Data Breach Response: 5 Essential Steps to Recovery
Unfortunately, no security system is infallible and data breaches happen. Following a comprehensive data breach response plan in the immediate aftermath and then continuing to monitor your systems to detect any follow-up threats is the best way to handle them.
This statistic is both fascinating and scary as it reveals the ingenuity of hackers and their ability to hold the online world to ransom. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses have adopted remote working and using cloud communications platforms, such as cloud contact centers, for customer support. This has created multiple new avenues for data theft.
While a data breach can’t be altogether avoided, the right response plan can help mitigate losses for a company and its customers. Here are five essential precautions to take after a data breach:
1. Don’t Improvise
One of the biggest mistakes companies make in the wake of a data breach is taking impulsive action for damage control. This could be any number of things, from securing the targeted endpoints to issuing a press release about the breach. However, a decision made while panicking is mostly reactive and will likely end up doing more harm than good.
So, in the event of a data breach, the first thing to do is implement your company’s incident response plan. An incident response plan is a blueprint for businesses to navigate their movements through a crisis such as a data breach. It is carried out by a dedicated incident response team with predefined roles for each member and a clear chain of command. You can easily delegate tasks within your incident response team using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone services.
The incident response team oversees the following responsibilities:
Identifying the Source and Extent of the Breach
The incident response team will investigate and identify what caused the data breach. For example, it could be outdated software, an open port on a firewall, malware in the system orchestration, a ransomware attack or simple human error. Once the source and extent of the breach have been identified, the compromised system can be isolated to contain the damage.
Addressing Legal and Ethical Obligations
In the aftermath of a data breach, a company needs to review any legal obligations it has to fulfill. Most data breaches are bound by federal or state laws that dictate strict timelines for disclosure of the breach to affected customers. An attorney can provide legal counsel on how much information needs to be divulged and to how many people. (Also read: 10 Strictest Data Privacy Laws By Country in 2022.)
On this note, it’s worthwhile to mention a company’s ethical obligations to customers. For example, a company that has suffered a theft of credit card information may not be legally obligated to pay affected customers for credit report monitoring. However, washing their hands of the matter entirely is not advisable. How a company deals with the breach directly impacts its customer retention rate, a point every developer should bear in mind.
Addressing All Public Relations and Communication Queries
Public relations (PR) and communications teams need to know exactly what information to release internally and what information to release to the public. This ensures the company maintains a consistent narrative across all channels. The PR team can use collaboration software to share information across multiple departments in the company. They will also write any press releases and communicate to the media on behalf of the developer team and the wider business.
Responding to Customer Queries
While this is not strictly developers' responsibility, it’s valuable to understand the bigger picture of the incident management process.
The incident response team also addresses all customer queries. In the aftermath of a data breach, a company must maintain a degree of transparency with affected customers. The customer service team should prepare a list of expected queries using a manual tester as part of the data breach plan. They should be able to provide timely answers to customers. Open multiple channels of communication to offer 24/7 assistance, from live chat to online video calling.
There’s also a possibility that your customers might want to contact you directly and upgrading your office telephone system would be a great help. (Also read: 7 Steps to Developing a Hardware Refresh Strategy.)
2. Conduct a Data Breach Post-Mortem
Conducting an intensive post-mortem is one of the most important steps to take after a data breach. Much like in the incident response plan, a Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) architecture post-mortem reveals exactly what data has been compromised and from which point in the system. The most common causes of a breach include:
- Outdated anti-virus software.
- Open port in the firewall.
- Malware in the system.
- Unintentional human error.
- A phishing attack.
Once the breach's nature and extent have been identified you can determine if it was a random or planned attack. For example, an email phishing attack attempt is random but if your accounting software was compromised, then it was a targeted attack on your company. Once you have this data, you can inform everyone on a “need-to-know” basis about vulnerabilities in your network and any possible triggers. You might also need to update your contract software development to prevent cases like this from happening again.
An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) helps automatically detect external threats. The IPS constantly monitors the company network. Once it detects malware, it sends a threat report to the system administrator and attempts to protect the system by securing access points and configuring firewalls.
IBM's 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report mentions 23% of breaches are caused by human error. While it’s not possible to prevent all future breaches, identifying the gaps in your system or data security measures can help mitigate risks.
For example, a company can’t prevent an employee’s laptop from being stolen. However, it can enforce stringent data encryption measures on these machines and ensure that any company information stored on them can only be accessed through a VPN connection. (Also read: Considering a VPN? Make the Right Choice for Your Needs.)
Additionally, companies should train employees on data security and test execution metrics so they can be held accountable in case of a violation.
A data breach post-mortem can be a useful way to review how your company uses IT. You can identify gaps in existing solutions, implement new anti-malware tools and anti-phishing software and update endpoint and cybersecurity.
3. Document Everything
It is important to document absolutely everything while investigating a data breach. Collating relevant information about an incident is key to validating that the breach happened. During an investigation a company should document:
- The date and time of breach discovery.
- Who discovered the breach.
- How the breach was detected.
- Location of the compromised system.
- Steps taken to neutralize the attack.
- All parties involved in neutralizing the breach's effects.
- All internal and external communication about the breach.
Make sure to interview anyone involved and record a phone call with a concerned party. Using enterprise hybrid cloud and logging the results of your investigation through data capture and analysis is useful for the post-mortem of the breach. This also ensures you are prepared for any potential legal consequences.
4. Implement Robust Data Encryption Measures
It is normal and even sensible to have a “once bitten, twice shy” attitude towards a data breach.
A company whose data security has been compromised should strive to prevent future breaches at all costs. An effective way to do this is to implement robust data encryption measures. Even if stolen, encrypted data is useless to most hackers who don’t have the know-how or time to decrypt it. (Also read: Encryption Vs. Decryption: What's the Difference?)
According to a 2020 Statista survey, 56% of respondents said their companies extensively employed data encryption in digital communication channels. As cyberattacks become more and more sophisticated at infiltrating security systems, data encryption should be a top priority for companies across the board to protect their digital assets.
The three main ways tot encrypt data are:
- Tokenization. Tokenization replaces data with unique symbols. When processed by a special tokenization system, it shows the original data.
- Data encryption. Data encryption converts data to a type of code that can only be deciphered with a unique key.
- Data de-identification. Data de-identification splits personal data, like a social security number, from related data, making it hard for hackers to connect it to the right person.
5. Don’t Get Complacent
Once a threat has been neutralized and the dust has settled, it’s normal to want to restore services and resume business as usual. However, this is when you need to continue to monitor your systems and networks to make sure that there are no further attacks. The technologies you used before the breach may no longer be suitable now. At this point, your company should review its security strategy to identify any possible gaps. This includes everything from anti-virus software to Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) and TensorFlow.
To ensure a more robust approach to data protection in the future, companies need to update their data breach plan. This needs to be treated as a "living document" which evolves with the business.
A data breach can be a debilitating blow for a business. It can cost thousands of dollars to neutralize the effects of a breach and take years to rebuild customer confidence in a company. According to a Businesswire report, 83% of customers in the United States stop engaging with a business in the immediate aftermath of a data breach and 21% never return. (Also read: Massive Data Breaches: The Truth You Might Not Know About.)
Unfortunately, no security system is infallible and there is no way to summarily prevent all future threats. The best way to deal with a breach is to contain the threat and mitigate losses. Following a comprehensive incident response plan in the immediate aftermath of a breach and then continuing to monitor your systems to detect any follow-up threats is the most pragmatic way of dealing with a data breach.