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The worst-case scenario survival handbook

How can you prepare for a cyber attack?

David Mytton
© Shutterstock / Gst

Keeping your data secure is more important than ever, but it seems like there’s a new wide-scale data breach every other week. In this article, David Mytton discusses what developers can do to prepare for what’s fast becoming inevitable.

Cyber security isn’t something that can be ignored anymore or treated as a luxury concern: recent cyber attacks in the UK have shown that no one is immune. The stats are worrying – in 2016, two thirds of large businesses had a cyber attack or breach, according to Government research. Accenture paints a bleaker picture suggesting that two thirds of companies globally face these attacks weekly, or even daily.

According to the Government’s 2016 cyber security breaches survey, only a third of firms have cyber security policies in place and only 10% have an emergency plan. Given management isn’t handling the threat proactively, developers and operations specialists are increasingly having to take the initiative on matters of cybersecurity. This article covers some essential priorities developers should be aware of if they want their company to be prepared for attack.

Know your plan

There’s no predicting when a cyber attack might come, whether it be in the form of a DDoS, a virus, malware or phishing. It’s therefore important to be constantly vigilant, and prepared for incidents when they do occur.

Senior leadership in your company should be proactive when laying out a plan in the event of an attack or other breach, however this might not always be the case. No matter what your position is within your company, there are preemptive actions you can take on a regular basis to ensure that you’re adequately prepared.

SEE MORE: Major SaaS data security concerns: What can you do to minimize the risk?

If you’re in an Ops team, make sure you’re encouraging your team to test your backups regularly. There’s little use having backups if you’re unable to actually restore from them, as GitLab learned to their detriment earlier in the year.

Use simulations and practice runs to ensure that everyone on your team knows what they’re doing, and have a checklist in place for yourself and your colleagues to make sure that nothing gets missed. For example, a DDoS attack may begin with a monitoring alert to let you know your application is slow. Your checklist would start with the initial diagnostics to pinpoint the cause, but as soon as you discover it is a DDoS attack then the security response plan should take over.

If you happen to be on-call, make sure you’ve got all the tools you need to act promptly to handle the issue. This might involve letting your more senior colleagues know about the issue, as well as requesting appropriate assistance from your security vendors.

Communication is always one of the deciding factors in whether a crisis can be contained effectively. As a developer or operations specialist, it’s important to be vocal with your managers about any lack of clarity in your plan, and ensure that there are clear lines of communication and responsibility so that, when the worst does occur, you and your colleagues feel clear to jump into action quickly.

Remember your limits

It might sound obvious, but it’s worth remembering: in a cyber attack or catastrophic incident, there is only so much you yourself can do. Too many developers and operations staff fall prey to a culture of being ‘superheroes’, encouraged (often through beer and pizza) to stay as late as they can and work as long as possible on fixes to particular issues.

The truth is, humans make mistakes. Amazon’s recent AWS S3 outage is a good example: swathes of the internet were taken offline due to one typo. If you’re on-call while a cyber attack occurs there’s no denying you’re likely to work long hours at odd times of the day, and this can put a real strain on you, both mentally and physically. This strain can make it much harder for you to actually concentrate on what you’re doing, and no amount of careful contingency planning can compensate for that.

SEE MORE: Building security into modern, high-performance API architectures

At Server Density we’re keenly aware that employee health and well being is critical to maintaining business infrastructure, especially in the event of a crisis. That’s why we support movements like HumanOps, which promote a wider awareness of the importance of employee health, from the importance of taking regular breaks to ergonomic keyboards. All too often people working in IT forget that the most business-critical hardware they look after isn’t servers or routers, it’s the health and well being of the people on the front lines looking after these systems.

Cyber attacks are stressful on everyone working in an organisation, and the IT teams take the brunt of the strain. However, with careful planning, clear lines of delegation and an appreciation of the importance of looking after each other’s health, developers and operations specialists should be able to weather the storm effectively and recover business assets effectively.

Author

David Mytton

David Mytton is Founder of Server Density Limited. David Mytton is a programmer from the UK who started his first company in 2005 serving customers such as BAE Systems and City University London. He has published a book and spoken at multiple conferences including the Dublin Web Summit and various MongoDB events. David also runs the MongoDB London User Group. He has completed a law degree from University of Birmingham.

Follow him on Twitter @davidmytton.


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