Contributor:
Dan Raywood
December 11th, 2015

Responding to a breach: The importance of clear communication

In my last blog, I looked at examples of the commercial impact on a company in the instance of a data breach.

The correct method of dealing with a data breach contains many actions including containment, employee engagement and making sure it never happens again, but part of your plan should include planning how to get your message out there and let your investors and customers know what the latest status is.

Some of the best breach communication has been because of the apparent preparedness and transparency on what happened. Take the Anthem breach as an example, it had a separate website ready with the full facts ready on what its actions had been so far, what happened and what it was doing.

On the other hand, the eBay breach began with its payment subsidiary PayPal warning users to change their passwords and it was hours before any message came from eBay. Considering that over 230 million people were affected by this breach and eBay are one of the survivors of the dot com boom, I would have expected more of a prepared response for customers to learn from, and to keep journalists from harassing the press office.

People are going to want to know what happened and communication should be part of an incident response plan. Security consultant Jay Abbott told me that a response plan allows an organisation to think through how they are going to handle these points and lets the relevant “learning” happen in a less public forum.

“The PR, legal and operational issues of a response plan are just as important as any technical considerations,” he said. “Equally, companies need to accept that they are not going to be able to handle the issue themselves and that they are most likely going to have to phone an expert for support. My advice in this space is simple, call the experts before an incident and negotiate a call off contract.”

I spoke with some other experts, and the consensus was that a good incident response plan should include when to communicate, what to communicate and the method of communication, and this should be practiced during the incident response test. Also consider setting up some type of rapid response communication to stakeholders to avoid the inevitable time wasting one-off replies to questions of what the status of the breach is.

Also consider that it is not just press and customers who are looking for more information on what has happened, but your stakeholders and investors too. If they see a lack of communication are they going to be less reassured about your business continuity? If there is a level of preparedness due to an incident response plan being created, then you are going to be several steps ahead if the worst should happen.

We recently hosted a live webinar where we looked at cases of data loss and the commercial impact upon businesses – and importantly shared tips for taking a proactive approach to reducing the risk of being the next target of attack. To listen again to this webinar, watch the on demand video here.

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