5 Steps for an Effective Data Breach Response

With global business and operations so heavily reliant on data collection, sharing, and analysis, data breaches can seem inevitable. In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports that there were 445 publicly-reported data compromises in Q1 of FY23 that affected 89,140,686 individuals worldwide. While organizations often take a proactive approach to preventing these kinds of data security incidents, preparedness cannot guarantee that data will be safe from these kinds of attacks.

This is why creating a data breach response plan is crucial for modern data teams. In the event that your organization’s data is targeted and a breach occurs, you need to know how to respond in order to effectively protect the data, the data subjects, and your organization’s reputation.

5 Steps to Respond to a Data Breach

Not every data breach will have the same causes (i.e. malware, ransomware, insider threats, social engineering) and effects (i.e. financial losses, identity theft, fraud). However, there are certain steps–some best practices, others rooted in compliance and regulations–that are key to any effective data breach response. These five steps are:

1. Containment

While 60% of data breaches are discovered within days, one Verizon report notes that 20% could take months to be identified. No matter how much time has passed, the first action any organization should take when a data breach is identified is to contain its impact on the data.

Data breach containment is the process of identifying the source and extent of a breach and isolating it within your organization’s data ecosystem. It’s like finding and patching a leak in your rowboat: once you’ve found the issue, you can isolate it and ensure that it does not continue to have a harmful effect on the resources. With the aim to intervene and isolate the breach, containment is a logical first step in a data breach response.

2. Assessment

Now that you’ve contained the breach and restricted any further impact, you can begin to assess the damage to the data. During the assessment process, your team should seek to answer questions like:

  • What type of data was affected by the breach?
  • How much of that data was affected?
  • Which individuals were affected by the breach?
  • What is the extent of the impact in your data ecosystem and beyond?

This information-gathering phase will provide teams with an understanding of the breach’s impacts, as well as inform the next steps in the process for remediation.

3. Notification

Once the breach is contained and the high-level extent and effects are understood, your organization will need to notify a range of different parties. First and foremost, you should notify the individuals who have been affected by the breach. This will keep the public informed, and ensure that they can take steps to protect themselves from any further risk (canceling credit cards, placing bank holds, etc.).

Organizations are also required to inform regulatory agencies and/or data protection authorities (DPAs) relevant to their industry. Whether your organization is subject to state-level reporting requirements, international data legislation like GDPR, industry regulators like FINRA or the SEC, or other standards and regulations, you must report security events to the proper agencies. These groups can then investigate the breach and take further action to remediate the effects. If the proper parties are not notified, your organization can be subject to legal action, significant fines, and in some cases criminal charges.

[Further Reading]: A Guide to Data Compliance Regulations

4. Investigation

After the necessary parties have been notified of the breach, both your organization and the authorities in its industry can begin to investigate the event more holistically. This allows teams to transition from reaction to research, digging deeper into the root causes of the breach and the data that may have been affected by it.

Teams and authorities will want to gather evidence of the breach, and evaluate systems and resources that could have been compromised. This investigation must be incredibly thorough, as “forensic data” uncovered in the process will be crucial to fixing your systems and keeping data resources and individuals safe moving forward.

5. Remediation & Evaluation

With an in-depth investigation complete, your teams can comprehensively respond to the breach and attempt to repair any resulting damage. By implementing corrective actions and restoring resources and/or affected platforms and tools, the data ecosystem can be brought back to a safe and functional state. Ideally, remediation should leave platforms and resources safer than they were before the breach.

Following remediation, evaluation closes out the data breach response process. By honestly evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their response, you can better understand the effectiveness of your teams’ actions while becoming better prepared for any future security incidents. This can include implementing additional data security policies, procedures, and practices to proactively guard against any future breaches.

Teams Involved in Data Breach Response

Given the frequency of modern data breaches, many organizations have created incident response teams (IRTs) that can be mobilized in the event of such a security incident. These teams often include stakeholders from groups like:

IT and Security

These technical stakeholders are the closest to the actual systems affected by a breach. IT should be able to help immediately contain the breach using the platforms and tools in the data stack, and can provide valuable technical insights throughout the assessment and investigation processes. Security teams will have the most valuable knowledge about the organization’s protective policies and capabilities, and are therefore also crucial to the containment and secure remediation of any breach.


Legal teams are very important in the notification and remediation parts of the response. They will have the most up-to-date knowledge of which individuals, agencies, and oversight groups must be notified of the breach based on a range of laws and regulations. Legal stakeholders can also ensure that the response–and following proactive measures–are in accord with any other current or future compliance needs.

Public Relations

The public relations team is the direct link from the organization to the public. They are crucial for the notification process, as they can assist in formulating the most accurate and direct message to the individuals who have been affected. They can also help craft and control messages to employees, shareholders, media outlets, or any other entity that needs to be notified of the breach to keep the information clear and legitimate. This will serve to both inform the public and mitigate any inaccuracies or reputational damage.


As with any event that has a notable impact on the organization, management should be informed and consulted throughout the data breach response process. These leaders may have different roles in the process–a CTO or CISO, for instance, may be more directly involved than the CEO–but regardless of function, they should be involved for the duration of the response.

Data Breach Mitigation with Data Security Platforms

A comprehensive data breach response plan that involves the right teams can minimize the impact of a breach on resources, individuals, and future operations. It’s important that your organization also implements security tools that enable the response team to carry out their duties efficiently and securely.

The Immuta Data Security Platform provides organizations with an integrated platform that unifies sensitive data discovery tools, security and data access controls, and activity monitoring. Data discovery and access control capabilities enable teams to proactively locate and secure the data in their ecosystem, strengthening their defenses against any potential breach event. Immuta Detect provides timely insights into risky user data access behavior and enables data security posture management and risk remediation above policy thresholds. These insights can immediately notify teams of any suspicious or atypical user behavior, and aid in identifying and responding to a breach as quickly as possible.

Want to learn more about how Immuta Detect enables efficient and comprehensive data breach responses? Request a demo with a data security expert today.

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