Office of the Australian Information Commissioner - Home

Australian Government - Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Australian Government - Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

Main menu

Data breach response plan

pdfPrintable version218.08 KB

This data breach response plan (response plan) sets out procedures and clear lines of authority for Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) staff in the event that the OAIC experiences a data breach (or suspects that a data breach has occurred).

A data breach occurs when personal information is lost or subjected to unauthorised access, modification, use or disclosure or other misuse. Data breaches can be caused or exacerbated by a variety of factors, affect different types of personal information and give rise to a range of actual or potential harms to individuals, agencies and organisations.

This response plan is intended to enable the OAIC to contain, assess and respond to data breaches in a timely fashion, to help mitigate potential harm to affected individuals. It sets out contact details for the appropriate staff in the event of a data breach, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of staff, and documents processes to assist the OAIC to respond to a data breach.

OAIC experiences data breach/data breach suspected

Discovered by OAIC staff member, or OAIC otherwise alerted

What should the OAIC staff member do?

  • Immediately notify your Director EL2 of the suspected data breach.
  • Record and advise your Director of the time and date the suspected breach was discovered, the type of personal information involved, the cause and extent of the breach, and the context of the affected information and the breach.

What should the Director EL2 do?

  • Determine whether a data breach has or may have occurred.
  • Determine whether the data breach is serious enough to escalate to the Data Breach Response Team (some breaches may be able to be dealt with at the Director level).
  • If so, immediately escalate to the Data Breach Response Team.

Alert OAIC data breach response team coordinator (Director – Legal)

Coordinator convenes response team – Director Legal

  • Legal & Records

    Primary contact
    [names redacted]

    Secondary contact
    [names redacted]

    • Corporate & Comms.

      Primary contact
      [names redacted]

      Secondary contact
      [names redacted]

    • IT

      Primary contact
      [names redacted]

      Secondary contact
      [names redacted]

      • Strat. & Regulation

        Primary contact
        [names redacted]

        Secondary contact
        [names redacted]

When should Directors escalate a data breach to the OAIC Data Breach Response Team?

Directors to use discretion in deciding whether to escalate to the response team

Some data breaches may be comparatively minor, and able to be dealt with easily without action from the Data Breach Response Team (response team).

For example, an OAIC officer may, as a result of human error, send an email containing personal information to the wrong recipient. Depending on the sensitivity of the contents of the email, if the email can be recalled, or if the officer can contact the recipient and the recipient agrees to delete the email, it may be that there is no utility in escalating the issue to the response team.

Directors should use their discretion in determining whether a data breach or suspected data breach requires escalation to the response team. In making that determination, Directors should consider the following questions:

  • Are multiple individuals affected by the breach or suspected breach?
  • Is there (or may there be) a real risk of serious harm to the affected individual(s)?
  • Does the breach or suspected breach indicate a systemic problem in OAIC processes or procedures?
  • Could there be media or stakeholder attention as a result of the breach or suspected breach?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then it may be appropriate for the Director to notify the response team.

Directors to inform the response team Coordinator of minor breaches

If a Director decides not to escalate a minor data breach or suspected data breach to the response team for further action, the Director should:

  • send a brief email to the response team Coordinator (Director — Legal) that contains the following information:
    • description of the breach or suspected breach
    • action taken by the Director or OAIC officer to address the breach or suspected breach
    • the outcome of that action, and
    • the Director’s view that no further action is required
  • save of copy of that email in the following RADAR container:
    • Data Breach Response – reports and investigation of data breaches within the OAIC (internal link)

OAIC Data Breach Response Team checklist

Process

There is no single method of responding to a data breach. Data breaches must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, by undertaking an assessment of the risks involved, and using that risk assessment to decide the appropriate course of action.

There are four key steps to consider when responding to a breach or suspected breach.

  • STEP 1: Contain the breach and do a preliminary assessment
  • STEP 2: Evaluate the risks associated with the breach
  • STEP 3: Notification
  • STEP 4: Prevent future breaches

The response team should ideally undertake steps 1, 2 and 3 either simultaneously or in quick succession.

The response team should refer to the OAIC’s Data breach notification: a guide to handling personal information security breaches which provides further detail on each step.

Depending on the breach, not all steps may be necessary, or some steps may be combined. In some cases, it may be appropriate to take additional steps that are specific to the nature of the breach.

In reconsidering OAIC processes and procedures to reduce the risk of future breaches (Step 4), the response team should also refer to the OAIC’s Guide to securing personal information. This guide presents a set of non-exhaustive steps and strategies that may be reasonable for the OAIC to take in order to secure personal information, and considers actions that may be appropriate to help prevent further breaches following an investigation.

The following checklist is intended to guide the response team in the event of a data breach, and alert the response team to a range of considerations when responding to a data breach.

Records management

Documents created by the response team should be saved in the following RADAR container:

  • Data Breach Response – reports and investigation of data breaches within the OAIC (internal link)

Step 1

Contain the breach and make a preliminary assessment

  • Convene a meeting of the data breach response team. 
  • Immediately contain breach:
    • IT to implement the ICT Incident Response Plan if necessary.
    • Building security to be alerted if necessary.
  • Inform the OAIC Executive, including the Australian Privacy Commissioner; provide ongoing updates on key developments.
  • Ensure evidence is preserved that may be valuable in determining the cause of the breach, or allowing the OAIC to take appropriate corrective action.
  • Consider developing a communications or media strategy to manage public expectations and media interest.

Step 2

Evaluate the risks for individuals associated with the breach

  • Conduct initial investigation, and collect information about the breach promptly, including:
    • the date, time, duration, and location of the breach
    • the type of personal information involved in the breach
    • how the breach was discovered and by whom
    • the cause and extent of the breach
    • a list of the affected individuals, or possible affected individuals
    • the risk of serious harm to the affected individuals
    • the risk of other harms.
  • Determine whether the context of the information is important.
  • Establish the cause and extent of the breach.
  • Assess priorities and risks based on what is known.
  • Keep appropriate records of the suspected breach and actions of the response team, including the steps taken to rectify the situation and the decisions made.

Step 3

Consider breach notification

  • Determine who needs to be made aware of the breach (internally, and potentially externally) at this preliminary stage.
  • Determine whether to notify affected individuals – is there a real risk of serious harm to the affected individuals? In some cases, it may be appropriate to notify the affected individuals immediately; e.g., where there is a high level of risk of serious harm to affected individuals.
  • Consider whether others should be notified, including police/law enforcement, or other agencies or organisations affected by the breach, or where the OAIC is contractually required or required under the terms of an MOU or similar obligation to notify specific parties.

Step 4

Review the incident and take action to prevent future breaches

  • Fully investigate the cause of the breach.
  • Report to OAIC Executive on outcomes and recommendations:
    • Update security and response plan if necessary.
    • Make appropriate changes to policies and procedures if necessary.
    • Revise staff training practices if necessary.
    • Consider the option of an audit to ensure necessary outcomes are effected.