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Backup And Disaster Recovery

The Difference Between RPO and RTO in Cybersecurity

April 06, 2023

7 minutes

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.

Here’s a quick rundown of what both of them accomplish, how they fit into a recovery plan, and what businesses can do to shorten them in order to retain more data during downtime from a cybersecurity incident.

See how RPO and RTO fit into a cybersecurity strategy and explore more security systems and controls your business needs to stay secure.[ Download our checklist, How Covered is Your Business?](See how RPO and RTO fit into a cybersecurity strategy and explore more security systems and controls your business needs to stay secure. Download our checklist, How Covered is Your Business?, to find out more. ), to find out more.

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

What is the Meaning of RPO?

RPO is the amount of time between the last recorded data backup and the start of a breach, meaning the maximum length of time that data can be restored.

For example, if an organization with an RPO of 10 minutes experiences a breach 5 minutes after the last backup, 5 minutes of data new or updated data collection will be lost.

What is the Meaning of RTO?

RTO is a number determined by an organization as the maximum amount of downtime that an organization is able to withstand after an incident. Downtime can cost businesses thousands or millions of dollars, so it’s important to reduce the amount of downtime (RTO) as much as possible.

An RTO is chosen by considering how often you backup data, how much data you collect, the importance of the data, and other factors.

In other words, how long can an organization go on before recovering from a disruption before it makes too large of an impact?

The Difference Between RPO and RTO

Essentially, an RPO represents how frequently you backup data, and an RTO represents how long until you must recover after an incident. Ideally, both numbers are small, meaning you backup data as often as possible and are back up and running very quickly and without major losses.

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 effectiveness of the recovery side 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 having to go too long without the 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 RPO as part of a cybersecurity program because it gives your recovery team the information it needs to build a strategy that fits your needs.

RTO in Cybersecurity

It’s a similar situation for RTO. RTO’s main role is to determine the maximum amount of time a system can be down before disaster occurs. In cybersecurity, this protects your business from being without critical systems for so long that it severely negatively impacts your operations and bottom line to the point where recovery is too difficult to overcome.

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 again when needed.

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 up-to-date the data must be. 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 more time.

Related: The Biggest Cybersecurity Breaches of 2021

To dig deeper and learn more about what length of time you may need for an RPO or RTO, 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?

Oftentimes, businesses must balance other factors when deciding on these numbers to determine an optimal choice and decide whether a larger investment in technology is needed. If the data an organization handles is less critical to business operations, a longer RPO and RTO may be OK. 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.

In Conclusion

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?

Learn more about all the cybersecurity systems, controls, and procedures your business needs to stay secure. Download the How Covered is Your Business? checklist to explore what goes into a modern security approach.