Your 7 Step Data Breach Response Plan


Hayley HoskinsBusiness & Tech Blogger

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Cybersecurity and data protection are some of the top priorities of modern companies. This comes as no surprise, as data breaches can have devastating consequences for your business. Containing a breach and regaining control over affected data requires a lot of resources, both in terms of time and money.

Article 6 Minutes
Your 7 Step Data Breach Response Plan

Additionally, a data breach affects the way your customers perceive you — it can seriously damage trust and hurt your brand reputation.

Given that the stakes are this high, businesses focus most of their data security efforts on preventing breaches. While protecting your data to the best of your ability is important, putting all your eggs in one basket and focusing only on prevention is a mistake.

The fact is incidents do happen, and you need to be ready to act if you’re affected. In order to minimize these losses, it’s essential to have a quick and effective data breach response plan. Here are 7 steps you should follow in case you experience a breach.

1.    Be prepared

Before the breach even happens, you should have a few things laid out and prepared in advance.

Purchase the right insurance

As data breaches and other cybersecurity threats are becoming increasingly common, it would be wise to consider purchasing cyber insurance to protect your company.

While insurance can’t help you protect your reputation, it can minimize the financial losses and allow you to spend your resources on rebuilding trust and recovering your image, instead of worrying about legal expenses and investigation costs.

Make sure that you understand exactly which risks and threats your company is most vulnerable to and use this information to find the right type of insurance and negotiate the price and terms of your policy.

Assemble your data breach response team

A data breach response team plays a crucial role in executing your response plan and mitigating the severity of the consequences of a data breach. They’re responsible for coordinating your response strategy and making sure that none of the steps are being skipped.

The roles within your response team must be clearly defined and everyone should be aware of their responsibilities. The team needs to be trained so that they can act as soon as the breach is discovered.

Start putting together a plan

After gathering the response team, you should start working on creating a detailed, step-by-step response plan.

There’s no simple and easy solution for dealing with data breaches. Additionally, not all breaches are the same, so your response can vary based on the scope of the breach, nature of the exposed data, size of your company, your industry and many other factors.

However, you must have some ground rules and preset procedures that will determine the way you detect and contain the breach, notify the victims and the public about the incident and finally resolve the breach and use the experience to improve your data security in the future.

2.    Identify the breach

Detecting the breach as soon as it happens will give you a head start and enable you to prevent additional data loss and exposure.

Monitor internal communication

Proactively monitoring company emails can help you detect suspicious communication and identify a data breach from its early stages.

Use your email archiving solution to set up a retention policy and automatically retain emails that match certain data protection policies and then monitor those emails to detect if your employees are sharing sensitive information.

Determining retention periods will also allow you to delete your emails once it expires and lower the risk that the sensitive data contained in those emails will get exposed.

Look for the red flags

Besides internal communication, there are some other red flags you should look out for. Keep your eyes on the following:

  • Unusual login times
  • Multiple failed logins
  • Unexplained traffic
  • Unexpected Ips
  • New devices on the network

Train your employees

Relying solely on tools and cybersecurity specialists isn’t enough. In order to avoid threats or identify incidents once they happen, all of your employees need to be familiar with potential security risks.

Raising awareness through regular training and cybersecurity exercises is crucial for the early detection of a data breach.

3.    Contain the breach

Once you’ve detected a breach, timing is everything. Alert and activate your response team immediately and start executing your response plan.

At this point, your main goal is to contain the breach as fast as possible and save the data that hasn’t been affected. Take the affected devices offline and secure the impacted area in order to stop the spread.

4.    Investigate and evaluate risk

After the breach has been contained, you can launch an initial investigation and start gathering information. Here’s what you should find out:

  • Who discovered the breach?
  • How was the breach discovered?
  • Date, time, location and duration of the breach
  • Type of data exposed
  • List of affected individuals or organizations

After collecting the basic information, conduct in-depth interviews with involved parties about the breach and document their responses.

All this information will help you carry out a risk assessment and evaluate the damage caused by the breach, both to your business and other affected individuals.

5.    Notify everyone

Next, it’s time to determine who needs to be notified about the breach, both externally and internally. Make sure that all the affected parties are informed within the mandated timeframes.

Consult your legal team and notify law enforcement if necessary.

Inform your PR team and start working on mitigating reputational damage. Don’t try to cover up the breach and deal with it in secret; instead, make sure to be the first one to notify everyone and to be transparent about it.

6.    Start recovering

Once you’ve detected, contained, and analyzed the threat, you need to remove it from your network, review and reset any compromised credentials, restore the system and return it to a functional state.

After restoring the system to an uninfected state, continue monitoring it to make sure that it stays functional and it isn’t showing any residual signs of previously eradicated threats.

7.    Learn from your mistakes

Finally, once everything is up and running as usual, gather all the documents and review the findings of the investigation to evaluate your response.

Use this evaluation to find the blind spots in your current response plan and update your policies and procedures accordingly.

Also, revisit your employee training program to use your newly found knowledge to improve the way you teach your employees to respond in similar situations.

Final thoughts

While doing your best to prevent a data breach is essential, you must also be prepared in case it does happen. It’s impossible to predict exactly what a breach will look like, but preparing a response team with clearly delegated roles and responsibilities and creating a detailed plan will enable you to respond quickly and effectively.

No matter how strong your response plan is, don’t forget there’s always something you can learn from practical experience and make sure to use every incident as a lesson and a chance for further improvement.

Hayley Hoskins

Business & Tech Blogger

Hayley Hoskins is a San Francisco-based business and tech blogger, internet nerd, and data enthusiast.


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