Data breaches and other types of cyber attacks are becoming increasingly more frequent. From small private firms, to large government entities, organizations of all sizes and industries have fallen victim to cyber criminals in recent years.

Such incidents often compromise the security of an organization’s financial records, its customers’ accounts and other highly sensitive information, putting at risk its financial stability and reputation. However, despite the frequency and significance of such threats, many businesses are completely unprepared to deal with cyber attacks.

Here are 5 steps that should be taken in response to a data breach:

Swift and fact-based communication is key to an effective data breach response. Make sure to inform your employees, clients, media, and, if necessary, government agencies of what happened and how it is being handled. Advise your customers on the immediate actions they can take to protect their information.

  1. Identify the security weakness.

If necessary, bring an outside team of IT professionals to help you identify what exactly happened, and how to remedy the current vulnerabilities to prevent the issue from happening in the future.

  1. Research your state’s data breach laws.

When it comes to cyber attacks, different states have different rules on when and who should be notified in case of an incident. It is important to make sure that your data breach response actions will be in accordance to laws and procedures established in your state.

  1. Retain professional public relations counsel.

Regardless of their size, data breaches can pose a significant challenge to a company’s reputation. This is why a professional crisis communications strategy is necessary to ensure that a single incident will not turn into a prolonged PR disaster.

  1. Implement a proactive data breach response plan for the future.

Responding to a data breach is a very complex and stressful process. The only way to ensure things go according to plan is to actually have a plan in the first place. A professionally prepared response plan will navigate your organization through uncertainty, enabling it to respond quickly and accurately at a moment’s notice.