Why You Need a Data Breach Response Plan

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It seems nearly every day, we hear of another major data breach. National retailers, banks, even governmental agencies have not been immune to hackers, who have used multiple methods to break into networks and steal reams of personal information from innocent customers.

As the number of people affected by data breaches grows, and the amount of money lost due to attacks climbs into the billions, some might be starting to wonder whether their data is actually safe at all, and if it’s only a matter of time before their personal information is inappropriately exposed. According to security experts, the feeling isn’t too far from the truth. These days, the question isn’t whether a network will be breached, it’s a question of when. In fact, in just the first month of 2014, there were more than 91 major security breaches, which exposed everything from names, addresses and phone numbers to Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and even medical records.


You might be thinking “But we have excellent security system in place! The data protection company we use is the best in the business!” And that is probably true. However, hackers are no longer only interested in large targets, but will attack even small businesses in search of information they can sell, or better yet, use in their attacks on larger targets. Cybercriminals are sophisticated and constantly on alert for even the smallest vulnerability to exploit. You need to understand the real risk of a breach, and put a plan in place to secure a breach and limit the damage.

Why a Breach Is Inevitable

According to one recent report, more than 97 percent of all data breaches are preventable, indicating  IT security teams are making mistakes when it comes to data protection.

There are several reasons for this trend. For starters, the network landscape has changed. Just a few years ago, almost all data was stored within the perimeter of an organization; files weren’t being stored in the cloud or managed using mobile and cloud-based applications. Today, companies have the convenience of using cloud-based applications to help improve productivity and manage costs, but there are some tradeoffs in terms of security. Not to mention, organizations are collecting and storing more data than ever before, including data only recently been classifiedas sensitive, such as email addresses. When companies rely on old methods to protect data in the new landscape, they are quite simply inadequate.

The human element also comes into play in the prevalence of data breaches. Employees working on the go lose mobile devices full of sensitive information or access points to sensitive information. Disgruntled employees engage in sabotage designed to hurt their employer. Well-meaning but uninformed employees respond to phishing messages or inadvertently download malware, creating a breach. Even well-protected networks can be breached thanks to human behavior, creating the need for a well-thought out, precise response plan.


Responding to the Breach

Now that you know a breach is inevitable, you might be tempted to give up trying to protect everything entirely, or go back to using typewriters and filing cabinets to store your data. Since neither of those is practical, you need to do two things:

  • Invest in the best security protocols possible, and provide ongoing training and education to employees. Advanced security protection, which includes advanced threat detection, firewalls, sandboxing, encryption and cloud security will go a long way toward keeping data safe.
  • Develop a breach response plan. When the data breach happens, you don’t have time to develop a response. Anticipate the breach, and create a written response plan that includes, at minimum, plans for securing the breach once identified, a communication plan for notifying customers and associates (particularly senior management and the legal team) and a plan for investigation. The plan needs to include contingencies allowing IT to act without a prolonged decision-making process; for example, the plan might specify standard operating procedure is to shut down the entire network immediately upon discovery, understanding the fallout of shutting down is preferable to the losses caused by the breach.

A breach response plan should be a living document, and updated regularly to include new policies and procedures as necessary.

It’s said the best defense is a good offense, and knowing a breach is likely to occur and developing a response plan is just another way of putting yourself on the defense. Do so, and you may be one of the lucky few who are able to fully protect your data.

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