Operational Exercise: Are We Ready for Real-World Cyber Attacks?

Operational Exercise: Are We Ready for Real-World Cyber Attacks?

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Advocate
 Last update: November 25, 2023

An operational exercise is a planned activity where a system or response procedure is carried out in a controlled environment. It’s used to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of operations. The exercise can reveal areas for improvement and help teams become familiar with the procedures they need to follow in real-life situations.

Operational Exercise Examples

1. Hospital Emergency Scenario

In a bid to enhance its preparedness for large-scale emergencies, a hospital may choose to carry out an operational exercise. The fundamental purpose of this activity is to assess the level of readiness of the staff as well as the institution as a whole during emergencies or disasters. The staff are given a scenario in which they might be required to respond to an emergency like a natural disaster or a mass casualty event.

By simulating this scenario, the hospital can ensure its staff have a first-hand experience of what an actual emergency situation would be like. They get to understand their roles and responsibilities during such occasions. As they’re following the established protocols of the hospital, the exercise reveals how efficient these established response strategies are. It shows if there are any areas that need improvement or any gaps that should be addressed immediately.

The results of the operational exercise help in developing strategies to enhance the response system of the hospital. This way, the hospital is better prepared to manage real-life emergencies and minimize potential risks to patients’ health.

2. Financial Institution Cyber Attack Simulation

A financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, might conduct an operational exercise to test its preparedness against cyber threats. In this example, a simulated cyber attack is launched against the institution’s systems. The aim of this exercise isn’t to cause havoc, but to provide a chance for the information technology (IT) team to put their response plan into action.

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Once the simulated attack is initiated, the IT team begins to implement their pre-established defense mechanisms. This could involve identifying the source and nature of the attack, isolating affected systems, and mitigating potential damages. The primary focus lies in monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of these procedures in a pseudo-real-world scenario.

This type of operational exercise can prove invaluable in strengthening a financial institution’s cybersecurity stance. It not only identifies potential weaknesses in the system’s defences but also equips the IT team with vital experience. Ultimately, it leads to more robust safeguards that protect sensitive financial data from actual cybercriminals.

3. Manufacturing Company Production Line Test

In the manufacturing sector, an operational exercise may be carried out on the production line. The goal here is to experiment with new machinery or perhaps, a newly-developed production process, under controlled conditions. This operational exercise can aid in measuring performance, identifying potential issues, and assessing how new elements might impact overall productivity.

During this operational exercise, the manufacturing team’s members monitor various factors of the operations closely. They observe how smoothly new machinery integrates with existing productions lines, whether it increases efficiency, or if it causes any unexpected disruptions. Similarly, a new production process is evaluated for its efficacy, safety, and compatibility with current practices.

This kind of operational exercise helps to take the guesswork out of making significant changes to the production line. By carrying out a controlled test, the manufacturing company can make informed decisions about upgrading equipment or changing processes. Ultimately, this operational exercise helps the company increase efficiency, safety, and productivity in a controlled and systematic manner.


Operational exercises play a critical role in various sectors to test the efficiency and effectiveness of systems and processes. By running these controlled simulations, organizations can identify areas of improvement, increase staff preparedness, and ultimately enhance their overall performance in real-case scenarios.

Key Takeaways

  • Operational exercises allow organizations to run controlled simulations to test strategies, procedures, and systems.
  • These exercises help identify weaknesses, ensure preparedness and boost performance in real-life scenarios.
  • Hospitals can conduct operational exercises for large-scale emergencies to test their staff’s readiness and institutional protocols.
  • Financial institutions might run an operational exercise of a cyber attack to assess their IT security’s effectiveness.
  • Manufacturing companies can use operational exercises to evaluate new machinery or processes for their production lines.

Related Questions

1. How often should an organization conduct operational exercises?

The frequency of operational exercises can vary greatly depending on an organization’s size, the complexities in their operations, and any regulatory requirements they need to comply with. However, a general rule of thumb is to conduct these exercises at least once a year.

2. Who should be involved in an operational exercise?

Typically, an operational exercise includes personnel who would be involved in real-life scenarios. In a hospital, for instance, the medical team, administrative staff, and emergency response team would be part of the exercise. The idea is to replicate real-world conditions as closely as possible.

3. Can operational exercises be conducted for small businesses?

Yes, even small businesses can and should conduct operational exercises. This can help them be better prepared for potential challenges, improve business operations, and mitigate risks.

4. What are the main benefits of operational exercises?

Operational exercises primarily enable organizations to identify weaknesses in their plans or systems, test new processes, and prepare their teams for real-life situations. Additionally, they can boost confidence among staff, enhance operational efficiencies, and enable organizations to refine their procedures.

5. Are operational exercises expensive to conduct?

The cost of operational exercises can vary depending on the scenario and the scale on which it’s conducted. While some can be expense-heavy, requiring props or specialized equipment, others can be done with minimal expenditure, focusing more on personnel training and system testing.

"Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
-- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional