5 steps to effective data breach management

In recent years, cybersecurity and the risk of data breach has become a top priority for organizations around the world. The frequency and severity of data breaches have increased at an alarming rate within the last year, with organizations facing lawsuits and regulatory investigations, and experiencing a loss in consumer trust.

It is critical to have a plan in place to quickly limit the potential damage data breaches can cause. This includes having the right personnel and procedures in place and making sure that they know how to respond and what steps need to be taken.

The best thing your company can do is plan ahead and have an efficient strategy in place, to effectively manage data breaches if and when they happen.

What is a data breach?

A data breach happens when sensitive or personal data is accessed or disclosed without authorization or lost.

The most common way a data breach occurs is when malicious actors gain access to an organization’s database. The data can then be viewed, transmitted or stolen and used in any way.

Internal employees may deliberately or inadvertently be involved in a data breach, exposing personal information, financial information, software codes, intellectual property rights or customer information.

Regardless of how a data breach occurs, it’s imperative to have a plan to enable the security operations center (SOC) to immediately act to manage the situation.

Steps to managing a data breach

One of the key issues with managing a data breach is knowing what to do. A dedicated incident management team should be nominated, with specific tasks and clear expectations of each member of the team.

Alternatively, managed security service providers monitoring your system for threats can act rapidly and take control of managing the data breach with a number of incident response solutions.

A prepared incident response plan allows the security team to respond quickly and minimize any potential harm that could be caused by the breach. This will avoid confusion and ensure a more effective response and restore operations quickly and efficiently.

Step 1: Initiate response plan

When an alert is raised that a breach is happening or has occurred, the incident response team should be notified and initiate the response plan. This plan informs the actions that need to happen when a breach occurs.

The team should document the actions taken at every stage of the plan. If your company is required to report a breach to a supervisory authority, then the data collected during the breach analysis will be called upon. Data that should be collected and documented includes:

  • How and when the breach was detected
  • Who reported the breach
  • Where the breach occurred
  • Which employees, stakeholders or customers are impacted
  • The risk level of the breach for all impacted
  • Steps taken to stop and contain the breach

If there is a notification requirement to inform authorities of the breach, having information about the breach response will be an asset.

Step 2: Stop and contain

The next important step is to stop the data breach. Time is essential in this situation.
The methods for containment will vary depending on the type of attack. Containment can be achieved by isolating vulnerable systems and preventing any new leaks before they reach other parts of your IT environment.

This may be disconnecting the internet or vulnerable user accounts or shutting down microsystems if they’ve been targeted by the attacker. Security software such as Microsoft 365 Defender, a cloud-based email filtering service, can be utilized to protect against malware. Making use of highly advanced security infrastructure with multiple layers can track and isolate the attack on your company.

At this point, containment of the breach is vital to prevent other areas of the IT infrastructure from being penetrated and affected, while preserving evidence of the breach. It can be tempting to fix the breach at this stage, but this can remove evidence of the breach for forensic investigators and legal counsel if needed.

Step 3: Assessing damage

Once the attack has been stopped and eliminated, the next step is to investigate it and assess the damage it may have caused to your organization and stakeholders. In many cases, this can be a complex and time-consuming task, and outside the scope of the in-house IT team. Enlisting the support of a managed security provider can ensure the damage assessment and recovery process is robust and thorough.

Managed security providers have specialist knowledge to analyze the incident to learn how it happened, which can inform future decisions on incident prevention and management. Cybersecurity experts have the expertise to detect threat vulnerabilities and improve your organization’s security posture going forward.

Step 4: Notification rules

When investigating a data breach, it’s important to make an informed legal decision about obligations to notify authorities, any third-party agencies, and the people being affected by the breach. The breach notification rules vary across different industries and govern the time output in which the breach needs to be reported, but it’s always best to do it as soon as possible.

All 50 states in the US have legislation that requires private businesses, and government entities in some states, to notify individuals of security breaches that involve personal data.

When notifying potentially affected parties of data breaches, it is important to provide the date of the breach, what was compromised, and how to protect against any further damage. This will aid with maintaining integrity and saving reputation, which can be profoundly affected by public announcements of breaches.

Step 5: Post incident audit

A security audit is one of the most important steps in recovering from a data breach. Cyber attackers often target the weakest part of an organization’s infrastructure to gain access to sensitive data. Again, the specialized knowledge of cybersecurity experts can be vital to help your organization understand what, if any, data was compromised, and the ways to best protect against future data breaches.

Risk assessment can inform future security training for all employees to ensure they’re aware of what to do to avoid being involved in a data security breach.

How to prevent data breaches in the future

Businesses looking to protect against data breaches need robust security measures in place, and this is often best left in the hands of security specialists. Managed security service providers can offer 24/7 security management, suggest and implement solutions and strategies to ensure systems, including cloud-based platforms, are less vulnerable to data breaches.

Some of the ways this can be done include:

  • Train employees in cybersecurity best practices
  • Adding two-factor authentication will provide greater protection than using only password authentication.
  • Monitor the transfer of data throughout your company to help avoid data misuse or exploitation
  • Stop certain systems from being accessed when employees aren’t logged in and ensure that sensitive data is only handled by relevant professionals
  • Enable role-based user access, which limits what employees can access depending on their role in the business
  • Deal with out-of-date software and unpatched vulnerabilities which can put sensitive data at risk
  • Restrict downloadable media to prevent the transfer of sensitive information to external devices.
  • Run data security breach drills to ensure all employees and incident response team members know what to do in the event of a live breach.

Almost 75% of companies that experience a data breach don’t know how it occurred, and many employees are often unaware of what to do if a breach happens. To ensure your business is protected and has robust security management solutions, talk to the security experts at Merit Technologies.

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