Cyber recovery vs. disaster recovery: What’s the difference? 

Cyber recovery vs. disaster recovery: What’s the difference? 

Today’s enterprises face a broad range of threats to their security, assets and critical business processes. Whether preparing to face a complex cyberattack or natural disaster, taking a proactive approach and selecting the right business continuity disaster recovery (BCDR) solution is critical to increasing adaptability and resilience.

Cybersecurity and cyber recovery are types of disaster recovery (DR) practices that focus on attempts to steal, expose, alter, disable or destroy critical data. DR itself typically targets a wider range of threats than just those that are cyber in nature. While different—mainly due to the causes of the events they help mitigate—cyber recovery and DR are often complementary, with many enterprises wisely choosing to deploy both.

Cyber recovery is designed to help organizations prepare for and recover from a cyberattack, which is an intentional effort to steal or destroy data, apps and other digital assets through unauthorized access to a network, computer system or digital device. While DR can include plans that help deal with cyber threats, it primarily targets a much wider range including natural disasters, human error, massive outages and more.

Perhaps the most important difference between cyber and disaster recovery is the nature of the threat they are intended to mitigate. Cyber recovery focuses on disasters caused by malicious intent, including hackers, foreign countries and others. DR covers threats of all different kinds, often with no malicious intent behind them.

The following provides a concise summary of some of the terms above:

What is disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery (DR) is a combination of IT technologies and best practices designed to prevent data loss and minimize business disruption caused by an unexpected event. Disaster recovery can refer to everything from equipment failures, power outages, cyberattacks, civil emergencies, natural disasters and criminal or military attacks, but it is most commonly used to describe events with non-malicious causes. 

What is cyber recovery? 

Cyber recovery is the process of increasing your organization’s cyber resilience or ability to restore access to and functionality of critical IT systems and data in the event of a cyberattack. The key objectives of cyber recovery are to restore business systems and data from a backup environment and return them to working order as swiftly and effectively as possible. Strong IT infrastructure and off-site data backup solutions help ensure business continuity and readiness in the face of a broad range of cyber-related threats.

Through the development of cyber recovery plans that include data validation through custom scripts, machine learning to increase data backup and data protection capabilities, and the deployment of virtual machines (VMs), companies can recover from cyberattacks and prevent re-infection by malware in the future.

What is a cyberattack?

A cyberattack is any intentional effort to steal, expose, alter, disable or destroy data integrity through unauthorized access to a network, computer system or digital device. Threat actors launch cyberattacks for all sorts of reasons, from petty theft to acts of war.

Why are cyber recovery and disaster recovery important?

Organizations that neglect to develop reliable cyber and disaster recovery strategies expose themselves to a broad range of threats that can have devastating consequences. For example, a recent Kyndril study (link resides outside concluded that infrastructure failure can cost enterprises as much as USD 100,000 per hour, with application failure ranging from USD 500,000 to USD 1 million per hour. Many small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources to recover from a disruptive event that causes damage on that scale. According to a recent study by Access Corp (link resides outside, 40% of small businesses fail to reopen after a disaster, and among those that do, an additional 25% fail within the next year.

Whether facing a malicious cyberattack caused by a bad actor or an earthquake or flood with no malicious intent behind it, companies need to be prepared for a variety of complex threats. Having sound disaster recovery plans in place helps reassure customers, employees, business leaders and investors that your enterprise is being run soundly and is prepared for whatever it faces. Here are some of the benefits of cyber and disaster recovery planning:

  • Improved business continuity: The ability to maintain continuity of your most critical business processes throughout an attack—cyber or otherwise—is one of the most important benefits of cyber and disaster recovery plans.
  • Reduced costs from unplanned events: Cyber and disaster recovery can be expensive, with critical assets like employees, data and infrastructure being threatened. Data breaches, a common result of cyberattacks, can be especially damaging. According to The 2023 IBM Cost of Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach last year was USD 4.45 million—a 15% increase over the last 3 years. 
  • Less downtime: Modern enterprises rely on complex technologies like cloud computing solutions and cellular networks. When an unplanned incident disrupts normal operations, it can result it costly downtime and unwanted attention in the press that could cause customers and investors to leave. Deploying a strong cyber or disaster recovery solution increases a business’s chances of making a full and effective recovery from a variety of threats. 
  • Stronger compliance: Heavily regulated sectors like healthcare and personal finance levy large financial penalties when customer data is breached. Businesses in these spaces must have strong cyber and disaster recovery strategies in place to shorten their response and recovery times and ensure their customers’ data stays private.  

How do cyber recovery and disaster recovery work?

Cyber recovery and disaster recovery plans help organizations prepare to face a broad range of threats. From a malicious phishing attack that targets customers with fake emails to a flood that threatens critical infrastructure, it’s likely that whatever your organization is concerned about, there’s a cyber recovery or disaster recovery plan that can help:

  • Cyber recovery plan: Cyber recovery plans are types of disaster recovery plans that focus exclusively on thwarting cyberattacks like phishing, malware and ransomware attacks. A strong cyber recovery strategy includes a detailed plan that outlines how an organization will respond to a disruptive cyber incident. Common elements of cyber recovery plans include data backup, theft prevention and mitigation and communication strategies that help effectively respond to stakeholders—including customers whose data is at risk. 
  • Disaster recovery plan: Disaster recovery plans (DRPs) are detailed documents describing how companies will respond to different kinds of disasters. Typically, companies either build DRPs themselves or outsource their disaster recovery process to a third-party DRP vendor. Along with business continuity plans (BCPs) and incident response plans (IRPs), DRPs play a critical role in the effectiveness of disaster recovery strategy.

Types of cyberattacks 

When someone says the term disaster recoverya whole host of possible scenarios come instantly to mind, such as natural disasters, massive outages, equipment failures and more. But what about cyberattacks? The term is less familiar to most people but the threats it encompasses are no less critical—or frequent—for organizations. Here are some common types of cyberattacks that cyber recovery efforts help prepare for:

  • MalwareMalware—short for “malicious software”—is any software code or computer program that seeks to harm a computer system. Almost every modern cyberattack involves some type of malware. Malware can take many forms, ranging from highly damaging and costly ransomware to annoying adware that interrupts your session on a browser.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your data or device and threatens to keep it locked—or even destroy it—unless you pay a ransom to the cybercriminals behind it.
  • Phishing: In a phishing attack, fraudulent emails, text messages, phone calls or even websites are used to trick users into downloading malware, sharing sensitive information or personal data like their social security or credit card number, or taking some other action that might expose themselves or their organization to cybercrime. Successful phishing attacks can result in identity theft, credit card fraud and data breaches, and they often incur massive financial damages for individuals and organizations. 
  • Data breaches: Data breaches are cybercrimes that can be caused by any three of the previously mentioned types of cyberattacks. A data breach is any security incident in which an unauthorized person or persons gains access to confidential data, such as social security numbers, bank account information or medical records. 

How to build a disaster recovery plan

Disaster recovery planning (DRP)—whether focused on a cyberattack or some other kind of threat—begins with a deep analysis of your most critical business processes (known as a business impact analysis (BIA)) and thorough risk assessment (RA). While every business is different and will have unique requirements, following these five steps has helped organizations of all sizes and across many different industries improve their readiness and resiliency.

Step 1: Conduct a business impact analysis

A business impact analysis (BIA) is a careful assessment of every threat your company faces, along with possible outcomes. Strong BIA looks at how threats might impact daily operations, communication channels, worker safety and other critical parts of your business. 

Step 2: Perform a risk analysis

Conducting a sound risk analysis (RA) is a critical step towards creating an effective DRP. Assess each potential threat separately by considering two things—the likelihood the threat will occur and its potential impact on your business operations.

Step 3: Create an asset inventory

Disaster recovery relies on having a complete picture of every asset your enterprise owns. This includes hardware, software, IT infrastructure, data and anything else that’s critical to your business operations. Here are three widely used labels for categorizing assets:

  • Critical: Assets that are required for normal business operations.
  • Important: Assets your business uses at least once a day and that, if disrupted, would impact on business operations.
  • Unimportant: Assets your business uses infrequently that are not essential for business operations.

Step 4: Establish roles and responsibilities 

Clearly assigning roles and responsibilities is arguably the most important part of a disaster recovery strategy. Without it, no one will know what to do in the event of a disaster. Here are a few roles and responsibilities that every disaster recovery plan should include:

  • Incident reporter: An individual who is responsible for communicating with stakeholders and relevant authorities when disruptive events occur.
  • DRP manager: Someone who ensures team members perform the tasks they’ve been assigned throughout the incident.
  • Asset manager: Someone who secures and protects critical assets when disaster strikes.

Step 5: Test and refine

To ensure your disaster recovery strategy is sound, you’ll need to practice it constantly and regularly update it according to any meaningful changes. Testing and refinement of DRPs and cyber recovery plans can be broken down into three simple steps:

  • Create an accurate simulation: When rehearsing your disaster or cyber recovery plan, try to create an environment as close to the actual scenario your company will face without putting anyone at physical risk.
  • Identify problems: Use the testing process to identify faults and inconsistencies with your plan, simplify processes and address any issues with your backup procedures.
  • Test procedures: Seeing how you’ll respond to an incident is vital, but it’s just as important to test the procedures you’ve put in place for restoring critical systems once the incident is over. Test how you’ll turn networks back on, recover any lost data and resume normal business operations. 

IBM and cyber and disaster recovery solutions

When it comes to preparing your organization to face cyber- and non-cyber-related threats, you need modern, comprehensive approaches that prioritize risk mitigation, deploy cutting-edge technology and provide swift and easy implementation.

IBM Cloud Cyber Recovery provides a simplified business continuity plan with cost-effective disaster recovery (DR), cloud backup and a robust ransomware recovery solution to protect and restore your data across IT environments. 

Explore IBM Cloud Cyber Recovery

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