Wargaming an effective data breach playbook

A well-tuned data breach playbook can provide security teams with a clear roadmap for working through the breach response process. Foreseeing every possible twist and turn of a breach may be impossible, but through extensive wargaming, teams can simulate diverse situations to give them a proactive edge.

data breach playbook

Building a playbook means mapping practical data breach scenarios around product security, infrastructure, corporate security, social engineering, vendor supply chain risk, and more. Security teams can approach these categories critically and model different situations, bringing in other key company stakeholders when necessary.

In 2023, no scenario is too wild to consider planning for. For example, critical capability vendors may develop a scenario where their CEO falls victim to a social engineering attack, compromising the company’s digital infrastructure.

To be effective, wargaming these situations should be a fluid and dynamic process. Participants shouldn’t be afraid to introduce different variables, up the stakes, and explore unexpected challenges or opportunities.

Security teams should cover their bases and exhaust a broader range of situations by building out and exploring a complex web of “What if?” scenarios. For instance, consider the CEO social engineering scenario. Security teams can play out tangential situations: What if the CEO falls for a phishing email and provides their login credentials to a threat actor? What if multiple C-suite members divulge sensitive information? What if the threat actor gains access to customer payment information with these credentials?

A helpful strategy in building these scenarios is to work backward from what attackers want: sensitive data. Having a holistic perspective of all data sources can benefit the planning process. Organizations’ technology stacks have seemingly exploded in the last ten years, with APIs allowing a vast range of applications, devices, and networks to communicate. But this highly interconnected economy of solutions means an attack on one can affect many more. Uniting them through a single cybersecurity solution can provide comprehensive insights into the ripple effects of an attack that are critical when wargaming.

In addition, wargaming allows security teams to practice effective communication while removing emotions or office politics from the process. When a data breach occurs, tensions naturally run high, potentially leading to finger-pointing or interdepartmental conflict. But these emotional impulses can only make a bad situation worse. Running through these scenarios when the stakes are nonexistent eliminates the emotional factor, leaving only logic and the truth in their place. When the real thing occurs, all parties can proceed with a predetermined and approved process without discord.

The building blocks of a good playbook

As the teams play out these war games, they are effectively building out step-by-step playbooks to handle the situations should they occur. The more scenarios they run through, the more granular and accurate their playbook can be. Depending on the conditions simulated, these playbooks can include:

  • How to identify and attribute a data breach
  • Identify the proximal systems in the blast radius
  • Communicate breach status to key company stakeholders
  • Include necessary teams such as DevOps, legal, marketing/PR, etc.
  • Determine remediation efforts needed (e.g., breach location quarantine, patching) and assign responsible team members
  • Decide when and how to notify impacted individuals and government entities
  • Plan when and how to release a public statement

The completed playbooks should be distributed to all necessary stakeholders across the company to break down silos, generate buy-in, and ensure everyone is united in their approach. Rather than scrambling to react to a cybersecurity incident, every involved player can leap into action to do their predetermined part. The entire response is streamlined, cohesive, and cross-functional, leading to a successful outcome.

These playbooks can positively impact corporate stewardship, reputations, customer and employee retention and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Data breach playbooks provide a reliable path forward

Of course, with infinite interacting variables involved in a data breach, there is no way for every single scenario to be minutely predicted and mapped out. By taking the time to wargame a wide variety of data breach incidents, an organization can empower all stakeholders to act confidently using a proven guide should the worst occur.

Wargaming allows teams to explore countless “what if?” scenarios and remove office politics from the situation, ensuring alignment on the best way forward.

As the threat landscape evolves, data breaches are now a fact of life for organizations. Predefined and well-tested playbooks give companies the tools to respond responsibly to a data breach that earns back public trust.

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