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Backup And Disaster Recovery

The Difference Between RPO and RTO in Cybersecurity

May 21, 2024

7 minute read

hourglass on green background | rto and rpo: what's the difference

RPO and RTO play unique roles within backup and disaster recovery services, helping businesses measure the ideal amounts of time that they need to backup critical data and recover from incidents that cause outages.

RTO stands for recovery time objective whereas RPO stands for recovery point objective and both are fundamental aspects of a proper disaster recovery plan.

Let’s take a deeper look into the meaning behind RPO and RTO and the roles they play in disaster recovery for organizations in the modern digital era.

To learn more about how and where your organization can improve its cybersecurity posture, download and review DOT Security’s Cybersecurity Checklist: How Covered is Your Business?

Difference Between RPO and RTO

Recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) are two measurements of time within a company’s cybersecurity incident response. Both help determine how prepared an organization is to identify, respond to, and recover from a security event. They also help measure downtime and its impact on business operations.

RPO vs RTO graphic

Understanding the nuanced differences between RPO and RTO is integral to creating a disaster recovery plan that allows your organization to more quickly and smoothly recover from cyber incidents like a data loss or breach.

What is RPO (Recovery Point Objective)?

RPO is the amount of time that passes between a full valid data backup and the moment a system failure or data breach is recorded.

For example, if an organization with an RPO of 10 minutes experiences a breach 5 minutes after the last backup, 5 minutes of data will be lost meaning this hypothetical organization has an RPO of 5 minutes.

What is the Meaning of RTO (Recovery Time Objective)?

RTO is a number determined by an organization as the maximum amount of downtime it’s able to withstand after a cyber incident occurs. Downtime can cost businesses thousands or millions of dollars, so it’s important to set a realistic RTO that gives your organization a chance to recover without suffering significant losses.

An RTO should be set based on the frequency of your backup schedule, the volume of data that needs to be backed up, the sensitivity of the data, and other factors that relate to the value of the data your organization collects, stores, and utilizes in daily operations.

Setting an RTO will help organizations gauge the severity of a data breach and should give them a good idea of how wide a window they have before damages from a breach become insurmountable.

The Difference Between RPO and RTO

Essentially, an RPO represents how frequently data gets backed up, and an RTO represents how long an organization has until they must recover after an incident. Ideally, both numbers are small, meaning you backup data as often as possible and that you're able to restore operations without suffering major losses.

Difference between RPO and RTO

What is RPO and RTO in Cybersecurity?

In cybersecurity, RPO and RTO’s roles lie mostly in recovering and preparing for disaster. When attacking, cybercriminals will attempt to limit your access to important data either by stealing it outright or locking you out of your systems.

A disaster recovery plan (which contains your desired RPO and RTO) is how you limit that damage once you’ve quelled the threat. RTO and RPO are not cybersecurity controls themselves but are used to measure the efficacy of your security strategy.

RPO in Cybersecurity

The recovery point objective is the amount of time that can elapse before critical data must be recovered to resume normal operations. In terms of cybersecurity, RPO protects your team’s ability to resume business and mitigates the risks of losing the most important data that keeps your business running smoothly. It works by defining the necessary interval that data is backed up so that, when you lose access to data, there’s a backup dataset waiting.

It’s necessary to identify your business’ ideal recovery point objective as part of a cybersecurity posture because it gives your recovery team the information it needs to build a strategy that fits your organization’s specific needs.

RTO in Cybersecurity

It’s a similar situation for RTO. The main role of your recovery time objective is determining the maximum amount of downtime a system can handle before disaster occurs. In cybersecurity, RTO gives your cybersecurity team an acceptable goal for speed of system and operational recovery.

Identifying your RTO is a necessary part of a cybersecurity strategy because, again, it helps your security team build a strategy that ensures the critical aspects of your business technology are operational within a reasonable timeline.

RPO and RTO in Disaster Recovery

Within a disaster recovery strategy, RPO and RTO help determine how long your organization will experience downtime after an incident and how much data could be lost. Part of establishing an effective recovery plan is determining the ideal RPO and RTO for your organization.

The average cost of downtime is $5,600 per minute. But, due to there being so many variables, downtime can cost some businesses up to $540,000 per hour.

How to Calculate an RPO or RTO

The “best” RPO or RTO depends on a few factors like how critical the data is to business operations and how frequently that data must be updated. For industries where information moves quickly, like retail where transactions happen frequently, you may need more backups, in slower industries you might be able to afford slightly more time.

To dig deeper and learn more about what RPO or RTO would be ideal for your organization, ask questions like:

  • How often does your data change?
  • What are you losing with each minute of downtime?
  • What does each minute of downtime cost in terms of money, productivity, services, etc.?
  • Can business still operate with these systems down?
  • How does downtime impact your customers?

Another variable to consider is your maximum tolerable period of disruption (MTPD) which is the amount of time your services can be down before it's unacceptable to your business which can mean your employees can no longer do business or that your customers will become frustrated. Basically, how long can you go before business is heavily affected to the point of losing business?

How Often Should You Backup Your Data?

Backups should be performed frequently and automatically, and stored in a way that protects them from being compromised along with the primary data. However, there’s no single backup frequency that is one size fits all.

If the data an organization handles is less critical to business operations, a longer RPO and RTO may be suitable.

when data collection is necessary, and you must work with the most up-to-date information, it’s worth it to invest more in data security and backups. For businesses where real-time data is crucial—such as financial institutions, healthcare providers, and e-commerce platforms—short RPOs and RTOs are vital.

These organizations should consider investing in advanced backup technologies, such as continuous data protection (CDP), which ensures that every change is saved almost instantly, and disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS), which provides robust, cloud-based recovery solutions to minimize downtime and data loss.

Additionally, modern backup solutions often integrate automation and monitoring to ensure that backups are performed correctly and data integrity is maintained.

Wrapping Up on RPO and RTO

RPO and RTO both help businesses measure and understand the risks associated with backup and recovery from cybersecurity incidents and answer key questions like: how much data can you afford to lose and how long can your business withstand downtime before incurring losses?

Understanding the role of RPO and RTO in cybersecurity and disaster recovery responses will help your organization establish data security standards that are aligned with the nature of your business and keep your operations running smoothly.

Learn more about all the cybersecurity systems, controls, and procedures your business needs to stay secure by downloading the DOT Security Cybersecurity Checklist: How Covered is Your Business?