Data Security & IP 11 min

What is a cybersecurity response plan? How global teams can minimize risk

February 1, 2022
Preston Wickersham


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Protecting employee data, customer data, and IP should be a top priority for any company that operates digitally. Any system can be breached, and that data is worth more than gold. Most breaches become possible because of human error. Because companies employ people, the question for most businesses is not if but when they will experience a cybersecurity incident.

A security breach can be severe. You can lose a critical piece of your IP, lose the trust of your customers and employees, or even fail an audit ahead of a liquidation event, like an IPO or acquisition.

There is no 100% failsafe way to protect your company against a security breach. But you can reduce damage by building a cybersecurity response plan.

What is a cybersecurity response plan?

A cybersecurity response plan is a set of instructions to help your company prepare for and respond to a data breach. As most data breaches are made possible by human error, a plan that does not account for human behavior is only part of a plan.

To respond as quickly and adeptly as possible and minimize the damage done by a data breach, you must include all areas of your business in your cybersecurity response plan. That includes all your staff, partners, contractors, and even local authorities.

What are the key elements of a cybersecurity response plan?

A cybersecurity response plan needs to contain particular elements to be effective. About half of a cybersecurity response plan is dedicated to preparation and training, as your employees need to be made aware of the risks, responsibilities, and protocols in the case of a data breach.

Element 1: Preparation

Preparation is key to a good cybersecurity plan. Even though you can never be fully ready for a data breach, you can prepare scenarios and identify security priorities beforehand.

Part of preparation is training your staff in cybersecurity and cybersecurity response. Training staff to avoid common pitfalls can help your company avoid the majority of breaches caused by human error.

The preparation stage is the perfect time to document, outline, and explain your team's roles and responsibilities. Here are some things to include:

  • Map the location, sensitivity, and value of all the data in your organization that needs to be protected.

  • Assign roles and responsibilities that include the entire company. Define who can trigger the plan and who will communicate what to your staff or customers.

  • Identify cybersecurity regulatory requirements and develop guidance on how to interact with law enforcement, the press, and your customers.

  • Establish procedures for IT teams to receive clear, actionable alerts of all detected malware.

  • Store privileged credentials securely and create protocols to block account sessions from contractors or former employees.

  • Make sure you have a clean system ready for a full restore from a clean backup.

Element 2: Resource allocation

Any cybersecurity response plan needs to include allocation instructions for all necessary resources. That way, your employees will know where to go to find the resources they need once your systems go down.

If you don't plan this out in advance, chaos can quickly follow a data breach. You can't afford to lose precious time because of organizational disarray when a well-organized team would help you recover much more quickly.

Element 3: Individual responsibilities

Map out specific roles and individual responsibilities. That way, your entire staff knows whom to look to and what their responsibilities are when your systems are breached.

There's a role for all departments when responding to a cybersecurity event. You need senior engineers to coordinate the recovery effort and create damage reports; communications professionals to help with internal and external communication; legal teams for dealing with the authorities and determining how to press charges; and the list goes on.

If you're lucky, you won't need all hands on deck when responding to a cybersecurity breach. If you're not, you will be grateful you set individual responsibilities in advance.

Element 4: Incident identification protocols

Now that everyone knows what to do and where to find the resources they need, you need to set up protocols to monitor, detect, alert, and report security events. These incident identification protocols will help you determine whether your systems have been breached.

Setting up official incident identification protocols will help your company stay on alert at all times. Checking for data breaches at regular intervals will allow you to catch most intrusions early, making them easier to contain.

Some of the questions that these protocols should address are:

  • When did the event happen?

  • How was it discovered?

  • What's the scope of the compromise?

  • Does it affect operations?

  • What's the point of entry?

Element 5: Containment protocols

Your data can be breached on different levels and in different ways. Some might not merit a response; others can be so serious you have to shut down all your systems as a precaution; and the rest will fall somewhere in between. However, the most important thing is to contain the breach the moment it's discovered.

Containment protocols will help you contain, neutralize, and map the threat by isolating and disconnecting infected systems. That will prevent the cyberattack from spreading, potentially causing damage beyond repair.

The last thing you should do during the containment phase is delete all the infected files and systems on sight. To eradicate the entire threat, repair your systems, and potentially press charges, you need to record and investigate every aspect of the breach.

During containment, keep a log of the incident and response and preserve all the artifacts and details to analyze the full attack later.

Make sure to:

  • Determine the timeline and location of the attack.

  • Check if and what sensitive data has been stolen or corrupted.

  • Update any firewalls and network security to capture evidence.

  • Engage the legal team and examine compliance risks to see if the incident falls under any specific regulations and determine whether you need to contact law enforcement.

Element 6: Eradication protocols

The containment element of your cybersecurity response plan is all about mapping the incident and stopping it in its tracks. Eradication protocols will allow you to securely and thoroughly remove the malware and harden and patch up your systems.

When you're running your eradication protocols, be critical of all affected software and hardware. Anything that might give attackers a new way in or was corrupted needs to be removed or replaced.

Having clear protocols in place will give your team steady footing when eradicating the threat. Most things work better with a clear plan, and eliminating a cyber threat is one of them.

Element 7: Recovery protocols

Now that you've contained and eradicated the security breach, it's time to get your systems back up and running. That's where your recovery protocols come in.

Having clear protocols for recovering your systems and data will help you get business operations back up as quickly as possible without needing to fear another breach.

Your protocols can help your team make the right decisions quickly by outlining when you can return your systems to production. These protocols also answer questions of whether a system can be restored from a trusted backup and how to set up monitoring times after everything's back up and running to make sure your data is safe.

Element 8: Retrospective analysis

A cybersecurity event always strikes suddenly. When you do experience a data breach, your company must learn and adapt. By conducting a thorough retrospective analysis, you can get more insight into your blind spots.

If you skip the retrospective analysis, you lose a powerful opportunity to establish how your team should flag breaches, analyze incidents, and respond in a way that minimizes damage.

Learn more about how we've set up security and compliance at Remote to keep our customers’ data secure all over the world.

How a cybersecurity response plan benefits your business

As more businesses store digital data, the importance (and value) of that data will only increase. Yet protections for IP and data are not automatic. You need to plan ahead to keep your valuable information safe.

By having a solid cybersecurity response plan, you'll be able to weather a data breach more effectively. Not only will your plan allow you to minimize damage, but handling a security event adeptly also sends your partners and customers the signal that you take security seriously and are capable of responding adeptly.

Another considerable benefit your company will enjoy from having a cybersecurity response plan is awareness within your team. Simply preparing for a data breach and practicing your response will confirm the importance of cybersecurity company-wide.

When you work with distributed teams, it's crucial to keep your data and intellectual property protected around the world. That includes your dedication to keeping everyone's data safe and secure.

Training cybersecurity will increase tech literacy

If you deal with a lot of data, it's easy to forget that not everyone knows what data means and why or how you should keep it safe — especially as your company and remote team grows. Even the most high-tech company employs non-technical staff. Legal, HR, marketing, and sales are only some jobs that don't require an extensive technical skillset.

You can teach your staff tech literacy by training them for cybersecurity response. Even if not all employees need the full skillset to detect, recover, and protect your data, it will help if they understand their roles. A cybersecurity response plan helps employees better understand the technical systems and how those systems interact with their own jobs, which can only help outcomes when a breach occurs.

Earlier identification of problems

If you're not on the lookout, a data breach can go unnoticed for a long time. The longer it takes to identify the problem, the greater the chances of more stolen data or infected systems. And nothing is worse for your reputation than a breach that has gone undetected for a long time.

Effective communication about your cybersecurity and proper detection protocols can help you catch a leak sooner, leading to faster containment and less data that can be leaked during the time of the breach. Keep lines of communication flowing to identify and react to issues quickly.

Coordinate the response between full-time staff and contractors

If you outsource part of your operations to other companies or contractors, that disconnect can lead to extra challenges when dealing with a cybersecurity event. When your systems go into lockdown, it's easy to forget to communicate the appropriate info.

Clear protocols will help your communications department identify whom to alert to a data breach and with what info. International contractors are often not included in your day-to-day communications, so it's crucial to inform them of a breach when their work might be impacted.

Informing everyone will ensure a smooth response from your contractors and allow you to prevent the damage from growing worse. Learn more about how Remote makes international contractor management easy.

Don’t be caught off guard: Invest in a cybersecurity response plan today

As your teams spread across the globe, keeping everybody on the same page about something as important as your data is key to being successful. Not only can you minimize the damage to your systems, but reacting to a cybersecurity event appropriately will help you maintain your employees’ and customers’ trust. A cybersecurity response plan is a great way to prepare, train, and respond to a data breach.

The eight elements discussed in this article will allow you to build a comprehensive approach to a cyberattack response. By preparing, training, and allocating responsibilities and resources in advance, you increase your team’s tech literacy and general preparedness. You can then move quickly to contain the threat, eradicate malware and any infected systems, and recover your operations in a concerted effort.

As soon as you start thinking about your cybersecurity response in a structured manner, decisions on how to build a secure system will come easier. Simply running the scenarios will help you set everything up as securely as possible. This exercise will also make you more able to choose partners who keep security in mind. The moment you entrust a company with your data, you need to be sure they keep that information as secure as possible.

We at Remote are keenly aware of the importance of data security and IP protection. If you want to learn more about how we protect our customers’ sensitive data, be sure to check out our full suite of data protection solutions.

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