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Tabletops

By Robert Kirtley on 7/21/20 2:05 PM

Just as life has evolved in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so to has activity by bad actors attempting to leverage the pandemic to identify new avenues to commit crime. It is not just criminals that can disrupt your operations, however. As we have all seen, a virus or a storm can be at least as disruptive as cyber attacks.

Organizations need to be prepared to address a wide variety of threats and be certain that their preparation translates into an ability to execute. One key tool for leaders to test the effectiveness of their preparation is conducting tabletop exercises.

A tabletop exercise typically involves simulating a series of scenarios and having each of the organization’s team members walk through how their function would respond. Typically, you will have people from your security team, IT, HR, executive leadership, legal and operations. There are a number of goals, but key among them are:

  • An objective way to determine if your incident response plan is adequate to address the scenario. Do you have the correct decision makers involved? Does the plan actually work? Is it detailed enough to facilitate your response? Do you have the right technical and operational skills to execute your plan? Are the roles and responsibilities clear? How will you deal with contingencies like people being out or on vacation?
  • Identifying gaps so that you can address them prior to facing a real crisis is another key benefit.
  • Finally, it is a vital step in involving and educating senior firm leadership on the role of the incident response team and its importance to the future or your organization.

Last fall, our team at iDS took a law firm client through a series of scenarios while conducting tabletop exercises to evaluate our business continuity and disaster recovery plans. One of those scenarios was based on a widespread outbreak of a Zika-type virus and the impact of having almost half of their employees no longer willing to travel or come into the office. We discovered gaps in our ability to operate remotely. While the impact initially looked manageable in the event that we faced an event like this, it was clear that two of our functions would be disproportionately impacted: the Billing and Collections group and the Accounts Receivable group. Even though the firm would be able to continue serving clients, it would not be able to get invoices out in a timely manner and would not have anyone on the AR team able to follow up on invoices that did go out.

While the firm had always expected its attorneys to be able to work remotely, they had never considered that parts of their accounting team could also potentially need that capability. After that exercise, we worked with firm leadership and the IT team to begin addressing those gaps by equipping everyone in the firm with the ability to work remotely. iDS helped them achieve this through a combination of provisioning users with laptops and by helping them to deploy a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI is one type of desktop virtualization whereby specific desktop images run on virtual machines and enable users to work remotely over the internet.

The onset of the pandemic this spring put our business and disaster recovery plans to the test. Within the span of a few weeks, the firm was able to transition from approximately 20% remote work on a weekly basis to 100% remote work. While there have been a few hiccups, primarily related to employee home bandwidth constraints, the firm and its employees have successfully transitioned and continued serving clients and executing the back office functions necessary for the survival of the firm.

The managing partner has made a point of lauding the success of the program and attributing that success to the planning involved in creating, and most importantly, testing the plans that identified how the firm could deal with any sort of disruption to their operations. Tabletop exercises were a key element of that testing process.


iDiscovery Solutions, Inc. (iDS) is an award-winning, global, and expert services firm that delivers customized, innovative solutions for legal and corporate clients’ complex challenges. iDS’ subject matter experts testify and consult in connection with electronic discovery (eDiscovery), digital forensics, data analytics, and cybersecurity/information governance.

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