing different threat scenarios to ensure the plan works.

Essential Elements of a Disaster Recovery Plan

An effective disaster recovery plan addresses an organization's unique assets, infrastructure, and vulnerabilities. While every organization should have a customized plan specific to its needs, several fundamental elements should be considered as part of any disaster recovery plan.

  • Risk Assessment: Teams should thoroughly evaluate all possible threats and weaknesses in the organization's IT infrastructure and target areas of interest that are especially susceptible to cyber attacks.
  • Business Continuity: Determine the procedures and resources that will be utilized to maintain critical business operations in the event of a disaster.
  • Data Archiving, Backups, and Recovery: Document and implement the maintenance processes for regularly backing up critical data and systems, including plans to restore these assets if compromised due to a disaster or attack.
  • Incident Response: Develop a flow of procedures and exercises that clearly articulates how a team should respond to a cyber attack, breach, or disaster, including how to identify and contain the threat, assess damages, and restore affected systems.
  • Communication: A disaster recovery plan for enterprise organizations should include instructions on how to communicate the situation with key stakeholders in the event of an attack. This includes affected employees, customers, vendors, investors, and the media.
  • Training and Education: Build a system to properly train and educate employees on cybersecurity and disaster response best practices, particularly key exercises outlined in an organization's plan and what to be ready for if disaster strikes.
  • Testing and Drills: Consistent disaster recovery plan practice and testing are vital to ensure its effectiveness and that your team is confident in their roles and responsibilities to handle threats as they arise.

Understanding the components of a disaster recovery plan ensures your team can write and test a plan that best meets your organization's or department's demands.

Steps to Create a Disaster Recovery Plan

Cybersecurity and IT-related disaster recovery plans can involve many working parts, from preparation and anticipatory planning to talent and resource allocation when an incident occurs. Dovetailing on the core elements mentioned above, here are some of the key considerations to keep in mind when creating a disaster recovery plan:

  1. Assemble Your Team: Determine the roles and responsibilities across all members of your team as well as various departments within the organization. In short, everyone should know their duties as part of the disaster recovery plan.
  2. Develop an Incident Management Plan: This should be a comprehensive documentation of the procedures used to pinpoint and report threats and cyber attacks, including incident response, investigation, and recovery procedures.
  3. Conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA): This type of analysis, which helps inform the priorities and objectives of disaster recovery, focuses on identifying the critical systems, assets, and processes essential to the organization and its operations.
  4. Establish a Recovery Point Objective (RPO): This metric defines the maximum acceptable amount of data loss measured in time. In the wake of a disaster or disruption, an RPO is a point in time or condition at which an organization's data or systems must be recovered to return to a normal, operable state.
  5. Determine a Recovery Time Objective (RTO): This metric determines the maximum acceptable time an organization's operations can be down after a disaster. RTO represents the target duration time for restoring systems and infrastructure to an operational state.
  6. Define and Document Your Plan: As the meat of your plan, you’ll want to document all the granular components, processes, and resources that go into your disaster recovery plan. Some things to consider include:
    • - Dependencies: Determine the systems and processes that are dependent on one another and how they interact. This ensures that recovery efforts won’t cause additional problems.
    • - Key Vendors: Identify all critical vendors and partners for your organization's operations. Determine a plan to maintain continuity with these parties in a disaster.
    • - Sites and Locations: If geography and physical infrastructure are affected, your plan should detail the recovery locations, including primary and secondary alternatives.
    • - Recovery Procedures: Identify and document the procedures and tools that will be used to recover compromised systems, applications, and data based on specific types of attacks and cybersecurity threats.
    • - Communication Procedures: Determine what alternative technologies you’ll use to communicate, especially if primary communication systems are unavailable. Also, consider the messaging strategy to relay information to customers, partners, and employees.
    • - Testing Protocols: Document the testing protocols used to assess your plan's efficacy and each protocol's specific steps. This should also include the cadence and scope of testing.
  7. Consistently Test the Disaster Recovery Plan: As part of assembling your team and having proper procedures in place, it's important to schedule regular testing and ensure your plan effectively handles all potential cyber attacks, errors, and disasters.
  8. Regularly Review and Update the Plan: Evaluate and revise the disaster recovery plan to ensure it's up-to-date with the organization's changing needs and the evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats.

What Roles Make Up a Disaster Recovery Team?

The effectiveness of a disaster recovery plan is only as good as its team. Depending on the organization's size and complexity, certain professionals are integral to a disaster recovery team. Some teams include highly specialized roles like cybersecurity engineers, incident and intrusion analysts, vulnerability analysts, security analysts, and IT auditors. But in many cases, the team is a combination of professionals within the organization's greater IT ecosystem.

Chief Information Security Officer

In larger enterprise environments with sophisticated IT systems, the CISO is responsible for the organization's overall cybersecurity strategy. They help lead disaster recovery efforts and oversee all information systems and data to protect them from cyber attacks.

IT Security Team

Often seen as the specialized support crew under the CISO's wing, the IT security team monitors and protects the organization's networks and systems. They're usually the first line of defense in mitigating cyber attacks and executing incident response processes.

Network Administrators

These professionals may have more diversified roles in maintaining and securing the organization's networks, servers, and other infrastructure. Network admins may play a critical role in cybersecurity and disaster recovery for smaller operations.

IT Operations and Support

While not always directly responsible for security monitoring and incident response, these IT professionals help run an organization's servers, data storage, and other hardware systems. They may also be responsible for tech support and issue troubleshooting, making the assets to any disaster recovery team.

Risk Management Experts

These specialists assess and manage the organization's risk related to cyber attacks and other IT threats. They're effective in helping predict and simulate potential attacks to identify vulnerabilities, and they help suggest improvements to prevent real-world attacks.

Legal and Compliance

These professionals work within a disaster recovery to ensure that the organization's incident response strategies and recovery efforts comply with specific legal and regulatory requirements.

Crisis Communications, Media, and Public Relations

Often a separate department that remains integrated with disaster recovery efforts, an organization's PR and media team relay news, findings, and updates to key stakeholders surrounding an incident.

Business Continuity Plan (BCP) Manager

This dedicated role is designated to a qualified professional who can develop, maintain, and implement an organization's continuity plan amid a disaster, ensuring operations proceed as anticipated. BCP managers are also responsible for regularly testing and updating the plan as needed.

In smaller businesses, one person may adopt the duties of multiple roles. However, these roles may be highly individualized in larger organizations, with specialized talent allocated to particular responsibilities.

What Is Disaster Recovery Testing?

Disaster recovery testing is a fundamental component of an organization's business continuity and disaster recovery plan. It involves simulating a disaster, like a cyber attack like ransomware, data breach, power outage, or natural disaster, to assess an organization's ability to regain control over its IT systems.

Disaster recovery testing can help identify any weaknesses or gaps in an organization's plan and ensure the strategic processes effectively restore critical systems and data in the event of an incident. This type of testing can be implemented through various methods, including walk-through tests, functional tests, tabletop exercises, and full-interruption simulations.

Types of Disaster Recovery

Disasters come in different forms and threaten the health and stability of various systems and assets. Some of the most common types of disaster recovery and the strategic initiative behind them include:

Data Center Disaster Recovery

This form of disaster recovery targets the security of physical IT infrastructure and data backups. Strategies here involve utilizing a failover site at a secondary location to maintain operational continuity during a disaster.

Cloud Disaster Recovery

A critical component of any cloud-based disaster recovery plan, the strategies here leverage cloud solutions to replicate and host an organization's virtual and physical servers. This disaster recovery approach provides automatic workload failover to a public cloud in the event of a disaster, thereby eliminating the need for a secondary location.

Network Disaster Recovery

Network operability is vital to maintain data sharing, application access, and communication when threats strike. This component focuses on having backup data and sites in place and a plan to regain control over network services.

Virtualized Disaster Recovery

Virtualized disaster recovery is a set of strategies designed to replicate workloads to an alternative cloud or physical location. This process provides cybersecurity teams with greater flexibility, efficiency, and ease of implementation.

Disaster Recovery as a Service

DRaaS is a commercial service provided by outsourced third parties that duplicate and host an organization's virtual and physical servers. The third party takes ownership of implementing and managing the most appropriate disaster recovery strategy and plan.

Disaster Recovery vs. Business Continuity

While related and interwoven within an organization's cybersecurity operations, both disaster recovery and business continuity are two different things. Disaster recovery is a set of procedures focused on restoring data access and IT infrastructure after a disaster. Business continuity centers on keeping the organization's operations running during a disaster.

Disaster recovery planning orchestrates the team to restore systems and data effectively after a disaster or attack. Business continuity planning focuses on maintaining functional operations during the incident.

The underlying goal of disaster recovery is to minimize the damages of a disaster and help the organization return to standard operations as quickly as possible. The goal of business continuity is to enable the organization to continue operating internally and provide services to customers, vendors, and partners, even in the face of a disaster.

Incident Management vs. Disaster Recovery

Both disaster recovery and incident management are similar concepts but are fundamentally different. Incident management focuses on responding to and resolving single incidents, while disaster-recovery plans focus on restoring operations for the entire organization.

Incident management is a more granular subset of disaster recovery that tackles the immediate response to a particular incident to restore normal operations as timely as possible.

Disaster Recovery Solutions by Proofpoint

As a leader in enterprise cybersecurity solutions, Proofpoint specializes in data protection, recovery, and business continuity resources for a range of organizations and industries. Proofpoint can help your team establish a disaster recovery plan and support systems to remediate any lost data and restore systems for continued business productivity and minimized downtime.

Learn more about the solutions and capabilities of Proofpoint.