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Unmasking Threats: A Closer Look at Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises


Tabletop Exercises Overview

Staying ahead of threat actors is now more imperative than ever for the overall well-being of organizations. Threat actors work around the clock to improve their skills. Organizations need to be continuously advancing their skills, knowledge, and operational procedures and strategies to ensure effective protection.

Time is of the essence when responding to cybersecurity incidents. Not only is rapid detection critical but rapid response is key in managing the risk.


Tabletop simulations and exercises provide a controlled environment to simulate cyber incidents. These incidents can include data breaches, cloud security, ransomware attacks, social engineering schemes, and tailored simulations designed to precisely align with your organization's unique needs.

Tabletop trainings are led by a facilitator where the participants can interact with and react to events as they unfold in a classroom style setting. These exercises can be done for the IT Team or the C-Suite to understand the importance of responding to real incidents in a timely manner. This will increase awareness of the impact of exposure, testing decision making, response time, and coordination of efforts.

What is the significance of conducting tabletop exercises?

1. Recognize gaps for strategic preparedness: Tabletop exercises give your team an opportunity to measure the effectiveness of your plans, policies, and procedures in the time of an incident. Firsthand, the team will be able to experience a simulated attack to test your incident response plan (IRP). The team will be able to evaluate where there may be gaps within your IRP, allowing your team to establish new effective strategies to put into practice.


2. Team collaboration and cooperation: Tabletop exercises allow your team to communicate through all departments to advance your cybersecurity program. At the time of an event, it is crucial that every team member understands their role in the incident response plan. The organization must define the level of cooperation in their IRP. For example, team collaboration goes beyond only the IT team, the legal and communications team may need to be involved. To assess legal and compliance issues or communicate with stakeholders to maintain the organization’s reputation.


3. Risk Mitigation: Your organization will be able to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities within your system and processes in a controlled environment. This is advantageous because you will be able to mitigate these risks before they become active threats.


4. Compliance and Regulation: In some instances, organizations may be obligated to comply with compliance regulations and industry standards. Financial institutions have regulatory mandates to ensure they are keeping their customer’s financial data secure. While healthcare organizations are governed by HIPAA regulations to ensure they are keeping patient’s medical information and medical systems secure. Tabletop exercises make sure that organizations are following proper protocols and procedures.


5. Continuous improvement: Your organization needs to adapt with the evolving threat landscape. Tabletop exercises give your organization the opportunity to do so. These exercises can improve your speed and tools so you can work in a timely manner. Additionally, these exercises can allow your team to become more agile and gain incremental improvement with focus. Your team has to become comfortable with the rare and the unexpected, tabletop exercises can work on developing this confidence.

How to get started with a tabletop exercise?

Your organization has reviewed your Incident Response Plan. Now it is time to establish who you would like involved in the Tabletop exercise, whether it is just the IT team or if you include leadership, C-Suite, legal, communication, etc. You will also need to choose an attack you would like to simulate. Choosing an incident that aligns with your Incident Response Plan will be the most beneficial for your team to identify gaps within it. The organization will need to choose a facilitator that will direct the team participating and keep them on track for achieving their mission.

At CyberForce|Q we recognize the challenges of implementing tabletop exercises. Our skilled facilitators can guide the participants throughout the tabletop stimulation. We do this through our Incident Response Team. Our team provides exercises of internal events that provide a structured opportunity to practice your incident response plan and procedures, during a realistic scenario. SIRS are fundamentally about being prepared and iteratively improving your response capabilities. We will create customized attacks that align with the goals of your organization and then assist you with next steps to strengthen your incident response plan and cybersecurity program.

How to measure your success?

Successes can be measured in a multitude of ways. At CyberForce|Q we have found that our participants are most successful when they are measured according to the incident response lifecycle as it is defined by NIST SP 800-61 R2:


Preparation: Preparation for incident response includes those activities that enable the organization to respond to an incident and include the creation and review of policies, standards and guidelines supporting incident response; security and technology related tools; effective communication plans and governance.

Detection and Analysis: Detection is the identification of an event or incident whether through automated means with security tools or notification by an inside or outside source about a suspected incident. This phase includes the declaration and initial classification of the event/incident.

Containment, Eradication & Recovery: Containment of an incident includes the identification of affected hosts or systems and their isolation or mitigation of the immediate threat. Communication with affected parties is established at this phase of incident response. Recovery is the analysis of the incident for possible procedural and policy implications. Recovery also includes the incorporation of any “lessons-learned” from the handling of the incident into future exercises and/or training initiatives.

Post-Incident Activity: A lessons learned session takes place after the resolution of a security incident. It involves taking stock of the incident; getting to the root of how and why it happened; evaluating how well your incident response plan worked to resolve the issue; and identifying improvements that need to be made.

We're Here to Assist

If your organization would like to participate in a tabletop exercise, our skilled facilitators can work with you on creating a customized tabletop to best suit your organization’s needs.

If you need assistance with writing your incident response plan, we can help.

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