Surviving a data breach: A guide for businesses

Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

Chris Burfitt

In today’s digital era, data breaches are not just a possibility but a looming threat over every organisation, big or small. The aftermath of such a breach can be catastrophic, affecting not just the immediate financial standing but also causing long-lasting reputational damage. It’s a wake-up call for businesses to introspect: Are you doing the utmost to prevent a data breach? And if one were to occur, have you done the utmost to minimise its impact?

Types of data breaches

Data breaches can emerge from both intentional misconduct and accidental mishaps. Malicious breaches typically involve:

  • Phishing attacks: Malicious attempts to trick employees into revealing sensitive information, exploiting human vulnerability
  • Malware and ransomware: Deliberate infiltration by harmful software aimed at stealing or encrypting data for ransom

[In 2020 Garmin fell victim to a ransomware virus. The attackers seized control of Garmin’s corporate network, commandeered all system files, and extorted a ransom of $10 million for the decryption of the hijacked data.]

Accidental breaches often occur when:

  • Devices are lost: Sensitive data becomes vulnerable when the devices containing it are misplaced.
  • Data is mismanaged: Such as when employees downloads data into a spreadsheet that at best is stored on an access-controlled SharePoint, and at worst is sitting with uncontrolled access on someone’s laptop.

[In 2015 British Airways was fined £20 million for a data breach that compromised the payment card information of almost 500,000 customers.]

The consequences of a data breach

  1. Reputational damage: Imagine the trust your customers place in you, shattered in an instant. A data breach does exactly that. The reputational damage is often the hardest to repair. Once the trust is broken, regaining it is a big task that requires time, transparency, and tangible actions to show commitment to data protection.
  2. Compliance and regulatory repercussions: The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) mandates strict compliance with data protection laws. These regulations dictate that data should only be retained as long as justifiably necessary and protected with adequate security measures. A breach not only brings about the scrutiny of the ICO but can also lead to hefty fines if it’s found that the necessary precautions and compliance measures were not in place. Businesses often struggle with interpreting what compliance means for them. The rules can be complex and are subject to interpretation, but the bottom line remains: the ICO wants to see proactive measures for prevention and mitigation.
  3. Financial implications: Apart from potential fines, the financial impact of a data breach extends to lost business, the cost of remediation, legal fees, and more.

[In 2020 Virgin Media suffered a data breach that impacted 900,000 customers and resulted in a class action lawsuit of nearly £4.5 billion]

Special considerations for regulated industries

For regulated industries such as nuclear, aerospace, and life sciences, the stakes are even higher. These sectors are governed by specific regulations that may require longer data retention periods, introducing additional complexity to compliance and data protection efforts. The necessity to manage and protect larger volumes of data for extended durations amplifies the risk and underscores the importance of robust data governance frameworks tailored to meet these stringent requirements.

Beyond the basics: Expanding the scope of protection

It’s crucial to recognise that data protection isn’t just about securing the production environment. Non-production environments, such as test and development databases, often contain the same sensitive information but are overlooked. Ensuring these areas are also secured is essential to a comprehensive data protection strategy.

Compliance isn’t just about retention and protection. It also involves understanding what data you have, why you have it, and how long it should be kept. Data minimisation is very good way to mitigate risks however, many businesses find themselves unaware of the specifics of their data landscape, making it challenging to apply appropriate retention rules.

The benefits of proactive compliance

Implementing a robust compliance and data minimisation program extends benefits beyond avoiding fines. It can lead to significant savings on storage costs, improve system performance, and facilitate digital transformation. However, developing such a program is complex and involves the entire organisation. IT departments often find themselves in a dilemma, unsure of data ownership and authorisation to enforce retention policies. Additionally, the significant time and financial investments required frequently lead to decision-making paralysis.

This complexity is where specialised tools and expertise can make a difference. Ideal solutions should streamline the compliance process by offering customisation to meet specific requirements, functioning across both production and non-production environments, and moving data to a secure set of tables outside of the normal namespace, providing robust protections against unauthorised data exports. Such tools should offer user-friendly interfaces, allowing users to manage data privacy tasks effectively — from redaction to deletion — without over-reliance on IT resources.

While exploring options it’s worth considering offerings like Proceed Automate, which are designed with these exact features in mind.

Starting your compliance journey

Before diving into solutions, it’s crucial for businesses to define what compliance means for them. Identifying key stakeholders and establishing a shared understanding of compliance goals is the first step. From there, it’s about taking proactive steps to ensure that, in the event of a data breach, the impact is minimised, and regulatory bodies can see a sincere effort to comply with data protection laws.

At Proceed, we’re helping businesses navigate these complex waters. Our team of compliance specialists combines regulatory knowledge with business operational insights to offer advice tailored to your unique challenges.

Don’t wait for a data breach to reveal the gaps in your data protection and compliance strategies. Reach out to us, and let’s work together to ensure your business is strengthened against the inevitable challenges of the digital age.


Share this page