BCP and DRP Testing

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If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of BCP and DRP testing.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. The BCP coordinator at your organization is leading a meeting on-site with key disaster recovery personnel. The purpose of the meeting is to perform a test. What type of test is this?

A. Functional exercise

B. Full-blown test

C. Tabletop exercise

D. Simulation to perform steps of a plan

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? Answer and explanation at end of this post.

Testing Used with BCPs and DRPs

Business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans include testing. Testing validates that the plan works as desired and will often include testing redundancies and backups. There are several different types of testing used with BCPs and DRPs.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-34, “Guide to Test, Training, and Exercise Programs for IT Plans and Capabilities,” provides detailed guidance on testing BCP and DRP plans. SP 800-34 identifies two primary types of exercises: tabletop exercises and functional exercises.

A tabletop exercise (also called a desktop exercise or a structured walk-through) is discussion-based. A coordinator gathers participants in a classroom or conference room, and leads them through one or more scenarios. As the coordinator introduces each stage of an incident, the participants identify what they’ll do based on the plan. This generates discussion about team members’ roles and responsibilities, and the decision-making process during an incident. Ideally, this validates that the plan is valid. However, it sometimes reveals flaws. The BCP coordinator ensures the plans are rewritten if necessary.

DRP Testing

Functional exercises provide personnel with an opportunity to test the plans in a simulated operational environment. There is a wide range of functional exercises, from simple simulations to full-blown tests. In a simulation, the participants go through the steps in a controlled manner without affecting the actual system. For example, a simulation can start by indicating that a server failed. Participants then follow the steps to rebuild the server on a test system. A full-blown test goes through all the steps of the plan. In addition to verifying that the test works, this also shows the amount of time it will take to execute the plan.

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Some of the common elements of testing include:

  • Backups. Backups are tested by restoring the data from the backup.
  • Server restoration. A simple disaster recovery exercise rebuilds a server. Participants follow the steps to rebuild a server using a test system without touching the live system.
  • Server redundancy. If a server is within a failover cluster, you can test the cluster by taking a primary node offline. Another node within the cluster should automatically assume the role of this offline node.
  • Alternate sites. You can test an alternate site (hot, cold, or warm) by moving some of the functionality to the alternate site and ensuring the alternate site works as desired. It’s also possible to test individual elements of an alternate site, such as Internet connectivity, or the ability to obtain and restore backup media.

Remember this

You can validate business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans through testing. Tabletop exercises are discussion-based only and are typically performed in a classroom or conference setting. Functional exercises are hands-on exercises.

DRP Testing for Security Controls

In some plans, it’s appropriate to test specific security controls to see if they operate as desired. For example, if the primary node in a failover cluster fails, it should automatically failover to the secondary node. An extreme method of testing this is to turn off the primary node and see if the secondary node takes over.

In some cases, an organization might want to ensure that employees can continue mission-essential operations even if certain resources are unavailable. For example, a DRP might identify alternate methods the HR department can use to perform certain functions even if the HR server is unavailable. By turning off the HR server for a day, the organization can determine if the HR personnel are able to perform their jobs using these alternate methods.

Personnel Safety in BCP and DRPs

Safety of personnel is always a concern and some BCP and DRPs include the following:

  • Escape Plans. Escape plans is letting people know how to escape and the route to take. As a simple example, rooms might include a map showing the shortest route out of a building in case of fire.
  • Escape Routes. Similarly, some cities have escape routes people can take in the event of a major storm such as a hurricane.
  • Drills. When escape plans and escape routes are in place, it’s useful to perform drills periodically to test the plans and routes. Many organizations do routine fire drills to ensure that personnel are able to evacuate a building in a short period of time.

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Q. The BCP coordinator at your organization is leading a meeting on-site with key disaster recovery personnel. The purpose of the meeting is to perform a test. What type of test is this?

A. Functional exercise

B. Full-blown test

C. Tabletop exercise

D. Simulation to perform steps of a plan.

Answer is C. A tabletop exercise is discussion-based and is typically performed in a classroom or conference room setting. Because this is a meeting led by the business continuity plan (BCP) coordinator, it is a tabletop exercise.

Functional exercises are hands-on exercises and include simulations and full-blown tests.

See Chapter 9 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information BCPs and DRPs.

Check out this post for information on Security+ Disaster Recovery.

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