Originally posted in Cloud Security Alliance March 23, 2021
Planning is everything. Just ask the Boy Scouts. While being caught in a downpour without an umbrella is certainly inconvenient, maybe even unpleasant, it pales in comparison to your organization experiencing a significant data breach and finding out you’ve been caught unaware.
In the midst of a crisis, you need to move quickly — and with purpose. Big decisions need to be made, and it’s important to be decisive. It’s not the time to Google “best practices for responding to a data breach.” A well-thought-out crisis management playbook should be part of any company’s standard operating procedures. But all too often, in drafting them leaders fail to keep the following five things in mind — things that can mean the difference between emerging on the other side with your brand relatively intact or becoming a case study for what not to do.
1. Think top-down.
Until someone has experienced a major breach, people believe that planning for one is a technical matter. Business leaders, therefore, have a tendency to disregard it. Inevitably, they learn the hard way that planning for and responding to a breach is neither a technical matter nor a grassroots, bottom-up exercise. Nor, does it sit solely on the shoulders of IT and security. Rather, it’s a C-suite problem and requires a top-down approach. At the senior level, it’s about balancing legal and reputational risk, and from there how to best shepherd the brand through a difficult situation. When it comes down to it, the CEO, CISO, CIO, the senior public relations official, and the heads of legal and Human Resources all play equal roles in responding.
2. Follow the plan.
Response plans are less about the technical aspect and more about how you want your brand to be perceived when handling worst-case scenarios. Will you be the strong silent type, or the outgoing, totally transparent type, even if it’s to your detriment? It’s a spectrum, and the answer to where you fall must be clearly captured in your crisis management playbook on all fronts:
Tactically: Oftentimes, the most difficult part of breach recovery is determining what systems were involved, who has access to them, and then getting the passwords. Knowing how to collect evidence, which tools to use, and what it is you must achieve with your analysis must be standard operating procedure.
Operationally: Here, you need to consider when to set up a war room, when to disseminate your findings (and to whom), when to engage outside counsel, and how and when to tap partner ecosystems.
Strategically: Consider when to document your findings and when to keep it verbal. This is crucial as it pertains to potential litigation, and your attorney-client privilege will set the stage. It’s also important to think about what (and, again, when) you will communicate to employees, the media, your partners, and the board.
3. Don’t shop around during an incident.
Too often security leaders lose precious time shopping around because they don't have the technical resources (e.g., incident response, digital forensics, key platform and solution partners) on standby. Moving quickly and meaningfully means tapping your partner ecosystem. But keep in mind that your incident response ecosystem is not just Guidance Software or FTK, and it should extend beyond the investigations company you have on retainer. It's your external communications and public relations teams, which can provide their expertise on what, when, and how to communicate as events unfold. And, it's outside counsel for both litigation and privacy. Be sure to speak to them in advance about how to vary tactics to handle small breaches and how to scale for the largest, most volatile situations, as well as what steps you’re taking to protect sensitive info, what regulations must you comply with, and how to best achieve that compliance, etc. Managing your attorney-client privilege will be key in the event of a breach.
4. Threat for ransom extortion.
Everybody, without fail, says “We will never pay a ransom.” They say it. They document it. And, when push comes to shove, almost everybody pays it. It’s a game no one needs to play. Knowing in advance that you’re realistically probably going to pay, you’re well-advised to investigate different payment mediums now. You don’t want to spend 36 frantic hours trying to figure out how to pay ransom via Bitcoin, while your customers are locked out.
5. Don't overdo the end game.
Following a breach, the temptation to throw money at the problem is strong but avoid over-rotating. But, it’s never a lack of tools that’s at issue — it never was. An interesting opportunity tends to surface when a breach is in the rear-view mirror — suddenly the money starts flowing. But you'd be advised not to overdo it. Most IT investigators will confirm that you rarely need fancy forensic tools to figure out what, where, and how a breach happened or what was stolen. The answers tend to be there in black and white and in plain-English log files. This holds true for even the most complex cross-border cyberattacks. Similarly, as so many breach reports establish, criminals don’t need advanced and sophisticated tactics. With so many soft targets on the Internet, a predator only needs to outrun the slowest in the herd. The problem is that most victims are unable to recognize and react to cyberattacks with the log sources they have. Adding more, however smart it may seem, tends to set you back even further. By and large, the only exception to this is multi-factor authentication. If you’re still allowing single factor authentication to your key assets, you're the slowest member of the herd.
By focusing on these five steps, you can be assured that come what may, you will be well-prepared to see your company through.