Data breach response plan: 5 steps you need to take
Insights 10 minutes read

Data breach response plan: 5 steps you need to take

Published on
June 27, 2024

In the event that your business or organisation is targeted by cyber criminals, a data breach response plan can minimise the impact – putting you in a stronger position.

Data breaches can cause financial losses, legal issues and a damaged reputation. In some instances, data breaches can be so severe that the business fails to recover. In this article, we’ll look at data breach response best practices and outline some of the preventative measures you can take to keep your business safe from cyberattacks.

What is a data breach response plan?

A data breach response plan is a document that outlines how your business will respond if hackers gain access to your computer network. This document should define the roles and contact information of the people who would take action in the event of a data breach, and provide a framework for investigation and recovery.

It’s essential for businesses to respond to data breaches in a way that’s calm and professional. A plan will provide structure and order during this high-pressure situation, helping to convey strength in the face of adversity. Your customers and regulatory bodies will be relying on you to navigate the breach with assuredness – if they see signs of panic, this could erode trust, damage your reputation, and negatively impact the future of your business.

What causes a data breach?

A data breach is an event where unauthorised individuals gain access to protected information, which can include personal data (such as bank account information) and/or corporate data (such as financial data). There are a number of factors that can cause a data breach – sometimes, hackers are able to gain access via system vulnerabilities such as a lack of encryption, misconfigured security settings, or outdated software. Other times, data breaches can occur through human error, such as a person within the business accidentally disclosing their password information.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has useful information about data breaches, including how business owners can report a breach. You can also read about common types of data breaches in the Interactive blog.

Responding to a data breach

Data breaches should be dealt with promptly and calmly. If your business has been the target of cyber crime, you should take the following actions:

1. Contain the breach: As soon as you become aware of the breach, your first priority will be to make sure there can be no further compromise of sensitive data. This could include isolating affected networks, disabling compromised accounts, and implementing temporary security measures. 

2. Assess the risk of harm to those affected: The next step is to assess whether the individuals affected by the data breach are in immediate risk. To do this, you’ll need to investigate the cause of the breach, to try and see the motives behind it.

3. If appropriate, notify the affected individuals: In some situations, notification might be required to mitigate any potential risk to those affected by the breach. However, there are also some situations where notification might not be appropriate, if it’s likely to cause more harm. 

4. Consider longer-term preventative action: After the data breach has been responded to and reviewed, your business will need to take steps to prevent future incidents. 

A good resource for this is the Victorian Government’s guide to Managing the Privacy Impacts of a Data Breach. If you need to report a data breach incident, you can do so online through the Australian Cyber Security Centre or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

5 steps for developing a data breach response plan

Many businesses fall short in terms of safeguarding their IT systems and preparing for the possibility of a data breach. In this section, we’ll explain the 5 steps of a data breach response plan, bringing attention to procedures that a lot of Australian businesses overlook.

A data breach response plan template can be a useful tool – the The Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) has a good template that provides step-by-step guidance for both your crisis management team, and the organisation more broadly.

1. Preplanning exercises

Preplanning exercises such as response simulations are crucial – however in Australia, many organisations aren’t doing enough to prepare accordingly.

As part of your company’s data breach policy, you should run a regular series of virtual threat simulations for your security team, so they can sharpen their skills and keep their knowledge up-to-date. Simulations can test your organisation’s ability to detect, scope and remediate a targeted attack, equipping your security team with the skills they need to respond to cyber attacks.

Slipstream Cyber can help your team prepare for a potential data breach.

2. Define response teams and members

Another crucial step is to clearly define which members of your organisation are part of the data breach response team. One of the most important things to consider here is your communications team, since regular and clear communication is required to manage any crisis. Preparing a communications plan ahead of time will put you in a position to act quickly in the event of a data breach – which could end up being the very factor that keeps you afloat.

Your data breach response team should include representatives from your executive, legal, IT, HR, client and marketing teams. Your data breach response plan should list the roles and contact details of these people, and all members should receive training on how to act if a data breach is detected.

As part of the process of writing your data breach response plan, you should also conduct a risk assessment, and use security policies to define what constitutes a breach. This can include potential cyberattack scenarios, providing information about what will activate your data breach response group.

3. Create a contact list

Your organisation will need to think ahead to consider how it will contact customers, employers, partners and other stakeholders if your digital systems unexpectedly go down. It’s recommended to create a contact list – this might also include insurance providers, cyber security specialists, legal counsel, PR, and any outsourced IT providers.

It’s crucial to store this list outside of your internal network, so if your systems go down, you will still have access.

4. Create a communications plan

In this digital era, data breaches are becoming increasingly common – even customers are starting to think in terms of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Sometimes, it’s not the breach itself that erodes trust from customers and stakeholders, it’s how the company communicates during the crisis. If a data breach occurs, a company needs to communicate clearly, regularly, and honestly with customers and stakeholders. The damage caused by failing to be transparent could be lasting.

Here are some good resources for developing a sound communications plan:

5. Perform incident response

If a data breach is detected within your organisation, your data breach response team will need to respond to the incident quickly and effectively. When preparing your data breach response plan, you should include a set of incident response procedures tailored for a range of scenarios.

In addition to the steps outlined above in the section ‘responding to a data breach’, your incident response plan could also include the following:

  • Keep a log: Make sure that all actions and activities are recorded in a detailed log.
  • Initiate breach procedures: These should be initiated with the goal of containing the breach and minimising data loss.
  • Inform necessary parties: These might include affected customers, regulatory authorities, law enforcement and the media.
  • Review security procedures: After the breach has been contained, you should initiate a review of your organisation’s data security procedures, and make changes as necessary.
  • Perform an analysis: It’s important to determine how the breach occurred by conducting a thorough analysis.
  • Mitigate vulnerabilities: This will help to prevent future incidents.
  • Send follow-up communications: Transparent communication should continue after the data breach, to reassure your customers and stakeholders.
  • Evaluate your data response plan: Regularly evaluating your plan will ensure it stays up-to-date and effective.  

What should the data breach response plan cover?

Our security experts recommend using the following resources to develop a plan that’s fully comprehensive:

Data breach response: best practices

These are examples of data breach response plans that demonstrate best practice:

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

Microsoft Incident Response Guide

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)

Mitigate your risks with Interactive today

For over 35 years, Interactive has been a leading Australian managed security service provider, helping organisations to navigate the complexities of an ever-evolving threat landscape. We recruit, train and develop the brightest minds in corporate cyber security, and we’re proud to be industry leaders. 

Discover how Interactive can help your business with Azure Security – a managed security service provider (MSSP). Azure Cloud Security and Azure Cyber Security provide 24/7 protection from threats, with round-the-clock monitoring from our Australian-run cyber security operations centre. Contact us to discuss your options today. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are data breaches avoidable?

In many instances, data breaches happen because of preventable vulnerabilities. These can include weak passwords, outdated software, or a lack of staff training about cyber security. 

While it might not be possible to completely eliminate the risk of a data breach, taking preventative measures such as performing regular system updates and enforcing robust password policies will put you in a much stronger position. 

You can learn more about evolving your security posture in our article: How to Improve Cyber Security

2. What are some simple ways to avoid data breaches?

Here are some steps you can take to keep your organisation protected from a data breach:

  • Update software regularly: Making sure your software is up-to-date will help to minimise the risk of a breach.
  • Educate employees: Provide cyber security training and awareness programs to educate your team about common security threats.
  • Limit access to information: Implement the principle of least privilege by granting employees access only to the data and systems they need to perform their job duties. 
  • Monitor suspicious activity: Monitor network traffic, system logs, and user activity for signs of suspicious behaviour. Implement monitoring tools and protocols to detect and respond to security incidents promptly.

More information about implementing effective security systems can be found in our article: Optimising Your Security? Here are 4 Key Considerations

3. What should I do if my data is leaked?

If your data is leaked, it’s important to act calmly and quickly. You can find helpful information and resources in the section of this article called ‘Responding to a data breach’.

In the event of a data leak, these steps outline the best approach to minimising risk:

  • Contain the breach as quickly as possible
  • Communicate with transparency and clarity
  • Notify those who have been affected by the breach (if it is safe to do so)
  • Offer support to affected individuals 
  • Report the data leak to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)
  • Investigate the root cause of the data leak
  • Enhance your existing security measures
  • Engage with regulatory and legal experts to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations
  • Conduct a post-incident review to identify areas for improvement 

By taking swift and decisive action after a data breach, you can help to mitigate the impact on affected individuals, and protect the reputation of your business. If you demonstrate an ongoing commitment to safeguarding data privacy and security, you will help to ensure your customers retain faith in your leadership and the integrity of your business practices. 

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