What is a data breach?
The definition seems obvious for any organization. A data breach occurs when data that was supposed to be protected from unauthorized access is exposed.
What may not be as clear cut is all of the ways that sensitive data can be compromised. These include malicious attacks, accidental mistakes, and employee incompetence. Confidential information can fall into the wrong hands during electronic file transfers, accessing lost or stolen devices, or as a result of hackers’ infiltration into a company’s servers. Even sending an unsecure email could qualify as a data breach, depending on the information it contained.
As complex as the causes of data breaches can be, the steps for responding are fairly straightforward, though time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. Dealing with the breach will be monumentally more challenging if you don’t already have a data breach response plan in place.
Generally agreed upon steps include
- thorough, extensive documentation of events leading up to and immediately following the discovery of the breach
- clear and immediate communication with everyone in the company about what happened, and how they should respond to any external inquiries
- immediate notification and activation of the designated response team, especially legal counsel, to determine whether law enforcement and/or other regulatory agencies need to be involved
- identification of the cause of the breach and implementation of whatever steps are necessary to fix the problem
- development of messaging and deployment schedule for notifying those whose data was compromised, based on counsel from lawyers who will review state laws, compliance regulations, and other mandates affecting what the messaging must say and how soon notification must occur, as well as what compensation to affected victims should be provided
5 Important Resources
If your company does not yet have a data breach plan in place, or if you’ve been thinking it might be time to update your current policy, here are five great resources that you’ll want to review.
Data Breach Response Guide (Experian Data Breach Resolution Team)
Here is a comprehensive 30-page PDF that includes how to handle each step of the response process, as well as information about specific kinds of breaches such as healthcare breaches. It even includes an audit tool for you to use to check your current plan to make sure it’s as updated as it needs to be.
Security Breach Response Plan Toolkit (International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP))
Use this questionnaire to guide the development of your incident response plan. Involve your executive and IT team so everyone can better understand all facets of the process.
BBB Data Security Guide (Better Business Bureau)
Specifically designed for small businesses, the BBB provides a series of articles and resources to help companies understand the issues surrounding data security, as well as how to build a response plan.
Model Data Security Breach Preparedness Guide (American Bar Association)
For those with limited access to legal counsel, this PDF provides an overview from the legal perspective of how to prepare for a data breach. It obviously isn’t a substitute for seeking advice from a lawyer who knows or can learn the details of your specific situation as well as the laws that apply in your state and industry. However, it does provide some good general information that could help you launch a discussion with your legal team.
Data Breach Charts (Baker Hostetler law firm)
If your company does business in more than one state, this is a great starting point to review how different states’ data breach laws compare. Again, it doesn’t take the place of your legal team, but it’s a helpful overview.
What other resources do you know about that should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments!