The urgent need to ‘quantify the hidden costs of a data breach’

As the financial implications of IT downtime continue to swell, organisations must be prepared to assign real costs to the intangible or ‘hidden’ damages, which are regularly experienced during a cyber security breach.

Recently, we’ve seen the example of retailer Debenhams admitting that it had customer data stolen through a third-party. While this will rightly require a review of security practices of its supply chain, Debenhams will also face absorbing the ‘hidden’ costs associated with this breach. This is according to Peter Groucutt, managing director of Databarracks.

“Increasingly, we are seeing organisations struggling to recover from a cyber incident when compared to more traditional types of downtime. If a disk fails or a database corrupts for example, the recovery process is relatively simple. You can fail-over to a replica system or restore data from a backup. Cyber attacks however, add an increased layer of complexity.”

>See also: Downtime is key cost of ransomware attacks

“Firstly, the root cause must be remediated which might include malware removal and access being revoked from any adversaries. Only then can you begin the recovery process, adding significant downtime for your business and customers. Because of this, IT Security teams need to have a stronger alliance with Continuity teams.”

“Cyber threats are rapidly becoming some of the most significant continuity threats to a business. As new threats emerge, it’s imperative that security and business continuity (BC) teams work together to raise awareness and understand the risks of an attack, making them the focal point for the BC team’s future planning and testing.

“This collaboration will ultimately allow you to better respond to incidents and aid your recovery, reducing downtime and data loss. To gain the budget and resource investment to adequately prepare for these threats, the business must acknowledge the actual costs it will absorb from an attack. Not just the direct costs, but the ‘hidden’ ones too.”

>See also: 46% of British businesses experienced cyber attack or breach – UK Gov


“To have a complete picture of the cost of downtime it’s imperative an organisation adds a monetary value to those ‘hidden’ costs, especially, as industry data suggests that over 90% of cyber attack costs are likely to be accrued in categories that are either intangible or less visible.”

“In practice, this can be as simple as providing a reasoned estimate for that loss – for example, a five per cent reduction in sales for a six month period following a breach, which will equal a loss of £X thousand. Importantly, this will not only help you to understand the true cost of IT downtime, it can be also used as an exercise to leverage continued board-level investment into protection and mitigation strategies.”

“BC plans must now be tailored to address the growing cyber threat. Understanding the cost of IT downtime is integral to this process and while most plans will adequately account for those tangible cost, it’s imperative that they also recognise the intangible damages too. Doing so will not only help you to budget more effectively, but will also help provide the evidence needed to improve security practices and minimise downtime.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...