Cybersecurity threats are on the rise. As more data is stored digitally and hackers become increasingly more sophisticated, it’s no surprise that the number of data breaches grew significantly from 2020 to 2021. We can also expect that trend to continue into 2022 and beyond. This can be alarming news for any organization, especially since data breaches can cause a slew of challenges, including operational downtime, financial loss, and reputational damage, to name a few.
The best thing you can do to protect your organization is to educate yourself and your staff about how to avoid data breaches and data loss incidents in the first place. Part of that is ensuring your organization knows what steps it needs to take to recover from a data breach if an incident does occur.
Prepare for Data Breaches Ahead of Time
Preparation is key when it comes to protecting your organization from data loss incidents. Ensure your systems are protected by conducting vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Doing so helps you identify vulnerabilities before hackers do, thereby enabling you to identify and remediate any issues. These tests come in all shapes and sizes — whether you want to hone in on your network, web apps, mobile apps, or something else entirely. With ransomware attacks on the rise, it’s also beneficial to undergo a Ransomware Preparedness Assessment. This assessment uses real-world simulations to complete a comprehensive review of systems and processes and stack up how they’d perform against an attempted ransomware attack.
In addition to conducting ongoing threat assessments, it’s also important to train and educate employees about relevant cybersecurity risks. Employees can often be your biggest liability — and social engineering attacks, like phishing and baiting, will exploit employees by prompting them to download or click a malicious source. Create a comprehensive training program to educate employees about these types of efforts to help them avoid falling victim to scammers.
As part of that training program, you’ll also want to educate your staff about best practices regarding things like encryption and disposing of confidential files and materials.
What to Do After a Data Breach or Data Loss Incident
As is the case with most cybersecurity incidents, it’s not if but when. So, though it’s always advised to create an effective plan to mitigate the risks of a data breach or data loss incident, it’s equally as important to have a response plan in place. In fact, there are certain steps you need to take right away to minimize issues associated with a data breach, and a proper way to notify key stakeholders.
Here are the three steps you should follow.
1. Perform a Root Cause Analysis
Once a breach occurs, you must immediately conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the problem. A root cause analysis determines what controls failed or what controls were missing or not suitably designed to prevent the breach from happening in the first place. The goal is to identify the cause of the ‘sickness’, just not remedy the symptoms.
Once identified, the problem(s) can be fixed to help you recover from a data breach and prevent a similar attack in the future. There are many different methods for conducting a root cause analysis. Some of the most popular analysis methods include:
- The “Whys” Approach: This approach encourages you to continue asking “why” to dig deeper into the cause of a surface level problem. Consider this hypothetical car issue.
- Why did the car stop running? The oil was low.
- Why was the oil low? I haven’t taken my car in for an oil change.
- Why haven’t you taken the car in for an oil change? Because I neglected my routine maintenance.
By following the “whys” approach, we can determine that the root cause is that the owner neglected their routine car maintenance — not a problem with the oil itself.
- Change Analysis: This method of determining a root cause involves listing the changes that led up to an event or issue and systematically analyzing them one-by-one to assess the potential impact that change had on the event itself.
- Fishbone Diagrams: This is a highly visual method of conducting a root cause analysis. It involves mapping an issue to every potential factor that could have led to the problem.
2. Notify Impacted Parties of a Data Breach
In addition to finding the root cause of the problem, and fixing it for the future, you must also notify impacted parties of the issue right away. Having notification policies in order is essential. Internally, these notification policies ensure that the right people will be alerted to issues in a timely manner. Externally, timely notifications to affected customers will help mitigate the reputational damage caused by data breaches.
Data breach notification laws vary based on the incident and location of customers impacted but they generally include requirements to notify impacted parties without unreasonable delay. These notifications include information regarding the data that was affected and outlining your company’s actions to address and remedy the issue. Depending on the severity of the attack, many organizations publish a public-facing policy document outlining what steps will be taken to notify customers should a breach occur. Having these policies set prior to a breach will ensure that your organization is able to notify customers without delay and protect itself from legal ramifications.
3. Work to Recover Your Data
If you didn’t have a solid plan or process in place for dealing with a data breach, then you may experience some sort of data loss after an incident. Once you’ve contained the issue and notified impacted parties, it’s time to attempt to recover that lost data and get systems back up and running. There are a few ways to go about this.
First, look to your existing vendors. They may have some stored backups to get you back up and running. Many cloud providers in particular offer native backup solutions that are able to assist in the event of data loss. If none of your vendors have stored backups, engage a specialty data recovery vendor. These specialists offer tools, technology, and expertise to perform data recovery tasks.
Keep in mind that the data recovery process can be disruptive in its own right. If possible, sandbox your recovery efforts to avoid additional downtime and maintain partial functionality. The process of “sandboxing” essentially means that you section off systems that need recovery from the rest of your network while you work on them. This will minimize the need to completely shut down your systems and is essential to minimize complete downtime following a data breach incident. As you work to recover data and rebuild your systems, learn from your experiences and failures that led to the breach. This is a great opportunity to build systems back stronger than ever before.
Mitigate the Impact of Data Loss with A-LIGN
While the reality of a data breach occurring at your organization can be scary, there’s no need to face the threat alone. A-LIGN provides a variety of assessments to help prepare your organization’s systems and processes ahead of time and lessen the chance of a breach occurring. With a strategic partner like A-LIGN, you can ensure that your organization is undergoing essential routine maintenance to strengthen your cybersecurity posture.
If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more about undergoing a cybersecurity or compliance assessment, please reach out to one of A-LIGN’s experienced assessors today.