4 Steps to Data Breach Preparedness

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Skull and crossbones printed on a computer chipThe field of information security has evolved over recent years to include the protection of digitally stored data. Converting sensitive data into digital form provides for easier storage and accessibility, but also heightens the threat of theft. There will always be risks associated with data storage – tangible or digital – which means security is a top priority. To combat the threat of compromise, information security professionals cooperate with one another to create strong, relevant defenses against data breaches.

Successful security strategies are proactive, focusing on preparation and prevention. Data retrieval and loss mitigation are important aspects of information security as well, but they are responses to a data breach that has already occurred. Preventing data loss is the first wall of defense meant to discourage cyber attacks altogether.

What is a Data Breach?

A data breach occurs when private information, regardless of its owner, is accessed or taken by an unauthorized entity. If a hacker steals someone’s information from their cloud provider, uses an employee password to access business/government data, or if a backup hard drive is stolen, then a data breach has taken place.

Data breaches are considered a major security threat since digital storage is swiftly becoming the preferred storage method. The federal government and other organizations have acknowledged the presence of these threats, and have created valuable resources dedicated to information protection. For example, the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) are large resources utilized by information security professionals to share and learn about data security – including steps to data breach preparedness.

Re-Evaluate Existing Security Systems and Procedures

Prior to creating or changing the security system for a private or public entity, security professionals assess the existing framework for strengths and weaknesses. Security response time is paramount, so no time is wasted recreating effective procedures. Instead, they identify the system weaknesses to replace with stronger defenses.

Re-evaluating the previous system presents a clear view of the security process as a whole. With a full comprehension of the system, security professionals can avoid duplicating any previously successful procedures. Additionally, the identified strengths can be shared for use in other systems, while weaknesses can be further analyzed for solutions. System flaws, when discovered, are rapidly resolved to maintain security integrity. Reviewing existing policies identifies prevalent issues instead of creating new procedures from scratch.

Crisis Simulation

Practice is inherently important to data breach preparedness. Security professionals can’t truly observe a security system’s effectiveness without testing it. Because threats are constant and evolving, testing occurs multiple times throughout the year. Simulating a crisis can be theoretical or invasive depending on the desired goals.

If a company’s security team wants to simulate a crisis without interrupting the daily routine, they can perform a tabletop exercise. In a tabletop exercise, the incident response team – a previously identified group that handles security breaches – walks through a data breach scenario while discussing their roles and responsibilities. A tabletop exercise is successful in discovering elementary issues within the data breach protocol without causing interruption to the entire workplace.

If an incident response team wants to check the data breach security more thoroughly, then they run a live simulation. Live simulations are surprise scenarios where data has been compromised – for example, a laptop has been stolen or there was unauthorized cloud access – and the response team follows the security protocol. Live simulations flush out hidden flaws in security that originate from human error or realistic time restraints.

Litigation Preparedness

Although defenses can be virtually perfect, eventually a data breach will occur. Whether it is a system failure or human error, data will be lost or stolen. When sensitive information is compromised, regulatory steps are taken and lawsuits may follow. Security professionals are responsible for protecting data as well as their defense system. If it’s breached, investigations seek to identify the party responsible for losing the data.

The best defense against lawsuit or investigation is documentation. The incident response team records every action, update, test, meeting, and modification that takes place. Furthermore, they identify those involved with the transfer or access of data so the risk of a leak is minimized. If clear evidence can be presented that demonstrates due diligence within the information security process, then investigations or lawsuits will result in a more favorable conclusion.


In addition to evaluation, simulation, and litigation preparation, data breach preparation also includes budgetary concerns. Maintaining a strong security system requires appropriate funding that can be overlooked if security concerns fade. Security professionals create strong data defense systems that lead to a false sense of security the longer a breach doesn’t occur, thus leading to a cut in budget.

It’s the incident response team’s responsibility to maintain awareness within the company or government entity about the dangers of a data breach. If one does occur, more expenses will accumulate due to investigations and security system improvements. Without the proper funding, information defenses will falter and a breach will occur.

Data Breach Preparation is the Best Prevention

Security professionals don’t want to wait until a data breach occurs. Their goal is to prevent unauthorized access altogether, keeping private data safe and secure. The above steps are tried and true preparation methods designed by information security professionals from the IAPP and PTAC resources. Digital security is a growing industry due to the ease and accessibility of digital storage. Theft is a constant threat that adapts to improvements in security, meaning security measures are always evolving to match. The call for talented security professionals is stronger than ever as the country and business fight to stay ahead of the threats.

Learn More

Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.

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