When a Potential Cyber Attack Freezes Your Assets, How Do You Pay Your Employees?

Frustrated woman trying to access a locked back account

Setting the Scene

Harbor Tech Solutions, an 80-person tech consulting company, buzzed with the constant energy of creative minds at work. renowned for its innovative approach to technology consulting. Harbor Tech had been in business for a little over a decade, and its founders worked every day to further its reputation as a forward-thinking and reliable player in the regional tech consulting ecosystem.

The company culture at Harbor Tech is one of its biggest strengths. It’s a place where innovation is encouraged, diversity is celebrated, and employee welfare is a top priority. The team is a melting pot of talent, with experts in various fields of technology coming together to provide cutting-edge solutions. The open-plan office is often abuzz with discussions, and the walls are adorned with awards and tokens of client appreciation, testifying to the company’s achievements and the hard work of its dedicated staff.

The Inciting Incident

The week at Harbor Tech Solutions was progressing typically until a startling message from their bank disrupted the calm. The finance department, already preparing to process the month’s payroll, found themselves facing a sudden, chilling roadblock: the company’s bank accounts were frozen. This drastic measure was taken due to detected suspicious transactions on their accounts, hinting at a potential cyberattack.

The bank, risk-averse and well aware of the danger cyber threats posed, implemented the procedure they always do in a case like this. To protect the funds, it locked down all transactions while they investigated. This included the critical payroll disbursements due in just five days.

Harbor Tech’s controller quickly set up a meeting with the founders and the head of HR. The news she shared privately was grim. It was very likely that, despite having more than enough cash in the bank, Harbor Tech was not going to make this month’s payroll.

This unexpected freeze exposed a gap in Harbor Tech’s preparedness. The founders felt they’d given enough emphasis to cybersecurity. They had firewalls and anti-virus in place, and the staff went through training annually. The issue with payroll was a painful reminder that focusing on cybersecurity doesn’t automatically give them a business continuity plan. They hadn’t foreseen a scenario where cyber fears would freeze their financial operations. Now, they faced the challenge of reassuring their employees, exploring alternative payroll methods, and working with the bank to unlock their accounts, all while maintaining the integrity and morale of their team.

This incident at Harbor Tech Solutions highlighted a crucial lesson: in the digital age, cybersecurity is more than protecting data. It’s about ensuring the continuity of all business operations, including the essential process of payroll.

Flashback: What Harbor Tech Overlooked

In the quiet aftermath of the crisis, the leadership at Harbor Tech Solutions found themselves reflecting on the vulnerabilities that the incident had laid bare. It was a moment of introspection, a realization of what they had overlooked despite their proactive stance on cybersecurity.

Lack of a Contingency Plan

The first and most glaring oversight was the lack of a contingency plan for their financial operations. As a technology company itself, Harbor Tech had always prided itself on staying on top of the latest digital defenses. However, their preparation had been primarily focused on preventing data breaches and securing client information. They hadn’t considered the concept of their bank accounts being frozen, a financial lockdown as a result of cyber threat suspicion. There was no blueprint in place for how to navigate financial transactions or fulfill payroll obligations under such circumstances. This oversight had left them scrambling for solutions in the face of the crisis.

Communication with Financial Institutions

Another critical area that Harbor Tech had neglected was establishing a clear line of communication with their bank regarding cybersecurity protocols and emergency actions. While their internal systems were fortified against digital threats, they hadn’t considered the need for a collaborative approach with their financial institution to address potential cyber-related financial disruptions. A dialogue with the bank could have facilitated a quicker resolution and a better understanding of the bank’s security measures and actions in response to perceived threats.

Employee Awareness

Lastly, there was the issue of employee awareness and preparedness. The Harbor Tech team, though skilled in their respective areas of technology, weren’t fully aware of or prepared for the potential impact of cybersecurity issues on their payroll. The sudden freeze of accounts and the resulting delay in payroll had caught everyone off guard, leading to heightened anxiety and uncertainty among the staff. The company had missed an essential aspect of cybersecurity preparedness – ensuring that their employees were informed about how such incidents could affect them personally and what measures could be in place to mitigate such impacts. Communicating with your team about unlikely risks is a difficult process, but not as difficult as communicating with them about why payroll is delayed.

This reflective journey into what they had overlooked was a turning point for Harbor Tech Solutions. It became clear that their cybersecurity strategy needed to be more holistic, covering both the protection of their digital assets and ensuring the continuity of all aspects of their business operations, including financial transactions and employee communications. The lessons learned from this incident were about to reshape their approach to cybersecurity, risk management, and organizational resilience.

The Path Forward

With the lessons from their oversight freshly imprinted, the leadership team at Harbor Tech Solutions swiftly shifted their focus to navigating out of the crisis and fortifying their defenses for the future.

Immediate Steps

The immediate priority was to address the pressing issue of payroll. The management team, in a series of rapid brainstorming sessions, evaluated various alternative solutions to ensure that employees would receive their salaries on time. The options on the table included:

  • Issuing Manual Checks: Considering a temporary switch to manual payroll processing, a logistical challenge but a feasible stopgap measure.
  • Setting Up Temporary Accounts: Exploring the possibility of establishing temporary financial accounts, separate from their primary bank, to process urgent transactions like payroll.
  • Advances from Company Reserves: Utilizing the company’s emergency reserves to provide advances to employees, ensuring their immediate financial needs were met.

Each option was weighed for its feasibility and speed of implementation, with a focus on minimal disruption to the employees’ financial stability.

Long-Term Solutions

Recognizing the need for a more resilient approach to their financial operations, Harbor Tech began laying the groundwork for comprehensive long-term solutions:

  • Regular Communication with Their Bank: Establishing a routine dialogue with their financial institution to understand the bank’s security protocols and to develop a joint response plan for any future cyber-related financial disruptions.
  • Developing a Financial Contingency Plan: Creating a detailed plan to address various scenarios where their financial operations could be impacted, including cyber incidents. This plan would include alternative payroll processing methods and emergency access to funds.
  • Transparent Employee Communication: Implementing a policy of transparent and frequent communication with their staff about potential payroll disruptions. The aim was to ensure that employees were both aware of the possibilities and also understood the measures in place to protect their interests.

By addressing both immediate needs and long-term vulnerabilities, they were setting a course towards a more secure and prepared future, one where the company and its employees could continue its growth trajectory with confidence and resilience.


If Harbor Tech Solutions’ story sounds impossible or even just improbable, know that while the company is fictional the scenario is very possible. There are lots of scenarios short of an actual cyberattack that can cause your organization a lot of difficulty, or even put it out of business. Just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean it couldn’t.

The best time to start implementing business continuity is six months ago, but the second-best time is today. If your business was unable to process payroll how badly would your morale suffer? How would you go about restoring your team’s confidence?

These are questions no business owner should have to consider alone. Arch Access is the trusted cybersecurity partner to help you build and test your Cyber Incident Response and Business Continuity Plans when things are fine, and we’re here 24/7 to help when things go wrong. Contact us at sdeal@archaccess.com to learn more.