As soon as you discover a breach of data privacy, it’s go time for your response team. Sooner, rather than later, is the only acceptable timeframe for putting your data breach response plan in action.
With a proper plan and a properly trained team, you can skip the panic phase and go straight to recovery mode, making the first 24 hours following a breach count toward a successful resolution.
The first step is rallying the troops. Alert your incident lead and breach response team to kick off your response protocol as quickly as possible. They’ll extend the call-to-arms to other key stakeholders and vendors. This includes internal resources encompassing (but not limited to) executives, PR, IT and legal, as well as external resources, such as your forensics firm, law enforcement, media and notification vendor.
Keep in mind you have a lot of competing priorities to address. You need to fix the issue that caused the breach to stop further data loss, and begin analyzing and classifying the lost data to determine your federal or state notification requirements. You want to interview the person or people who discovered the breach and prepare a statement for the media.
So how do you start off on the right foot when there are so many simultaneous paths you need to follow? By making sure everyone on the team is prepared in advance. Within the first 24 hours of a breach, your team should be capable of initiating the key steps of your response plan to begin determining:
The facts and circumstances
You’ll want to record the who, what, when, where, how and why of the breach. Who discovered the breach? What data was lost? When and how was the data lost? Why did the incident occur? Document the date and time of the breach and continue documenting each new discovery and action throughout the entire resolution process. Document the steps you take and why you take them in case your actions come under scrutiny later. Determining the type of data stolen will help to inform many of the other actions you take. Work with your forensics firm to preserve evidence, secure compromised devices and identify the lost data and affected individuals.
At all times, be sure your internal and/or external legal counsel is the driving force behind your resolution efforts. If the type of data lost, the size of the breach or another aspect triggers legal requirements, you’ll likely have a tight notification deadline to meet. Having a current contract on file with a data breach resolution vendor will help. Remember that data breach notification can encompass much more than simply composing and mailing letters. You may need different letters to meet different state requirements. You may need to work with a secure mail house. Understanding the full scope of your legal obligations can help you avoid fines and litigation.
Communicating with the right degree of transparency following a breach can help preserve your company’s image and minimize the damage to your reputation. If the public finds out you were sitting on a breach announcement, or news about the breach leaks through an unofficial channel, you’ll have a lot more questions to answer than if you had just been upfront about the incident. You’ll want a competent spokesperson sharing the right information, but not prolonging the media scrutiny of the breach. Providing an identity protection product and a call center to help support the affected individuals will help drive the public’s conversation concerning the breach in a positive direction. Think about how your company would begin to shape that conversation from the very outset of breach response.
The rest of your business operations don’t automatically come to a halt following a breach. You’ll want to have a firm grasp on what critical business objectives to delay in order to avoid clashing with your response efforts. Following a breach, for example, is no time to launch a PR campaign touting your advanced security measures.
The goal for the first 24 hours following a data loss is to initiate the steps necessary to resolve the breach, not resolve it completely. While you won’t be able to complete the full scope of resolution within that timeframe, you can set the tone for a successful resolution, but only if you have a response plan in place.
If your company doesn’t have a response plan, the unending spate of recent breaches is surely motivation enough to create one. There’s enough pressure on a company following a breach without having to get up to speed on legal requirements and vendor contracts at a moment’s notice.
If a breach does occur, a comprehensive response plan can help you act immediately. You can stay on track throughout the resolution effort by following through on the steps initiated during those critical early hours.
This article is not intended as legal advice. Please seek legal counsel if you experience a breach.
Ozzie Fonseca is senior director at Experian Data Breach Resolution.