How to Respond to a Data Breach Incident: The First 48 Hours

Has your business just been hacked? Or are you concerned that it might be, and need to create a robust, actionable data breach response plan? Either way, it is essential to know the right steps to take in the immediate aftermath of any cybersecurity incident.

In this article, we discuss the importance of putting a robust data breach incident response plan in place and outline the most crucial initial incident response steps.

Why You Need to Be Prepared for a Data Breach Incident

Hackers don’t just target massive multinational companies; organizations of all sizes can become the victims of malicious cyberattacks. Here is what a data breach could do to yours:

  • You could lose data and contact information vital to the running of your business.
  • System downtime, while the breach is underway, will negatively impact your processes, outcomes, and revenue.
  • Sensitive employee and customer information could be compromised.
  • Your intellectual property will be at risk.
  • You could be liable for costly legal sanctions by allowing confidential information to be accessed.
  •  Customers, partners, vendors, and employees will lose their trust in your organization.

All is not lost; however: How you respond to a cyber incident in its initial aftermath can help you minimize the damage caused and ensure that similar attacks do not happen in the future.

The Critical First 48 Hours after a Data Breach

If you have just become the victim of a data breach, the first thing you should do is follow your pre-existing incident response plan. This is definitely not what you want to hear if you have no cyber incident response plan in place, and you have just been hacked. So if you are worried about being hacked, ensure you have assembled an IT incident response planning team who meet regularly to review and reinforce your organization’s incident response process.

Follow this link to learn The 6 Pillars of an Incident Response Plan.

Pre-planning and communication are essential to managing the first 48 to 72 hours of a cyber breach incident response. Here are the steps you need to take:

Steps to take in the first 48 to 72 hours

1. Follow your existing incident response plan:

Mobilize the multidisciplinary team you have assembled to carry out your incident response plan. This team should include IT and security personnel (internal or contracted external expertise) and other key stakeholders, such as representatives of your HR, legal, and PR departments. The organizations that recover best from a data breach are those with the strongest and best-rehearsed cyberattack response in place before the attack happens.

First, identify whether it is a malicious attack or a simple technical fail or misconfiguration. If it is a hack, put your plan into action.

2. Contain the Data Breach:

Once you have activated your incident response plan, your first step is to contain the breach. The process of containment should be clearly outlined in your plan. You should ensure that compromised computers cannot access your network, and you will need to change passwords for users whose accounts were compromised. Before you restore services, validate and test your network and recertify any breached elements for operability and security.

3. Determine the cause of the breach:

Now that you have contained the breach, you need to find out what caused it and deal with the vulnerability in your system. This will involve the input of either your in-house expertise or external experts. They will gather and analyze the logs from all your security controls and record the evidence.

4. Notify employees:

Your next step is to let employees know whether sensitive data has been compromised. This kind of communication may be via email notification, and you will need to offer support in the areas of identity theft monitoring and protection if this is relevant. These services should be in place before the cyberattack takes place so that you can mobilize them within 48 hours of any incident. Be open and honest with your team.

5. Document key findings:

Your incident response team needs to record their key findings from the incident and present them in an evaluation session once the incident has been managed. Do this as soon as possible after the event so that you can consolidate your knowledge and update your existing cyberattack response plan. Discuss what mistakes were made and what needs to be in place to prevent future attacks.

Steps to AVOID in the first 48 to 72 hours

Now you know what you need to do in the immediate aftermath of a data breach, here is what you should NOT do:

  1. Don’t notify the necessary authorities about the data breach before you’ve investigated:

    Depending on your location, data security breach notification deadlines vary, so make sure you have a grasp of the situation before you report the breach.

  2. Don’t overlook your contractual notification obligations:

    As well as having to notify data security authorities, you must also honor contract-based obligations if credit card or payment card information is involved in the breach.

  3. Don’t miss other notification obligations:

    Depending on your business, you may have obligations to notify other parties of a data breach. Public companies may need to decide whether investors are made aware of a security incident, for example.

  4. Don’t forget about the implications of local restrictions on your data breach probe:

    Data protection regulations will affect how you collect and analyze individuals’ information, for example. Rules on professional confidentiality may limit the disclosure of information to third parties such as parent companies.


There is a lot to consider when determining how your organization should respond to a data breach. For peace of mind and the assurance that your incident response plan is robust and actionable, contact Zeta Sky for emergency incident response support or to develop an incident response plan tailored to your needs.

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