Figuring Out What Happened After a Data Breach

What’s your plan for when that inevitable network event or, worse, that data breach occurs? Is it to figure things out as you go or is it to plan things out in advance to the best of your abilities before the going gets rough?

As management consultant Peter Drucker once said, the only thing that’s inevitable in the life of the leader is the crisis. Once a security incident or confirmed breach unfolds, you’re in the spotlight. It’s your testing time to see what you’re really made of. Why not start working on making yourself look good today?

Early on in my career, I learned a highly valuable lesson for IT and security problem-solving from René Descartes, the French philosopher. He said, “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” The mark of a true leader, including those responsible for day-to-day information security oversight, is not to place blame but instead to ask good questions — many of which are hardly ever thought about.

Approaching the Data Breach Problem

Applying this to security incidents and data breaches, you can step back and take a look at the bigger picture of what’s going on and what it’s going to take to resolve the challenge by asking the following questions:

  • What has actually happened?
  • How did it happen?
  • What was impacted?
  • Who/what information was involved?
  • Who else needs to be on the response team?
  • What are the next steps?

The reality is no one really cares about how great your security program is (or was); they only care about the breach that just occurred. This is why you have to focus on fast and effective response. Treat data breaches as you would any other important business project. It’s not going to be resolved immediately. Rather, it will have an ongoing life cycle.

Answering the Key Questions

I suspect that in many, if not most, data breach situations, these questions have gone unanswered or the information is not made available when it needs to be (e.g., during and immediately after the event). Then the very things that led up to the event create the same breach scenario again down the road.

Remember the universal law that says you cannot change facts, but you can change problems. You cannot change the breach that occurred, but you can change the factors that led to it and the problems that are currently in the way of you reaching a successful resolution.

Bad things happen less often to people who are prepared. You don’t have to accept this core security challenge as the new normal. Get ready. That’s the secret to success.

Figure out what the worst thing is that could happen, do everything within reason to make sure that it doesn’t happen and then have a plan to minimize the impact of any residual risks. It’s really as simple as that.

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Kevin Beaver

Independent Information Security Consultant

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, expert witness, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. With over 26 years of experience in the industry, Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around information risk management. He has authored/co-authored 12 books on information security including the best-selling Hacking For Dummies and The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance. In addition, he’s the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. You can learn more and link to Kevin's articles, blog posts, videos, and more at his website