Building Cybersecurity Maturity: Harnessing the Power of Tabletop Exercises

Building Cybersecurity Maturity: Harnessing the Power of Tabletop Exercises


In an era of constantly evolving cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities introduced by technological advancements, Federal organizations face the challenge of maintaining cyber maturity goals. As policies and procedures adapt and evolve, it becomes crucial to ensure continuous improvement in cybersecurity preparedness. One powerful tool that organizations can utilize to achieve this is the tabletop exercise. By conducting regular tabletop exercises organizations can identify and address potential gaps in their incident response plans, ensuring that their procedures are effective and robust.

Strengthening Incident Response: Identifying and Addressing Gaps through Tabletop Exercises

Tabletop exercises serve as important “thought experiments,” enabling participants to talk through responses to various scenarios. With each exercise, organizations learn from previous experiences and refine their response procedures, incorporating necessary training. These exercises primarily address specific threats identified, acting as reactive measures to ensure an effective response to emerging threats. By tailoring training to address identified weaknesses, personnel can quickly bolster their skills and adapt to new challenges. This proactive approach strengthens incident response capabilities and prepares teams to navigate the evolving threat landscape.

Recognizing their importance, Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske, speaking on a cybersecurity panel recently hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed TSA plans to add a requirement for tabletop exercises to test cyber incident response plans. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) now provides tabletop exercise packages on a wide range of threat scenarios.

Skill Development and Muscle Memory: The Value of Rehearsals and Drills in Cybersecurity Maturity

Just as athletes train and practice to build muscle memory and perform under pressure, cybersecurity professionals and teams benefit from continuous skill development. Regular rehearsals and drills simulate real-world scenarios where failure outcomes are acceptable. Through these exercises, personnel refine their skills, understand their roles and responsibilities, and reinforce their knowledge of procedures. By ingraining muscle memory through regular practice, the response team can act swiftly and effectively during actual incidents. This continuous skill development enhances cybersecurity maturity and ensures a confident and coordinated response.

From Reactive to Proactive: Tabletop Exercises as Catalysts for Long-Term Cybersecurity Strategy

Criterion cyber experts plan and execute formal tabletop exercises on a periodic basis for several Federal customers. The tabletop exercises and rehearsals we plan and execute primarily address specific threats that we have identified. They serve as reactive measures to ensure our team can effectively respond to these emerging threats. By tailoring our training to address identified weaknesses, we empower our personnel to quickly bolster their skills and adapt to new challenges. As one of our SOC managers aptly puts it, “It is the nature of the beast – we watch for fire.”

Furthermore, we recognize that tabletop exercises offer more than just reactive responses. They provide a valuable platform for building long-term cybersecurity strategy and maturity. We already leverage lessons learned from these exercises to adjust policies and procedures. Now, we are taking a further step to encourage the use of these insights as a foundation for strategy development. This creates a knowledge loop that spans from tabletop exercises and rehearsals to strategy implementation, fostering continuous improvement of an organization’s cybersecurity maturity.

To achieve success in this endeavor, it is essential to foster knowledge sharing within and among Federal cyber organizations. Collaboration and information exchange are key to staying ahead of evolving threats and building collective expertise. We are witnessing the initial stages of this collaboration, and we are genuinely excited about the potential it holds.

By recognizing the broader strategic value of tabletop exercises and nurturing a culture of knowledge sharing, organizations can elevate their cybersecurity efforts beyond reactive measures. Regular tabletop exercises and rehearsals strengthen incident response, identify gaps, and refine procedures. Simultaneously, these exercises contribute to long-term cybersecurity strategy development, enhancing overall maturity. With each exercise, organizations strengthen their defenses, enhance response capabilities, and advance the overall resilience of their cybersecurity posture.