Cyberattacks may be an ever-present threat that dominate the majority of the headlines for IT and operational failures. There is however another more common yet rarely spoken about danger not getting nearly the attention as it deserves. Malicious activity was not the culprit for the outage at Visa which saw five million transactions fail. Nor was it behind the week-long chaos suffered by thousands of TSB customers back in 2018. In fact, according to figures published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), security was responsible for just 119 of 646 operational incidents at financial firms over the course of one year.


IT outages have very much proved to be the new villain in town, with recent findings indicating a 138% rise in IT failures in the past year. In August last year, the five biggest banks in the UK revealed that they had experienced a shocking 64 outages in the second quarter of 2018 alone. Such outages not only cause major upset among customers, but have severe financial implications on businesses. As estimated by Gartner, the average cost of IT downtime is a whopping £4,400 per minute, which means one single day of downtime to IT systems may have severe consequences especially on smaller enterprises with more limited resources.


The cost of IT failures goes far beyond financial losses however, as they also damage the reputation of the business and lead to massive amounts of operative time lost. Just ask TSB, who last year suffered a massive outage which locked 1.9 million customers out of their accounts for up to a month. As one can imagine, the effect of such a severe outage is still felt today, as many of its clients quite understandably took their business elsewhere especially after the same company suffered a second significant outage only four months later.


When it comes to the incidents outlined above the finger cannot be pointed at anyone else but the companies themselves. The crippling downtime was caused by different forms of IT failures, brought upon them because of ignorance, over-confidence in IT systems, outdated/ineffective IT infrastructure and a lack of testing and preparation. Businesses are themselves responsible for the management and maintenance of their systems to ensure operational resilience. However, with an increasing amount of services moving to the Cloud and to help contain the accompanying risks and maintain financial stability, the Bank of England recently published the ‘Future of Finance’ report highlighting their efforts to facilitate businesses use of technology to increase operational resilience. The aim for them will be to support and enable organisations to deploy the cloud in the safest way possible.


No matter the reason behind the outages however, what they all collectively highlight is the need for IT departments to shift focus from cyber-security and divert some of the budget to strengthening routine IT operations and backup abilities. Regular testing and optimisation of backup and recovery systems can deliver big rewards in terms of preventing issues and getting back up and running quickly and limiting losses when the unimaginable happens.


In light of the recent swarm of cyber incidents, businesses tend to focus their efforts on preventing attacks and the subsequent data loss from ever happening in the first place. This has left a significant gap in the IT security efforts, as whilst intrusion protection may work against external breaches, the only true remedy for suffering an IT outage is recovering data and systems as soon as possible.


Many companies may have implemented a lot of the right technology, yet most of them don’t regularly, or indeed ever, test their backup and recovery systems, which means they will remain unaware of potential faults or vulnerabilities in their infrastructure. Testing is essential to managing the effectiveness of the recovery environment and ensuring that data is available whenever needed. Without testing in a controlled and simulated environment, it is impossible for IT and security teams to fully understand their system’s integrity. Afterall, finding out you’re running an ineffective system after a failure has already taken place will serve no value – the damage has already been done and all that is left to do is to try and limit the disaster where possible.


So what does an effective disaster recovery strategy look like? Whilst no approach can be deemed completely bullet proof, businesses that have adapted a zero-day recovery architecture have gained a fighting chance to recover from IT failures with minimal damage. The true damage doesn’t come from the failure itself, but from the downtime it leads to, which is why investing in a zero day recovery system able to bring systems and operations back up and running in minutes if necessary is crucial in attempting to save a business following an IT failure or a breach. Following the so called 3-2-1 backup rule, where three copies of the data is stored on two different media and one offsite backup file, provides a zero day recovery strategy which enables IT departments to partner with the cyber teams to create a set of policies which define the architecture for what they want to do with data backups being stored offsite, normally in the cloud.


The zero day recovery strategy further categorises business data according to its strategic value to business operations. All data is not created equal, which is why it is crucial to make sure the most vital data is brought back first in case of an outage to ensure business continuity. This means that a particular workload may need to be brought back into the system within 20 minutes while another workload can wait a couple of days, which further helps optimise storage and recovery costs.
Whilst adopting this kind of approach can by no means be considered a silver bullet towards system failures or cyber-attacks, what it can do is make sure any downtime and subsequent losses can be minimised. But to do so this system needs to be thoroughly planned and tested in advance, before disaster strikes.

 

Written by Andrew Shelley, Global Account Director at Tectrade


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