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Commentary

Fundamental Failures With Incident Response Plans

I recently got back from a sizable IT security conference in London. As I've experienced countless times at shows, everyone was most intrigued by the war stories about organizations that were victims of a data breach. Security folks have an innate desire to learn what happened to others so they can prevent encountering the same fate -- or so they say. However, after personally investigating hundreds of data breaches for my clients, there seems to be a number of recurring themes that nobody seems
I recently got back from a sizable IT security conference in London. As I've experienced countless times at shows, everyone was most intrigued by the war stories about organizations that were victims of a data breach. Security folks have an innate desire to learn what happened to others so they can prevent encountering the same fate -- or so they say. However, after personally investigating hundreds of data breaches for my clients, there seems to be a number of recurring themes that nobody seems to catch. One in particular is with respect to developing and maintaining an incident response plan.Now I know what you're thinking: "Of course I have an incident response plan. Everyone has one." Interestingly, everyone I spoke to at the conference similarly claimed to have an incident response plan for their organization. When I followed that up with a question regarding the last time they did a mock incident drill or post mortem -- I received the "deer in headlights" look from almost everyone. Most were familiar with the concept of a post mortem, but few had actually done them. Only one had ever undertaken a mock incident drill.

How is that we can be so fascinated with data breaches, yet also miss one of the most basic fundamentals of handling them? Is it because there is nothing sexy about an incident response plan? Or maybe it’s just difficult to get excited about something for which there is no fancy appliance?

Time and again I have seen organizations of all sizes suffer data breaches that nearly put them out of business. However, in many of those cases it wasn't the loss of data that caused the most damage. It was their poor and often sluggish response that put them under the spotlight of a regulator (i.e. the FTC and others) or made them a target of a class-action lawsuit (too many to list).

In most of those cases, they could have completely avoided that negative attention (and costs) if they had an up-to-date incident response plan, were performing mock incident drills and executed the plan accordingly. Having a solid incident response plan can be the determining factor as whether you are leading your organization through an incident or being dragged through it.

-- Christopher Novak is a Managing Principal and a founding member of Verizon Business' Investigative Response Team. Mr. Novak is also a senior investigator and has more than 10 years of experience investigating both civil and criminal computer-based data breaches along with acting in a litigation support capacity. He continues to respond to high-profile cases on a global basis and works closely with local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement agencies. He was an author of this year's Data Breach Investigations Report, is a frequent source in technology related media, and a regular speaker at industry conferences. He most recently spoke at the RSA Europe Conference (10/2009).