Increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats call for organizations to mount innovative cyber defenses to mitigate threat attacks. Cybersecurity tabletop exercises are innovative and impactful ways to protect your organization against cybersecurity threats. Read on to learn more about best practices and considerations for common cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples.
How Can You Apply Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercise Examples?
Cybersecurity awareness training helps facilitate organization-wide alignment with security policies. Specifically, cybersecurity tabletop exercises leverage situational awareness training to identify security gaps and strengthen your organization’s overall program.
The following factors can help your organization implement cybersecurity tabletop exercises:
- Cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples
- Best practices
- Additional considerations
Determining the most effective applications of cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples also helps your organization optimize security awareness training.
What are Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises?
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises help organizations devise best practices to respond to detected threats and unfolding attacks, should they occur. Conducting these trainings helps validate existing incident response plans based on anticipated threats.
The typical format for tabletop training involves:
- Testing preplanned actions in response to scenarios
- Group discussions to review the effectiveness of strategies and tactics, led by a skilled facilitator
- Introduction of additional challenges to the presented scenarios to widen the scope of cybersecurity problem-solving
As the name indicates, these exercises present simulated cyberattack situations for your team to navigate.
Why Should You Conduct Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises?
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises provide the opportunity for knowledge sharing between security teams and stakeholders, ultimately strengthening your organization’s cybersecurity. Your organization can also use these exercises as an opportunity to bring in outside expertise and threat intelligence.
Conducting these exercises can help your organization:
- Improve threat and vulnerability management by:
- Identifying cybersecurity gaps, especially those in incident response plans
- Mitigating cybersecurity vulnerabilities
- Assess the effectiveness of rapid response measures by:
- Reviewing existing recovery plans following threat incidents
- Validating cybersecurity planning protocols and priorities
- Generating new ideas to address gaps in threat incident recovery protocols
- Improve cybersecurity training practices
Cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples will help strengthen your organization’s cyberdefenses, especially with the help of a managed security services provider (MSSP).
Common Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercise Scenarios
There are several examples of exercises that organizations typically conduct. However, the choice of relevant and appropriate cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples varies from one organization to another, based on:
- Critical digital assets (e.g., networks, applications, sensitive data)
- Business operations (e.g., data processing, data transmission)
- Third-party transactions (e.g., vendors, business partners)
The effectiveness of cyber security exercise scenarios depends on choosing those appropriate for your organization’s operations, industry, and common threats. Some scenarios should be common incidents to serve as a refresher, while others should emphasize emerging threats to help your team prepare for unencountered attack methods.
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Tabletop Exercise Example 1: Patch Management
Security patches help prevent threat actor exploitation of security gaps and vulnerabilities, mitigating occurrences of threat attacks. In addition, patch management helps identify areas within your organization’s critical assets requiring security patches.
Below is an example of a possible scenario for patch management:
A network administrator is tasked with installing a critical security patch a few hours before heading on vacation. He deploys the patch quickly, forgetting to test the patch before deployment. The faulty patch was installed on a critical system, resulting in issues with user logins. The service desk technician on-call is subsequently tasked with resolving the issue.
Questions corresponding to the above scenario include:
- How does the on-call service desk technician respond to the issue?
- Is the on-call technician equipped to handle such situations?
- If not, are there established incident response protocols?
- Do you have established change control policies to mitigate such events?
- Are there defined training procedures for employees?
- Are there appropriate disciplinary procedures for employees who fail to follow outlined procedures?
- Can your organization uninstall patches, once deployed, in the event of unforeseen negative consequences?
- Does patch rollback affect critical systems or business operations?
- Are there defined patch rollback protocols?
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises for patch management help train your employees in best practices for deployment and rollback, if necessary.
Tabletop Exercise Example 2: Malware
When threat actors deploy malware or “malicious software” attacks, they generally aim to steal information or spy on target networks. There are several types of malware, the most common of which include:
- Trojan horses
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises for malware can help boost your organization’s malware security.
Below is a typical scenario for malware intrusion:
An employee plugged a thumb drive into her personal computer to download files and was unaware that malware infected the files. She inserts the same thumb drive into her workstation and downloads the infected files onto the networked workstation. The malware from the files spreads into and infects the organization’s entire network.
Questions corresponding to the above scenario include:
- How would your organization identify malware infection via the above vector?
- What processes are in place to identify malware intrusion?
- What other networked devices pose similar threats?
- Do you have established malware detection mechanisms?
- Is malware protection installed on all networked devices?
- How can you prevent future malware intrusion incidents?
- Are there established training protocols and policies?
- Do the established policies apply to all networked devices?
Malware tabletop cybersecurity exercises help define your organization’s security policies on malware detection and prevention.
Tabletop Exercise Example 3: Cloud Security
Cloud security is critical for organizations that rely on the cloud for:
- Storage (e.g., files, data)
- Hosting (e.g., applications, software)
A cybersecurity tabletop exercise on cloud security can help identify security risks and gaps in need of remediation.
Below is a scenario for cloud storage:
One of your organization’s departments stores customer data on an external cloud server. However, some of the stored data is considered sensitive. A recent report indicates that the external cloud network in use was compromised, exposing a large amount of data and leaking user passwords and personal data.
Cybersecurity tabletop exercise questions corresponding to the above scenario include:
- Are there established policies for external cloud storage, especially for third-party vendors?
- Do the policies account for sensitive data storage?
- Are there policies for third-party compliance to data protection regulations?
- Who should be held accountable for the breach? Your organization or the third-party vendor?
- How do you notify affected parties of breaches?
- Do you have established policies for relaying breach notifications to customers whose sensitive data is compromised?
- Do third-party cloud providers have established security mechanisms to prevent breach occurrences?
- Are these security mechanisms documented in contracts or policies?
Cloud storage scenarios help identify gaps in cloud security policies for your organization and third-party cloud storage providers alike.
Tabletop Exercise Example 3: External Threats
Your organization’s preparedness for threat attacks hinges on robust threat and vulnerability management. Cybersecurity tabletop exercises that employ external threat scenarios can help increase security awareness.
Below is a scenario for external threats:
Your organization receives a message from a known hacker group threatening to attack one of your systems. However, you do not know the nature of the planned attack or the target systems. How do you respond?
Additional questions based on this scenario include:
- Can you determine the potential attack vectors?
- Are intrusion detection and prevention systems in place?
- Do you have internal capabilities to detect and prevent malware attacks?
- Are all your systems patched with the most updated security patches?
- Do you have established incident response protocols for notifying the helpdesk and support services?
- Have you established mechanisms for notifying the entire organization of the threats?
External threats are unexpected and pose significant risks for your organization’s assets. A cybersecurity tabletop exercise on external threats can help increase security preparedness.
Tabletop Cybersecurity Best Practices
When conducting these training scenarios, it helps to implement tabletop cybersecurity best practices that increase overall exercise effectiveness.
Designation of Roles
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises are somewhat technical and require skilled and experienced personnel to help:
- Develop scenarios
- Validate exercise design
- Facilitate the overall exercise implementation
Specific roles played by key members of the team include:
- Leadership – Individuals trained or experienced in cybersecurity to help drive the planning of tabletop exercises. Specific considerations include:
- Familiarity with implementation
- Passion for coordinating exercises
- Design – Individuals responsible for designing relevant cybersecurity exercise scenarios to:
- Ensure effective delivery of awareness training
- Provide input on cybersecurity tabletop exercise design based on up-to-date threat intelligence (sufficient cybersecurity expertise is required)
- Resource leads – Individuals responsible for coordinating resource allocation for successful tabletop cybersecurity exercises. Specific roles include:
- Resourcing venues, equipment, or supplies (e.g., writing materials, food)
- Obtaining media support equipment (e.g., computers, video equipment)
Designating key roles and responsibilities for conducting exercise examples helps ensure that training processes run smoothly.
Tabletop Cybersecurity Exercise Design
Specific factors that can improve the effectiveness of cybersecurity tabletop exercise design include:
- Scenario design – Designing appropriate and relevant scenarios is critical to effective implementation. Specific considerations for scenario design include:
- Target audience makeup (i.e., roles within an organization, cybersecurity technical expertise)
- Context of scenario narratives (e.g., time and place of incidents)
- Realism and feasibility of scenarios, especially from the participant perspective
- Review of existing incident response protocols – Assessing existing incident response plans for their role in driving cybersecurity tabletop exercises helps inform:
- The response structure for detected incidents and suspicious activity
- Capabilities to be tested
- Criteria for evaluating exercises
Well-designed scenarios can help meet your organization’s goals, especially with the help of a leading MSSP.
Exercise Analysis and Evaluation
After completing cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples, the team responsible for planning and execution should meet to evaluate exercise progress and results.
Goals of analysis and evaluation include:
- Identifying areas of improvement – A set of open-ended questions for participants can help guide discussions on tabletop cybersecurity to address:
- Decision points for cybersecurity policy modifications
- Key learnings and takeaways for exercise participants
- Practical action points for participants, regardless of role within the organization
- Improve future cybersecurity tabletop exercises – Collecting feedback (anonymous or not) from participants can help strengthen future exercises and determine:
- The perceived value of exercise to participants
- Proposed changes to exercise structure
- Evaluate exercise delivery – The team tasked with leading exercises should meet after participants have left to discuss:
- Exercise delivery mechanics (e.g., participant engagement, venue appropriateness)
- Trends and takeaways (e.g., participant takeaways, unexpected learnings)
The training can’t be improved without reviewing feedback from leaders, stakeholders, and participants.
Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercise Considerations
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises are effective forms of cybersecurity awareness training. However, several considerations must be involved in planning for them, depending on the examples you choose.
Appropriate allocation of resources improves overall efficiency. Therefore, before starting the tabletop planning process, you should ensure that you have sufficient resources to support the completion of the exercises.
Specific considerations for allocating resources to include:
- Time – The effectiveness of cybersecurity tabletop exercises depends on participants showing up for the discussions. So long as you don’t risk having so many participants that it interferes with training effectiveness, any personnel relevant to incident response should be included. However, that complicates coordination. Specifically, you should consider planning, scheduling, and notifying participants about tabletop exercises ahead of time such that:
- Participants from different roles within the organization can attend.
- Organization leadership can attend and participate.
- The exercise is completed in the allocated time.
- Budget – For tabletop exercise participants to be fully engaged, it helps to provide an environment that facilitates discussion. Budget considerations include:
- Venue for discussions (e.g., meeting or conference rooms)
- Trained facilitator compensation (if contracted externally)
- Food and refreshments, especially if the exercise spans several hours
- Expert help – You may not have the internal expertise to conduct effective exercises. Working with an experienced MSSP will help provide organization-specific guidance on:
- Choosing the relevant scenarios
- Best practices for exercises
Your organization will benefit from well-resourced cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples, which will help increase organization-wide security awareness.
Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises—Effective and Beneficial Training
Choosing the appropriate cybersecurity tabletop exercise examples helps increase employee awareness of security gaps. Conducting cybersecurity tabletop exercises with the relevant scenarios also provides opportunities for engagement on organization-wide cybersecurity policy development.
RSI Security is a leading MSSP that will help your organization conduct effective and beneficial cybersecurity tabletop exercises that improve employee security awareness.
Contact RSI Security today to learn more!