A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a set of detailed, documented guidelines that outline a business’ critical assets and explain how the organization will respond to unplanned incidents. Unplanned incidents or disasters typically include cyber attacks, system failures, power outages, natural disasters, equipment failures, or infrastructure disasters.
More specifically, a disaster recovery plan measures how capable an organization’s ability to restore IT infrastructure functionality and access to critical data, regardless of the disaster event.
A DRP should identify the responsibilities of staff within the organization, outline the step-by-step instructions for the disaster recovery process, and create plans to mitigate and reduce the impact of the incident so that the company can resume basic operations.
Why Is Having a Disaster Recovery Plan Important?
Disaster recovery plans are just one part of an overall security plan and should be established and implemented along with business continuity plans and incident response plans. Without these plans in place, companies can suffer catastrophic damage in form of data loss, data exposure, significantly reduced productivity, penalties and fines, reputational damage, lost revenue, and unplanned recovery expenses.
Creating disaster recovery plans, along with business continuity and incident response plans, can help build confidence with stakeholders, investors, clients, and business partners that demonstrate the capability and preparation to deal with any incident.
What is a Business Continuity Plan?
A business continuity plan (BCP) is similar to a disaster recovery plan, but a continuity plan is an overarching plan that outlines the steps needed for a business to continue operating in the event of an incident or disaster. A disaster recovery plan considers a more structured approach to the recovery process rather than the continuity process.
What is an Incident Response Plan?
Incident response plans are critical to any security program because they provide detailed actions for responding and reacting to specific incidents. An incident response plan is focused on handling a cybersecurity incident and its fallout from start to finish, whereas a DR plan is a more robust plan that considers the potential of serious damage to the whole enterprise and how to restore technology.
Disaster Recovery Plan Checklist
Clear disaster response procedures are critical. Implementing disaster recovery quickly minimizes damage and speeds up recovery. The first few hours, in particular, can be critical. The disaster recovery plan’s emergency response procedures section should comprise clear, practical steps in language sufficient for widespread understanding.
A disaster recovery plan should be organized by location and type of disaster. No single disaster recovery plan template exists because every business is different, but a comprehensive disaster recovery plan should cover the following factors:
1. Perform a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
A business impact analysis should be performed before creating a disaster recovery or business continuity plan. The analysis should determine the entire scope of potential aftereffects and impacts in case of a disruption to critical business operations.
Each potential disaster scenario must be planned for, and the systems and subsequent parties that will be affected must also be identified to determine which business components must be protected first to continue operating. The main difference between a BIA and BCP is that a BIA assesses the potential impact while a BCP outlines a plan based on the BIA to ensure operations are minimally affected.
Impacts that should be considered include:
- Loss of sales or income
- Cost of recovery (time, labor, equipment, staffing, public relations)
- Total business downtime
- Regulatory fines for failed compliance
- Damage to reputation or customer trust
Ultimately, a BIA provides the necessary context and data for businesses to progress in their risk management and disaster recovery processes.
2. Perform Risk Analysis and Vulnerability Assessments
Risk analysis and vulnerability assessments identify the biggest threats and vulnerabilities that could potentially affect the business. The risk and vulnerability assessment process is designed to help businesses prioritize risk and vulnerability mitigation processes.
Different threats and vulnerabilities can affect different industries, so it’s important to identify which ones pose the biggest risk to your organization. Risks should be classified by the likelihood of occurrence and impact on assets, so the company can begin to plan business recovery processes surrounding those threats.
Risk analyses are important to anticipate and plan for the worst-case scenario and have plans in place to minimize the impact of a critical disaster. Once the risks and vulnerabilities have been identified, businesses can begin to build a risk management plan.
Risk analysis can be accomplished in two ways: qualitative and quantitative risk analysis methods. Qualitative risk analysis assesses risk using subjective data (such as perceived reputational impact) and hypothetical scenarios to determine disaster impact. Quantitative risk analysis measures risk through statistical probabilities and estimated quantifiable impact to determine risk tolerance and risk management cost investments.
Both processes should be conducted together to have a complete overview of the organization’s risk acceptance and resilience, which can then be used to make more informed business decisions.
2. Identify Roles and Responsibilities
A disaster recovery plan needs to define the roles and responsibilities of the disaster recovery team or those within the organization responsible for the following processes:
- Maintaining business continuity systems
- Incident reporting to executive management, stakeholders, and related authorities
- Who is in charge of overseeing the crisis and ensuring recovery
- Team members’ roles in securing and protecting critical business components
- Contacting third-party vendors or affected parties
- Liaising with people external to the organization, such as customers, clients, and the press
3. Take Inventory of Assets
To properly manage a cyber incident or cyber threat, it’s important to understand the complete overview of the assets an organization handles. Taking inventory of the organization’s IT infrastructure, including hardware, software, applications, and critical data allows the organization to prioritize the most valuable systems and assets to protect.
Asset inventory should be updated regularly in the disaster recovery plan, especially if there are large changes to the asset management strategy. To facilitate prioritization, the inventory should categorize inventory as follows:
- Critical assets essential to business operations
- Important assets, such as applications used once or more per day and whose absence would disrupt typical operations
- Unimportant assets, which are accessed or used less than once per day
Sensitive data, such as payment details, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information (PII), can also be subject to compliance requirements. A disaster recovery plan needs to address how critical data is handled during a crisis or disaster in relation to compliance standards.
In addition, it’s important to note that the people with the authority to access sensitive data during normal business operations may differ from those who can access sensitive data during a disaster to ensure its safety.
4. Disaster Recovery Sites
Disaster recovery sites refer to where the company’s assets are located and where they will be moved if disaster strikes. Businesses need to have the sites defined ahead of time should an incident occur, whether the assets are physical or digital.
The three types of recovery sites are as follows:
- Cold sites — Used to store data backups but cannot immediately run systems.
- Warm sites — Functional data centers that allow access to critical systems. However, up-to-date customer data may be unavailable.
- Hot sites — Functioning data centers that contain IT equipment and personnel to use it, as well as up-to-date customer data.
In the event that businesses are still using physical documents and storage media that are still important to business operations, the disaster recovery plan also needs to include where these physical copies will be stored offsite in case of disaster.
As good practice, recovery sites and data backups should be updated regularly. Organizations should implement backup procedures at least a few times per week to ensure business continuity.
5. Disaster Recovery Testing
Much a fire or earthquake drill, it’s necessary to test the disaster recovery procedure and its procedures at least once a year. The plan should be tested in a simulated situation that varies in complexity to ensure protection against all threats.
Testing phases should accomplish the following steps:
- Identify faults and inconsistencies within the plan that can lead to potential miscommunication or improper incident management
- Ensure all relevant team members know their specific roles, duties, and workloads
- Simulate a live cyber attack or other disasters
- Test success of recovery site upload and backup processes
Regular testing should include updates to the plan and any new threats or vulnerabilities that pose a risk to critical assets.
6. Communication or Reporting Plan
Communicating information about the nature, impact, and cause of a disaster can be critical to the company’s reputation. Timely communication and incident reporting may also be required to comply with cybersecurity regulations. Therefore, the disaster recovery plan needs to define who will deliver what information to whom in the event of a disaster.
Parties that need to be kept up to date will include any or all of the following:
- Stakeholders or investors
- Executive management
- Staff and employees
- Relevant third-party vendors
- Governing authorities
- Customers and clients
- Media outlets and press
- Legal counsel
To ensure that communication is clear and prompt, the plan should outline who has primary communication responsibilities and which communication channels they should use.
7. Minimum Physical Facility Requirements
A part of the disaster recovery plan should include the minimum physical facilities a business needs to operate if its usual facility is rendered unusable by a disaster, such as an earthquake. Minimum physical facility requirements should include how much space is required, where it needs to be located, and what equipment is required.
8. RTO and RPO
As part of the disaster recovery planning process, businesses also need to define its RTO and RPO as part of its recovery strategy:
- Recovery Time Objective (RTO) - A business’s RTO is how long it can tolerate an interruption to normal operations. This can be anything from a few minutes to many hours, depending on the nature of the business.
- Recovery Point Objective (RPO) - The RPO refers to how much data the organization can stand to lose and is normally measured in time, such as an hour of data or 24 hours of data. A business that backs up once daily considers its RPO 24 hours.
Benefits of a Disaster Recovery Plan
Ultimately, the aim of a thorough disaster recovery plan is to facilitate faster response and smoother restoration if disaster strikes, such as a data breach or cyber attack that results in data loss or downtime.
With the increasing prevalence of cyber attacks and human error in the information technology (IT) sphere involving malware like ransomware, affected businesses are seeing rising costs and damages due to poor recovery execution and extended downtimes. It’s imperative to have strong disaster recovery processes as part of the entire business strategy
- Lower Cyber Insurance Premiums - The modern threat landscape is such that more businesses require cyber insurance to protect themselves in case of a severe cyber attack. The cyber liability insurance industry has reached a point where it can no longer insure all businesses unless they have clearly defined security programs that minimize its overall risk. Having a disaster recovery plan can significantly lower the overall risk profile of a business and thus lower the associated cyber liability insurance premiums.
- Fewer Recovery Costs - Formal policies and procedures demonstrating a firm’s preparedness for unplanned events can also lower costs during a data breach by helping team members respond to the issues, shortening the data breach lifecycle. The more time that is spent responding to the disaster can lead to increased damages and loss of business.
- Minimal Penalties - In heavily-regulated sectors like healthcare or public entities, penalties for a data breach and non-compliance with cybersecurity regulations can be costly. The longer a data breach lasts, the more significant the potential penalties can be for non-compliance. A business with a disaster recovery plan will likely recover far more quickly than a company without one.
- Minimal Business Interruption - Anything facilitating restoring technology will reduce costs for the organization if an unplanned incident interrupts operations. An excellent IT disaster recovery plan can differentiate between minimal impact and complete operational shutdown. When a cyber attack or another incident interrupts critical services, organizations must do all they can to restore technology and normal business processes as quickly as possible.
What Is a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)?
A DRaaS provider is a third-party provider that uses cloud technology to facilitate rapid restoration of data servers and applications in case of an emergency or disaster.
A third-party solution provider’s security policies and procedures will impact data and database recovery, so it’s highly recommended to work with a trusted vendor that includes data protection as a core part of their offering. Subscribers should also consider the capacity of the provider to ensure it can handle the data transfer required for backing up and restoring the business’s information systems effectively.
Cloud disaster recovery solutions can have the following benefits for modern businesses.
- Connectivity - One of the benefits of DRaaS is that restorations can be initiated from any location using various kinds of computers, which is ideal in a disaster scenario that may affect physical locations and data. It makes sense to use a provider in another region to avoid the likelihood of the DRaaS provider being affected by the same physical disaster as the subscriber. This way, a business affected by a geographically-specific disaster can use cloud services to create a functional data center in a new location to restore its applications and customer data.
- Instant Mirroring - Another benefit of DRaaS is that they mirror data changes instantly. This cloud service creates a backup database server that copies the master database server created on the fly. With such a system, restoration can be performed from a point seconds before an outage.
- Cost-Effective - For many organizations, migrating to cloud services for data management and disaster recovery processes is a cost-effective contingency plan for disruptive events. Excellent cloud service DR providers provide around-the-clock data protection and data management, keeping software up-to-date and monitoring the network to prevent data breaches in the first place. They can also respond quickly and automatically in the event of a disaster.