This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
You need to make sure your business is already prepared for anything.
Stop for a moment and take a look around you – IT isn’t just the computer on your desk, the laptop in your bag, or the mobile in your pocket. The truth is it is controlling who is and isn’t entering your building, virtually and physically, and how and where your customers are being dealt with. It’s driving your production line. And it even has a part to play in how your coffee is produced. IT is no longer confined to a small back office, possibly in the basement, staffed with geeks all speaking their own language. IT keeps you open for business, but if you’re not careful it can close you down for good.
For every company there is a requirement to exercise due diligence and care of the company’s assets and the future ability to produce returns for investors, from revenues. This is increasingly embedded in legislation, regulation, standards and best practice guidelines. To exercise due diligence and care, you need to plan for the day you can’t – in other words, a business continuity plan.
I challenge you to get a copy of your plan (if you have one), dust it off and actually read it. In the majority of cases it will cover eventualities such as damage caused by fire, theft, or even flooding. If you’re based in one of the cities, it may even include a section on external threats, i.e., terrorist attacks and other disaster eventualities. You’ve probably got a plan for overcoming a power failure; where to resource external staff if yours are ill; and, if you’re in production, crisis management if your product fails.
What does it say about suffering a cyber attack? Chances are it doesn’t.
In this day and age most companies, irrespective of whether a single office or a large international conglomerate, are reliant on computer systems to function. If you were attacked tomorrow, the reality is it would shut you down. How long it takes to get back up and running, if at all, is down to you. Sit up, take note and plan for the inevitable.
An attacker isn’t just interested in stealing your information or funds. Organizations are experiencing attacks, whether denial of service or injected with malware, that are designed to wreak havoc and ideally shut the business down. Recent high-profile victims include Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter and WikiLeaks. However, it’s often not just the victim that suffers, as PayPal, MasterCard and Visa can attest to having fallen victim by association. Any company can be a target, as it’s not just anonymous cyber terrorists waiting to pounce; disgruntled employees could wreak just as much havoc on your system if the notion takes them. What about if your IT system just fails, even the BBC has to hold its hand up to that one.
The effect of being closed for business, however temporarily, will cost the organization money. For an online retailer, it’s a little more obvious as, if customers aren’t able to make purchases, there’s the immediate loss of revenue. However, for a large manufacturing company, if its IT infrastructure fails and production has to shut down for 24 hours, the costs will soon mount potentially into the millions. The expense isn’t limited to the immediate problem of restoring services or production – there’s the lost time, ruined stock, ongoing costs of rebuilding confidence in the customer base and potentially among shareholders, plus the knock on effects such as an increase in insurance premiums. The costs quickly mount.
The AT&T (News - Alert) Business Continuity Study 2010, reported that:
· More than three-quarters (77 percent) of organizations indicate that employee use of mobile devices play a major/minor role in the business continuity plan.
· Half have virtualized their computing infrastructure, with less than four out of 10 (38 percent) having implemented a business continuity plan for the virtualized infrastructure.
· Most (84 percent) companies have e-mail or text messaging capabilities to reach employees outside of work, and about three-fourths (73 percent) have systems in place that enable most employees to work from home or remote locations.
On the surface, all of these resources offer a lifeline to an organization in the event of a general infrastructure failing; you’ve probably rubber stamped the budget on some of these initiatives yourself. However, on a day to day basis they also throw open the doors to the outside world, risking extreme disruption through attack.
An organization’s IT team has many responsibilities with one main, overriding objective: to deliver the best service possible. However, this does not always promote the best security possible. Why? Well, budgets are usually the biggest issue. CEOs must understand the need for enhanced security and ensure their IT teams deliver it.
When the corporation has spent millions on network defences it is then close to incompetence to not make sure those investments are working to the optimum effectiveness. Regular audit and validation leads to enhanced security; that costs very little and is a must-have process. With constant vulnerability testing and security enhancement through configuration, better rules can be defined and implemented. This activity can even avoid additional capital expenditure in unnecessary security devices, saving budgets.
Making sure your defences are working to the optimum extent is not just the responsibility of your CIO, CSO or whatever you call your IT management head, it goes all the way to the top. The function of the CEO and board of directors, as part of their legal responsibility and charge by shareholders, is to exercise good corporate governance.
You wouldn’t build your office on the sand, so why allow your IT infrastructure to have insecure foundations? Ignoring your network defences is tantamount to corporate suicide.
Ray Bryant is CEO of Idappcom.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi