Why Should You Do Incident Response Tabletop Exercises?

A crucial part of maturing your overall incident response capabilities is dry-running the process through what are known as “tabletop exercises.” Imagine security meets Dungeons & Dragons-style role playing. In all seriousness, incident response tabletop exercises are a great opportunity to practice your incident response process in a realistic scenario, from the documentation to the defined procedures to the personnel. The decision-making process and communication chain are also valuable parts of a tabletop exercise that can be fleshed out in a safe environment before being needed in a real incident.

incident response tabletop exercises
Incident Response Tabletop Exercises can be the time your roleplaying background finally comes in handy!

The size of your organization, the size of your incident response team, and the maturity of your incident response capabilities all factor into how often you should run these kinds of exercises. But they present a great opportunity for different members of the Incident Response Team to interact with one another, learn more about the intended process, and help practice some real-life scenarios.

Why Should You Do Incident Response Tabletop Exercises?

  1. Improve Quality and Efficiency – Everything from your documentation (policies, processes, procedures, templates, etc.) to your team dynamic can be improved through these exercises. Bolstering the quality and efficiency of your response process allows you to work out the kinks before your hair is on fire. The tabletop exercise may uncover scenarios your plans don’t address, nuances in communication that you couldn’t have anticipated, or just plain wrong/outdated information.
  2. Practice Like You Play – Running these exercises shows all the players that the organization takes security incidents seriously, and lets them know what is expected of them should one ever occur. You want to make sure everyone is ready when an incident really does occur. Practice makes perfect and if your responders have some idea of how the process works, it will allow them to be calm and collected during a serious situation.
  3. Compliance Requirements – Everything eventually comes back to compliance and this is no different. Many of the high-profile security standards and compliance bodies require regularly testing your incident response plan, and a tabletop scenario is a cost efficient and effective way to meet that requirement with the highest return on investment for your organization.

These are just some of the primary reasons, but there are plenty of tangential benefits to running tabletop exercises, as well. Minor things that can also result from incident response tabletop exercises include: organizational visibility for the security program, leadership buy-in for the incident response process (and the associated funding you need), and assurance that you are doing your due diligence in being prepared should a real incident ever occur. We have experience leading tabletop exercises and can help you plan or facilitate this process the next time you decide to try it out. We’ll cover some of the more technical advantages to running regular incident response tabletop exercises in a later post.