Cyber Incident Response Tabletop Exercise

Cyber security incidents will one day happen, and how you prepare for such events is vital. Do you have a plan of action? What will you do if the worst happens to your firm? It would help if you built safeguards to guard against vulnerabilities or security flaws before they pose a major threat.
To protect the organization from external and internal attacks, organizations need to maintain a cyber security incident response and review policy. Firstly it’s crucial to set up an incident response plan (IRP) that will determine how the organization should respond when attacked. This policy helps focus efforts on areas of high risk and to determine mitigation steps for tackling insider threats. Reviews need to take place periodically so that any changes in plans can begin being made quickly.
Understood are the activities carried out during an incident response.

Cybersecurity Incident Response (IR) – Importance of Planning

Planning a successful cyber incident response process is a joint effort involving a host of people, including representatives from across all levels of the organization and external stakeholders. These incident response blueprint stakeholders from different departments may include risk management, IT, asset owners, line of business managers, and compliance officers, to name a few.

Cyber attacks can be scary and very hard to defend against. However, suppose you have a cyber incident response plan in place and perform regular tabletop exercises. In that case, it helps prepare your team for the reality of how to handle a cyber-attack. With playing out all kinds of incident response scenarios to ensure we are constantly updating our plans and policies so that when the time arrives, we will be ready to respond to cyber-attacks.

What is Cyber Incident Response Table Top Exercise?

An incident response tabletop exercise is an important form of organizational training about security incident preparedness, taking participants through the process of conducting incident simulation scenarios and providing hands-on training for participants that can then highlight flaws in incident response planning.

Cyber security incident preparedness tabletop exercises are an essential part of an organizational training strategy when it comes to getting your team members and personnel ready for an actual security incident. At this type of training session, participants will learn how to deal with a hypothetical scenario that simulates what would happen if vulnerabilities were exploited and issues arose in your organization’s infrastructure.

IR Plan to defend against Cybersecurity attack vectors

Cyberattack VectorExamples/DescriptionObjectiveProblem Identifier
MalwareVirus, worm, trojan horse,
spyware, rootkit software
Data theft, password stealer, network or system compromiseAntivirus software; intrusion detection system (IDS
PhishingDeceptive malicious email that targets organizational users and uses attachments or malicious links to plant malwareNetwork or system access; data breachUser
RansomwareExtortion (data are deleted or encrypted unless ransom is paid)Blackmail for ransom
Ransomware announcement
Denial of service (DoS)Overwhelm network device or server to prevent access or usageNetwork or system disruptionNetwork administrators via network monitoring system
Compromised, weak or stolen credentialsUser login account and passwordData breachForensic investigation
Third- and fourth-party vendorsSuppliers, cybersecurity partnersObtain competitive informationNetwork monitoring system; log management system
Device misconfigurationData at rest, data in motionGain access to dataSystem assessment
Unpatched vulnerabilitiesServers, network devices, mobile computing devicesObtain access to device and dataPatch management system
Structured Query Language (SQL) injectionsManipulate database servers to expose informationGain access to dataPenetration tester
Cross-site scriptingInject malicious code into a commentGain access to system, network and dataPenetration tester
Session hijackingIntercepted session cookiesGain access to dataUser
Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacksPublic Wi-Fi networksGain access to networkIntrusion prevention system (IPS)
Brute-force attackTrial-and-error attempts to gain access to network or systemGain access to systemLog management system

What is tabletop exercise scenarios?

Here are five verbally-simulated scenarios for a tabletop exercise that can help your team think and make decisions in case of a real cybersecurity incident:

Scenario 1: Ransomware Attack

Sarah was a rising star in her marketing firm. She had been with the company for two years, and her hard work and dedication had paid off. She had just been promoted to the position of senior marketing manager and was looking forward to taking on new challenges.

One day, as Sarah was working on her computer, she noticed a strange message pop up on her screen. It was a ransom note, demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key to unlock her computer’s files. Sarah was shocked and didn’t know what to do.

She quickly realized that her computer had been infected with ransomware. She had unknowingly downloaded malware onto her computer, which had encrypted all of her files and made them inaccessible. She knew that if she didn’t pay the ransom, she would lose all of her work, and the company would suffer a major setback.

Sarah’s boss, David, was notified, and he immediately alerted the IT department. The entire company was shut down while they worked to contain the ransomware attack. The IT department discovered that the attack had spread throughout the company’s network, affecting multiple computers.

  • Discussion Questions:
  • What steps can we take to prevent a ransomware attack?
  • How do we respond to a ransomware attack and mitigate its impact on our business?
  • What are the potential financial and reputational impacts of a successful ransomware attack?

Threat Actors: Cybercriminals, Nation-State Actors
Assets Impacted: Business-Critical Data, Operations
Incident Response Activities: Detection and Response, Data Backup and Recovery, Negotiation with Attackers, Law Enforcement Notification

Scenario 2: Business Email Compromise (BEC) Incident

Emma was the CEO of a successful marketing firm. She was a busy woman, always on the go, attending meetings, making deals, and growing the business. She had built the company from scratch, and she was proud of what she had accomplished.

One day, Emma received an urgent email from a high-ranking executive in the company. The email appeared to be legitimate and asked Emma to transfer a large sum of money to a new vendor. Emma didn’t think twice about it and authorized the transfer.

But as soon as she clicked the send button, she had a sinking feeling in her stomach. She realized that something was wrong. She immediately called the executive, but he had no idea what she was talking about. Emma realized that she had fallen victim to a business email compromise (BEC) attack.

Discussion: How do we verify requests for wire transfers or other financial transactions, especially when they come from a high-ranking executive?
Teams: Who are the key stakeholders in the incident response team, and how do we ensure clear lines of communication during a BEC attack?
Protection: What policies and procedures do we have in place to prevent BEC attacks, and are they sufficient?
Detection: How do we detect BEC attacks, and what are the warning signs that an attack may be in progress?
Response: What is our incident response plan for a BEC attack, and how do we ensure that we can recover any funds that may have been lost?

Scenario 3: Insider Threat

Mike had been working as a programmer at his company for the past 10 years. He was respected by his colleagues and was known for his exceptional work. But little did they know, Mike had a hidden agenda.

One day, the company discovered that sensitive data had been leaked to a competitor. The IT department traced the source of the leak back to Mike’s computer. They found evidence that he had been accessing confidential information and sending it to his personal email address.

Mike had been caught in the act of insider trading. He had been using his position to gain an unfair advantage over his employer. The company was shocked and didn’t know how to handle the situation.


  1. What policies and procedures do we have in place to prevent insider threats?
  2. How do we detect and respond to insider threats that have already occurred?
  3. What are the potential impacts of an insider threat on our business and customers?


  1. Who should be involved in the incident response team for an insider threat incident?
  2. What are the roles and responsibilities of each team member?
  3. How can we ensure effective communication and coordination among team members during an insider threat incident?


  1. What access controls do we have in place to limit employees’ access to sensitive data?
  2. How can we ensure that employees are aware of the consequences of insider threats and the importance of protecting company data?
  3. What technology solutions can we implement to monitor and prevent insider threats?


  1. What technology solutions do we have in place to detect insider threats?
  2. How can we improve our monitoring capabilities to detect insider threats more quickly?
  3. What are the signs that an employee may be engaging in insider threat behavior, and how can we train our employees to recognize these signs?


  1. What steps should we take to contain an insider threat incident and limit the damage?
  2. Who should be notified in the event of an insider threat incident, and what information should be provided?
  3. What are the legal and regulatory requirements for reporting insider threat incidents, and how can we ensure compliance?

Scenario 2: Ransomware Attack

Discussion Questions:

  • What steps can we take to prevent a ransomware attack?
  • How do we respond to a ransomware attack and mitigate its impact on our business?
  • What are the potential financial and reputational impacts of a successful ransomware attack?

Threat Actors: Cybercriminals, Nation-State Actors
Assets Impacted: Business-Critical Data, Operations
Incident Response Activities: Detection and Response, Data Backup and Recovery, Negotiation with Attackers, Law Enforcement Notification

Cyber Attack Incident Response tabletop exercises for regulatory compliance

Regulatory organizations have clear cut and stricter standards to validate cyber security incident response for information and data security compliance the event of a cyber-attack.

Comparing defense controls against existing controls, the regulatory bodies mandate that all organizations to assess and test their incident response and business continuity plans readiness on a regular basis through Tabletop exercises.

Tabletop exercises are an effective way to test an organization’s response plan and ensure that all employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities in the event of a security incident.

Regulatory compliances Guidelines for cyber incident response testing in the form of:

  • Incident management
  • Cybersecurity crisis management exercises
  • Annual BCP (Business continuity management)  simulation test exercises
  • Tabletop (discussion-based) exercises
  • Simulation testing
  • Complete rehearsals
  • Simulate pre-defined breach scenarios
  • Post-incident/crisis management roles and much more

Cyber security Incident Response Tabletop Exercise Benefits

There are many reasons why tabletop exercises should become a standard component of your cyber incident response preparedness and evaluations.

We’ll tell you exactly how they can benefit you and why they are so important.

IR Tabletop Benefit #1: Tabletop Exercises Validate Incident Response Plan

Creating an incident response plan is good for your cybersecurity strategy. Still, you can’t just fire it off into the Internet’s vast sky and hope for the best. You need to test your IR plan at least once before facing the real day-to-day work of responding to any cyber incidents that might occur. For example, when there’s a valid threat about a potential breach,

The purpose of a Cybersecurity incident response tabletop exercises is to validate your existing Incident Response Plan. You can identify the plan’s strengths and weaknesses by running through different incident response scenarios with your team before an actual incident occurs. This way, you can make necessary changes to the plan to be more effective when an incident happens.

Cybersecurity incident response tabletop exercises are designed to simulate an actual crisis, and it helps in validating an organization’s IR readiness in the event of a cyber attack. By simulating a real-world incident response scenario and testing existing controls against proposed defense controls, these exercises help to validate an organization’s ability to respond effectively to a cybersecurity incident.

IR Tabletop Benefit #2: Security awareness among employees

Cybersecurity incident response tabletop exercises are essential for building a team’s critical thinking skills and helping employees understand how to combat a data breach or cyber attack. These exercises can help your team prepare for and respond to an incident more effectively.

IR Tabletop Benefit #3: Improving Security Incident response readiness

Developing incident response procedures, drill scenarios, roles, and responsibilities define incident assessment and escalation process. Such Incident response preparedness maintains stakeholder confidence in executing incident response operations as per 2 key IR frameworks:

  • The NIST Incident Response Framework
  • The ISO/IEC 27035-1:2016 information security incident management

Incident Response Tabletop 

Incident Response Table Exercise Process

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top