Cyber Security

What are Tabletop Exercises? 

Tabletop exercises are a form of interactive disaster preparedness drill. Instead of running the protocol for an emergency, participants gather around a table (physically or virtually) to discuss their actions and decisions during a hypothetical scenario. These exercises focus on discussion and problem-solving rather than physical response, which allows organizations to test their plans and protocols in a low-stakes setting. 

In cyber security, tabletop exercises are a powerful tool for preparing your team to respond to potential threats. They enable your team to practice their responses to various cyber-attack scenarios, improving their understanding of protocols and uncovering potential weaknesses in your cyber security posture. 

Importance of Tabletop Exercises in Cyber Security 

Why should your organization invest time in conducting cybersecurity tabletop exercises? The answer is straightforward – to mitigate risk. A cyber-attack can have devastating consequences, from data breaches to financial loss, damage to your brand’s reputation, and even legal implications. Cyber security tabletop exercises equip your team with the necessary tools and knowledge to handle cyber threats effectively, significantly reducing risk. 

Tabletop exercises also foster team cohesion and improve communication. Engaging in these exercises, your team members can better understand their roles and responsibilities in a cyber-attack scenario. This understanding and open communication can significantly enhance your organization’s response to cyber threats. 

If you’re looking for expert-led tabletop exercises, PreparedEx offers a range of options designed to test and improve your team’s readiness for various cybersecurity scenarios. 

Running a Security Tabletop Exercise 

Running a cyber security tabletop exercise involves several steps: 

Objective Setting: Determine what you hope to achieve from the exercise. Do you want to test your incident response plan, identify gaps in your procedures, or train new team members? Setting clear objectives will guide the rest of the exercise. 

Scenario Development: Choose a scenario that aligns with your objectives. This could be a data breach, a ransomware attack, a phishing scam, or any other potential threat. 

Role Assignment: Assign roles to all participants based on their real-life responsibilities. This might include roles like incident responder, system administrator, or PR manager. 

Execution: Run the exercise, with participants discussing and acting out their responses to the scenario. An observer or facilitator should note any issues or successes. 

Review: After the exercise, review the process and outcomes. What went well? Where were the gaps? Use this review to improve your cyber security posture. 

For a comprehensive service that provides an early warning system for potential threats, consider using FirstLook by PreparedEx. This service will help you stay one step ahead of cyber threats and ensure your tabletop exercises are as relevant and effective as possible. 

Tabletop Exercise in Risk Assessment 

Risk assessment is a critical component of cyber security. In this context, a tabletop exercise is a form of qualitative risk assessment. Instead of relying on numerical data, qualitative risk assessments evaluate risk based on observation and discussion, making them perfect for tabletop exercises

In a risk assessment tabletop exercise, the scenario is a potential risk, such as a cyber attack or data breach. Participants discuss their response to this risk and identify potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in their existing procedures. This allows the organization to evaluate and improve its risk management strategies, enhancing its overall cyber security posture. 

Five Key Elements of a Strong Cybersecurity Posture 

While every organization is unique and requires a tailored approach to cyber security, certain fundamental elements are universally beneficial. Here are the five essential elements of a strong cybersecurity posture. 

  1. Threat Awareness: Stay up-to-date with the latest cyber threats and understand how they could impact your organization. 
  1. Incident Response Plan: A detailed plan outlining how to respond to a cyber incident can significantly reduce the damage of an attack. 
  1. Regular Training and Education: Continuous education about best practices in cyber security is critical to maintaining a solid defense. 
  1. Regular Audits and Assessments: Regular reviews of your cyber security infrastructure can help identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. 
  1. Recovery Plan: Even the best defenses can be breached, so a robust recovery plan is essential. This includes regular data backups and a method for restoring normal operations after an incident. 

What Makes a Good Tabletop Exercise? 

An excellent tabletop exercise is not merely an opportunity to practice a response to a scenario. It is an opportunity to learn, to identify gaps, and to improve. Here are some features of a successful tabletop exercise

  • Realistic Scenarios: The more natural the scenario, the more valuable the exercise. 
  • Clear Objectives: Knowing what you want to achieve from the exercise helps focus your efforts and make the exercise more effective. 
  • Diverse Participation: A range of perspectives can highlight different potential issues and solutions, so include participants from various departments and levels of the organization. 
  • Open Communication: Participants should feel free to express their ideas and concerns. An open, blame-free environment fosters learning and improvement. 
  • Actionable Outcomes: After the exercise, clear actions should be taken to improve your cyber security posture. 

Resource: Principles of Simulation Exercises – Online Training


In the digital age, cyber security is more important than ever. Regular tabletop exercises are proven to test and enhance your organization’s readiness for cyber threats. Through services like the tabletop exercises and FirstLook provided by PreparedEx, you can ensure your team is well-prepared to defend your organization against potential cyber-attacks. 

Rob Burton
Rob Burton

Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.