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An SMB's Guide to Budget-Friendly Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises

An SMB's Guide to Budget-Friendly Cybersecurity Tabletop Exercises

Make Tabletop Exercises a Cost-Effective Way to Enhance Your Organization's Incident Response  

Cybersecurity threats loom large over the digital landscape.  For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) operating on tight budgets, the challenge is not just to defend against these threats but to prepare for them proactively. Conducting tabletop exercises is one cost-effective active defense strategy to enhance your organization's response to cyber incidents.

Organizations like NIST offer preparatory materials to assist in building background knowledge on specific topics. Specifically, NIST has published a guide to developing tabletop exercises. The guide is a great starting point for organizations of all sizes looking for a budget-friendly framework. Larger organizations can even leverage the guidance to perform mini tabletop exercises to immediately test certain areas of their cybersecurity programs before a larger quarterly or annual tabletop exercise.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to building and performing an effective cybersecurity tabletop exercise on a shoestring budget.

1. Define Clear Objectives

Start by setting specific, achievable objectives. What do you want to get out of the exercise? Whether it's improving communication, testing incident response times, or simply increasing awareness, clear goals will focus your efforts and resources. 

2. Tailor Scenarios to Your Business 

Craft scenarios that are relevant to your business operations and risks. Use recent cyber threats or past incidents as a basis. This realism will engage participants and provide practical insights into your specific vulnerabilities. 

3. Keep It Simple 

Don’t overcomplicate the exercise. A simple, straightforward scenario allows participants to focus on the response process rather than getting lost in unnecessary details. 

4. Utilize Free Resources

There's a wealth of free resources available. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers exercise planning guides and scenario templates. Leverage these to build the foundation of your exercise without reinventing the wheel. 

5. Involve Key Players

Determine who should be involved. While you may not have a dedicated cybersecurity team, include members from IT, operations, legal, and communications. Their diverse perspectives will enrich the exercise. 

6. Prepare a Facilitator 

Choose a facilitator to guide the exercise, keep discussions on track, and ensure objectives are met. This can be someone from your organization knowledgeable about your business and cyber risks. 

7. Schedule Wisely

Plan the exercise at a time that minimizes disruption to your business operations. Early mornings or during slower business periods are ideal. 

8. Create Documentation

Document the exercise plan with clear steps and expected actions. This helps maintain focus and provides a record for post-exercise analysis. 

9. Conduct the Exercise

Run the exercise, ensuring it remains constructive and not critical. Encourage open communication and collaboration to identify strengths and weaknesses in your response plan. 

10. Debrief and Document Lessons Learned

Immediately after the exercise, hold a debriefing session. Discuss what went well, what didn’t, and why. Document these insights and develop a plan to address any gaps. 

11. Follow Up

The most critical step post-exercise is follow-up. Assign responsibilities to address the vulnerabilities discovered and set deadlines. Ensure these improvements are implemented and not just planned. 

12. Repeat Exercises Regularly

Cybersecurity is an evolving field. Regularly scheduled exercises will keep your team sharp and prepared for the latest type of cyber incidents. 

By investing time rather than capital, your SMB can leverage tabletop exercises to bolster your cybersecurity defenses. This approach provides an engaging, low-cost method to prepare your team for real-world cyber threats. It ensures that when you are faced with an actual incident, your response is swift, effective, and coordinated. Remember: preparation, including a simple incident response plan, is just as critical as protection. 

Additional Resources:

NIST SP 800-84: Guide to Test, Training, and Exercise Programs for IT Plans and Capabilities 

No question about cybersecurity is too small.

Contact us today to learn more about our Active Defense Solutions and delivery of Tabletop Exercises



Steve Ramey has spent the past two decades helping clients protect, investigate, and respond to events involving their digital interests. He has led hundreds of data breach investigations, assessed incident response and security programs, and successfully advised organizations through extortion negotiations.


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