Data Breaches: Having a Plan of Action

Frankie Wallace

If you have been running your business for a while, you have likely read plenty of resources that tell you how you can protect your corporate and customer information against the potential of a data breach. As technology evolves, so do the threats that we face every day; therefore, it is important to remain protected.

However, do you know what to do if you fall victim to a cybersecurity incident? It is of paramount importance to know the steps to take if you do fall victim to a cybersecurity incident.  Because if you are hacked or an employee accidentally leaks information, and you don’t take immediate action, then your company could be in big trouble. Better yet, you need to learn from those mistakes and ensure they do not happen again. Let’s talk about potential threats, the plans you need to make today, and who you need to notify to keep your company in good standing with the community in the event of an incident.

Understand the Threats

To have an effective plan of action in the event of a data breach, you and the managers at your organization first need to understand the many potential sources of a leak so you know where to turn and what to fix. While hackers and cybercriminals are often to blame, more often than not, it is the human error of one of your employees that could be the culprit. In fact, some sources say that employee error is the reason behind up to 90% of data breaches in the United States. 

To eliminate the chance for human error, training for all employees is essential. Your team must be educated on how to create and manage proper passwords, how to back up their data, and how to properly use mobile devices so they can avoid unintentional data leakage. Your company should keep tabs on all of the programs and devices that your employees use, and if a data breach does occur, then your IT team can look at those logs and identify the source of the leak.

Of course, hackers are still a threat as well, and they use many tactics to try and steal your data or bring down your organization. You need to keep your company protected against all of the potential tactics, including malware, viruses, fake software updates, and phishing scams. There is also the chance that hackers could install ransomware and take control of your company’s systems until you pay the monetary ransom payment demanded. If your company deals with sensitive records and processes, like in a medical office, then you will need to get your systems up and running immediately. To prepare for ransomware, companies should back up their data on exterior servers so the data can be restored immediately after a data breach.

Putting a plan of action in Place

To be prepared for an issue and react accordingly after a breach, your company should put several plans in place that your team can act upon within a moment’s notice. One of these strategies should be a detection and mitigation plan. Such a plan starts with having the right people and processes in place to catch a breach immediately and respond before any major damage occurs. This plan will likely require having at least one IT professional on your staff who can continuously monitor your systems and watch for vulnerabilities. 

Keep in mind that even IT professionals can make mistakes, so if you have the extra money in your tech budget, then you might consider using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to ensure error-free inspections. Machine Learning tech has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and these programs can analyze all of your systems much faster than a human ever could, and in the process, it can catch patterns and notify your IT team of potential issues. This tech can also learn from past cybersecurity issues and predict risks in similar situations, which is key because having a data breach occur more than once will likely result in a loss of consumer faith in your organization.

Before a data breach occurs, you should also have an incident response plan in place so everyone on your team knows their responsibilities and can mitigate the damage if a breach occurs. You will want to find a team of people who are serious about their role in this plan and can execute their responsibility immediately without having to ask a lot of questions that could slow down your recovery efforts. The recovery plan should cover how the team will communicate the issue with customers and clients, the network and data recovery efforts that will be required, and how you will continue business operations in the background so you aren’t failing your customers.

If a data breach does occur, then a comprehensive report must be created to explain what happened, how it happened, who or what was responsible, and the fixes that must be implemented immediately. Use the information you gathered to secure your systems, so a breach doesn’t occur again.

Notifying the Appropriate Parties

Once you have a firm understanding of the data breach and what exactly was lost and recovered, then you need to notify your customers. Failure to advise your clients of the breach could damage your reputation and, depending on your industry, could even lead to legal trouble. However, the first step you will want to take is to notify law enforcement of the breach and advise what was stolen so they can investigate and potentially even recover what you lost. The ability to inform your customers that law enforcement is involved might soften the blow.

Next, you need to put out a press release or send an email to all customers and clients that tells them that the data breach occurred and mention which of their information may have been compromised. You should also mention the actions that customers can take to protect their data. At the same time, notify the businesses and vendors that your company works with so they can take the proper actions to protect their systems as well. 

Depending on the type of compromised information, you may need to notify other parties as well. For example:

  • If social security numbers were stolen, you should notify the credit bureaus.
  • If health information was stolen that violates HIPAA, then you need to notify the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • For instances involving mail theft, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

In the end, even if you take all the necessary precautions, you may not be able to avoid a data breach. However, by having a plan of action ahead of time, you can mitigate the potential damage and keep your company going strong. 

Frankie Wallace

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