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  • Hanna Korotka

Data Breach Response Guide for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

What is a Data Breach?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a data breach occurs when sensitive, protected, or confidential information is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen, or used by an individual unauthorized to do so. This exposed information may include credit card numbers, personal health information, customer data, company trade secrets, or matters of national security.



Cybersecurity Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs)

Despite their smaller size, SMBs are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks due to limited cybersecurity measures, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. The consequences of a data breach can be severe: approximately 40% of impacted SMBs lose critical data, and recovery can take over 24 hours. The average cost of a data breach for smaller companies is around $3.31 million.


Cybersecurity Challenges for SMBs

Many SMBs lack sufficient cybersecurity infrastructure, with about 47% not having a dedicated cybersecurity budget and 51% lacking basic security measures. This vulnerability makes them more susceptible to cyberattacks.


Key Steps for Data Breach Response

While the causes of a data breach can differ, it is essential to follow specific procedures to respond to and investigate any cybersecurity incident. The key steps are:

  1. Preparation: Establish an incident response team; engage a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP); create a data breach response plan; deploy data breach response software; and conduct cybersecurity awareness training.

  2. Detection and Analysis: Understand the concepts of precursors and indicators as defined by NIST to effectively identify a data breach.

  3. Containment, Eradication, and Recovery: Isolate affected systems without shutting them down; secure the breach area; document everything; and begin detailed analysis.

  4. Post-Incident Activity: Review communication plans; notify law enforcement; deepen the investigation; identify and fix the root cause; ongoing forensics; legal compliance; update management; review business plans; improve training.

Prepare for a Data Breach

To prepare for a data breach, you should:

  1. Establish an incident response team;

  2. Engage a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP);

  3. Create a data breach response plan;

  4. Deploy data breach response software;

  5. Conduct cybersecurity awareness training.

Detect the Data Breach

To effectively identify a data breach, it is essential to understand the concepts of precursors and indicators as defined by NIST. Precursors are potential signs of an upcoming data breach, while indicators are signs that a data breach is currently happening or has already occurred. Precursors, examples:

  • increasing phishing attempts;

  • discovery of vulnerabilities or active threats targeting similar organizations or industries;

  • security policy violations.

Indicators examples:

  • unusual login attempts;

  • unusual admin;

  • presence of malware;

  • bounced emails with suspicious content;

  • data leakage.

Immediate Response

  1. Document discovery: record when and how the breach was detected.

  2. Alert your response team: activate your response team and MSSP.

  3. Stop further data loss: isolate affected systems without shutting them down.

Actions within Three Hours

  1. Secure the Breach Area: Lockdown the affected area to preserve evidence.

  2. Document Everything: Keep records of all breach-related activities and interviews.

  3. Begin Detailed Analysis: Have your forensics team evaluate the data compromise extent.

First Day Actions

  1. Review Communication Plans: Before notifying stakeholders, ensure all communication strategies are vetted by legal counsel.

  2. Notify Law Enforcement: Contact authorities as recommended by legal advisors.

  3. Deepen the Investigation: Continue in-depth analysis as per pre-defined response strategies.

Post-Data Breach Activities

  1. Identify and Fix the Root Cause: Determine the breach's cause, remove malicious tools, and assess further vulnerabilities.

  2. Ongoing Forensics: Analyze affected data thoroughly to understand the scope of data compromise.

  3. Legal Compliance: Ensure all legal obligations are fulfilled promptly.

  4. Update Management: Keep senior management informed with detailed reports.

  5. Review Business Plans: Adjust any conflicting business initiatives.

  6. Improve Training: Enhance training programs based on the breach experience.


To help you to have peace of mind knowing your business is secure, click here to schedule a Free Security Assessment with our experts today. We'll help you evaluate whether your current IT solutions adequately secure and protect your network against data loss, ransomware, hackers, and potential downtime or slowness.

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