What to Do After a Breach

Former FTC official gives Defcon attendees the lowdown on breach response and working with law enforcement

LAS VEGAS -- DefCon 16 -- There are plenty of breach disclosure laws and regulations for businesses to follow if they get hacked or suffer some sort of data leak, but there’s no requirement that they have an actual breach response plan, according to a former Federal Trade Commission official.

Don Blumenthal, an attorney and consultant specializing in data security and privacy as well as senior principal with Global Cyber Risk, LLC, and an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan, said in an interview that aside from some federal regulations guiding government breach response, private industry isn’t mandated to set up a game plan for the aftermath of an attack or leak. “I am not aware of any other statute or regulation that makes it mandatory or requires that companies have a breach response plan in place,” he says.

Still, Blumenthal says he sees some organizations taking the initiative themselves to set up post-breach plans given the epidemic of high-profile breaches today. He gave attendees at DefCon on Saturday a few key tips on what to do in the aftermath of a breach.

The first thing is to alert everyone in the company, with a need to know, about the breach. “Get them all in a room or on a conference call and have regular meetings,” Blumenthal says. This group of key individuals would include business, legal, and technical people to determine what to do next and "identify if outsiders need to be brought in, such as outside counsel with relative expertise in this area; outside communications firms, for ‘damage control’ and how to do notification; and forensics firms to do cross-checking to see what data is missing.”

It’s often difficult to determine what data is missing or compromised, so this process can take some time. “In the projects I see, notifications are generally being held until the company [hit by a breach] has a good handle on what happened,” he says.

The next major step is to notify law enforcement. “In general, the next step after convening everyone in house would be exploring law enforcement notification. And concurrent with all of this, you should get the data analysis going and plan how you’re doing to address it to the public,” Blumenthal says.

A healthy relationship with law enforcement can also help a breach notification situation go more smoothly. “I’m a firm believer in proactive dealings with law enforcement... Have law enforcement come talk to your company” about breach issues, he says. “Protect your rights above all, obey the law above all, but show respect and don’t play games [with law enforcement] because [nobody] wins doing that.”

Going public about a hack within your company obviously isn’t a natural reaction for most companies. “The biggest issue is trying to work through the understandable [instinct] in-house to want to keep it quiet,” Blumenthal says.

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