Confidential Computing

Data Breach Response Planning: Best Practices For Protecting Your Data

Sebastian Gajek
August 27, 2023
Data Breach Response Planning: Best Practices For Protecting Your Data

A data breach is a security violation in which cyber criminals gain unauthorized access to confidential data, including corporate data such as intellectual property and customer records and personal data such as bank account numbers, healthcare details, and Social Security Numbers. Such breaches are motivated by financial gain and can be caused by:

  • Hackers
  • Malicious insiders — for instance, angry or laid-off employees
  • Innocent human error — for example, an employee mistakenly emailing confidential info to the wrong person

According to Statista, more than six million data records were exposed globally through data breaches in the first quarter of 2023.

Moreover, with the cost of cybercrime predicted to hit $10.5 trillion by 2025, it is more than necessary for businesses to take adequate measures to safeguard their data.

A single data breach can result in hefty financial losses and reputational damage. That is where having a Data Response Incident Plan (DRIP) makes sense.

What is a Data Response Incident Plan exactly?

It is a document outlining how a business should respond in case of a data breach and what steps it needs to take to recover in the shortest time and as cost-effectively as possible.

The incident plan provides a clear guideline as to what actually constitutes a security incident, who is involved in the plan and their contact information, and a step-by-step guide to mitigating the breach.

Why is having a plan of action important for data security?

Without a robust incident response plan, a business will likely suffer from losing customer data, intellectual property, and trade secrets, which can negatively affect customer loyalty, compliance targets, and the bottom line.

It could also take years to recover from a breach, and many businesses can never truly recover. That is where integrating a response plan with Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) solution makes a difference. The latter continuously monitors and manages cloud configurations to prevent any security vulnerabilities.

CSPM solutions scan the cloud environment and alert stakeholders in case any non-compliant settings or security gaps get highlighted during the audit.

Combine that with data breach response planning and you have a system that helps you minimize the potential attack surface and provide a roadmap to respond effectively when incidents occur.

7 best practices for crafting a data breach response plan

Handling a breach professionally and with a calm mindset shows customers and vendors that your business is committed to transparency, responsibility, and safeguarding confidential data. Here are seven tips to follow while developing a response plan for your business:

1. Assemble a specialized response team

If a data breach happens and you are unsure of what to do next, you will take missteps or overlook critical aspects. That is why having a dedicated team for response planning is so important. You need to have the right people assembled from different departments to tackle a data breach promptly. Here is a closer look:

  • IT specialists: Task them with technical aspects of the breach — for example, spotting its origin, stalling its spread, and rebooting affected systems and devices.

  • Legal advisors: They ensure your response to the breach complies with applicable industry regulations and laws. They should offer insights into potential legal liabilities and privacy norms.
  • Leadership executives: As the decision-makers in the business, they should provide strategic guidance regarding the breach to ensure alignment with your broader objectives and principles.

  • Communication experts: They craft timely and apt communications to stakeholders, such as employees, customers, vendors/suppliers, and media. By swiftly addressing the issue, your business reinforces its reputation as a reliable and accountable entity in the industry.

In addition, have representatives from the HR team to manage any employee-related concerns, such as:

  • Addressing employee anxiety and uncertainty
  • Handling internal investigations or disciplinary actions
  • Organizing post-breach sensitivity programs

Take help from PR personnel to manage your business’ image during and after the incident.

2. Determine the team’s command structure

Besides building a team, you must establish a communication hierarchy so that all incident responses are carefully coordinated. The number of layers your structure includes depends on the size and complexity of your response team.

Ideally, an Incident Response Team Leader must ensure the response plan is always up to date and used correctly. Furthermore, have IT security specialists act as the enforcers, enacting the plan’s steps.

The management pyramid is by far the most widely used method for communication. It is where there is one leader on the top with multiple tiers of departments or groups below them. It enables everyone in the response team to know their roles and responsibilities and have the authority to make decisions within their scope

3. Prioritize rigorous employee training

Employees, even those outside security or IT roles, should be trained and made aware of importance of cyber security. Most security incidents affect a broader workforce base. Therefore, have frequent training sessions with your employees — even during periods of inactivity — so they are always prepared to put in measures to minimize the impact of a data breach.

Implement realistic training methods, such as role-playing scenarios or simulated phishing attacks, to illustrate a practical understanding of potential cyber threats.

Plus, cross-training the members of your response team helps foster a better understanding of each other’s roles. It creates a collaborative environment in the fight against cyber attacks.

Finally, turn lessons learned during a data breach into education for your teams. For example, if the breach began with a phishing episode, you must impart training on preventing that in the future.

Similarly, if a breach happens due to a vulnerability developed internally, consider training your DevOps department which is primarily responsible for enhancing the speed and quality of your infrastructure and ensuring all systems are patched and updated regularly.

4. Implement essential protective technologies

You need to have the right technology in place to detect a breach and respond to it. Much of that equipment must operate off-network so as not to be compromised in case of ransomware, trojans, spyware, or similar attacks.

You must also take regular data backups and store them offline, besides performing routine system and data recovery drills. The whole point is to minimize damage when a breach occurs and not let it hamper your business continuity.

The technology that is appropriate for you depends on the kind of data you store, analyze, or exchange. Does your data fall under any kind of regulation? Additionally, confirm your critical business processes and digital assets those processes utilize.

Note that you cannot protect or monitor anything, and that is why it is essential to focus on what is mission-critical and take steps to safeguard it.

5. Establish a central data analysis and correlation hub

Limited visibility across your cloud environment makes you less likely to detect anomalies and security gaps on time.

Having an integrated system helps detect and analyze breaches as it continuously scans the network for any vulnerabilities. It specifically helps in the following four tasks:

  • Quickly determines what data and resources have been stolen or compromised and which critical processes got hampered
  • Analyzes any systems compromised with malicious software

  • Sends timely notifications on suspicious events that would otherwise live under the radar.

  • Assess whether you need to contact the authorities, including regulatory bodies and federal law enforcement agencies (For example, GDPR can exact fines for failure to report a breach on time.)

6. Adopt intent-based segmentation and zero-trust protocols

Doing so helps prevent the lateral spread of a data breach across your cloud environment and thus forms an integral part of data breach response planning.

While intent-based segments bifurcate devices, systems, and data sets based on your business needs, zero-trust protocols verify users whenever they request access to a system, even if they have previously cleared the authentication process.

Let us study in detail how they fit into the response plan:

  • In case malware or other elements of a breach are detected, intent-based segmentation restricts the attack spread. It enables the IT security teams to modify shared libraries or files that exploit the existing software solutions, making the containment process more efficient.
  • Thanks to zero-trust protocols, cyber hackers cannot gain further access to critical systems or files because of its multifaceted verification process — even if they have breached on a surface level.

Ultimately, segmented systems and networks deliver better data logging and monitoring focus. This arrangement makes tracking the hacker’s path and understanding what component was compromised first and needs fixing much easier.

Zero-trust protocols also demonstrate to regulating bodies that your business practices stringent access controls, which can be handy during internal audits or post-breach investigations.

7. Set up a post-incident handling procedure

Remember to document all the steps you took to contain a data breach. It makes for such a vital step in response planning. Conduct a thorough review to identify weaknesses in how you contained and recovered from the breach.

For instance, take a hard look at the security tools and systems you have in place. Assess the performance of the specialized response team. Were they proactive enough? Did they know what to do?

Depending on what you find, update the training protocols, revise the team’s roles, and deploy new security measures. It would help if you involved external stakeholders in this process, such as cybersecurity experts and law enforcement agencies, for a more comprehensive outcome.

Over to you

With a business reputation at stake, data breach prevention is non-negotiable. Thankfully, you can comfortably minimize the risk of being exposed to a breach by implementing the best practices discussed above.

It is essential to be vigilant and proactive when reviewing and addressing potential vulnerabilities. Data breach response planning allows you to build trust and showcase that even in the most adverse situations, your business adheres to the highest standards of integrity.

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