Data incident response process

This content was last updated in September 2022, and represents the status quo as of the time it was written. Google's security policies and systems may change going forward, as we continually improve protection for our customers.

Google's highest priority is to maintain a safe and secure environment for customer data. To help protect customer data, we run an industry-leading information security operation that combines stringent processes, an expert incident response team, and multi-layered information security and privacy infrastructure. This document explains our principled approach to managing and responding to data incidents in Google Cloud.

The Cloud Data Processing Addendum defines a data incident as “a breach of Google’s security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorized disclosure of, or access to, Customer Data on systems managed by or otherwise controlled by Google.” While we take steps to address foreseeable threats to data and systems, data incidents don't include unsuccessful attempts or activities that don't compromise the security of customer data. For example, data incidents aren't unsuccessful login attempts, pings, port scans, denial of service attacks, and other network attacks on firewalls or networked systems.

Incident response is a key aspect of our overall security and privacy program. We have a rigorous process for managing data incidents. This process specifies actions, escalations, mitigation, resolution, and notification of any potential incidents that impact the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of customer data.

To learn more about how we secure Google Cloud, see the Infrastructure security design overview and Google Cloud security.

Data incident response

Our incident response program is managed by teams of expert incident responders across many specialized functions to ensure each response is well-tailored to the challenges presented by each incident. Depending on the nature of the incident, the professional response team can include experts from the following teams:

  • Cloud incident management
  • Product engineering
  • Site reliability engineering
  • Cloud security and privacy
  • Digital forensics
  • Global investigations
  • Signals detection
  • Security, privacy, and product counsel
  • Trust and safety
  • Counter-abuse technology
  • Cloud Customer Care

Experts from these teams are engaged in a variety of ways. For example, incident commanders coordinate incident response and, when needed, the digital forensics team performs forensic investigations and tracks ongoing attacks. Product engineers work to limit the impact on customers and provide solutions to fix the affected products. Counsel works with members of the appropriate security and privacy team to implement Google’s strategy on evidence collection, engage with law enforcement and government regulators, and advise on legal issues and requirements. Customer Care respond to customer inquiries and requests for additional information and assistance.

Team organization

When we declare an incident, we designate an incident commander who coordinates incident response and resolution. The incident commander selects specialists from different teams and forms a response team. The incident commander delegates the responsibility for managing different aspects of the incident to these experts and manages the incident from the moment of declaration to closure. The following diagram depicts this organization of various roles and their responsibilities during incident response.

Data incident response team organization

Data incident response process

Every data incident is unique, and the goal of the data incident response process is to protect customer data, restore normal service as quickly as possible, and meet both regulatory and contractual compliance requirements. The following table describes the main steps in the Google incident response program.

Incident step Goal Description
Identification Detection Automated and manual processes detect potential vulnerabilities and incidents.
Reporting Automated and manual processes report the issue to the incident response team.
Coordination Triage The following activities occur:
  • On-call responder evaluates the nature of the incident report.
  • On-call responder assesses severity of the incident.
  • On-call responder assigns incident commander.
Response team engagement The following activities occur:
  • Incident commander completes assessment of known facts.
  • Incident commander designates leads from relevant teams and forms incident response team.
  • Incident response team evaluates incident and response effort.
Resolution Investigation The following activities occur:
  • Incident response team gathers key facts about the incident.
  • Additional resources are integrated as needed to allow for expedient resolution.
Containment and recovery Operations lead takes immediate steps to complete the following:
  • Limit ongoing damage.
  • Fix underlying issue.
  • Restore affected systems and services to normal operations.
Communication The following activities occur:
  • Key facts are evaluated to determine whether notification is appropriate.
  • Communications lead developers a communication plan with appropriate leads.
Closure Lessons learned The following activities occur:
  • Incident response team retrospects on incident and response effort.
  • Incident command designates owners for long-term improvements.
Continuous improvement Program development Necessary teams, training, processes, resources, and tools are maintained.
Prevention Teams improve the incident response program based on lessons learned.

The following sections describe each step in more detail.


Early and accurate identification of incidents is key to effective incident management. The focus of the identification phase is to monitor security events to detect and report on potential data incidents.

The incident detection team employs advanced detection tools, signals, and alert mechanisms that provide early indication of potential incidents. Our sources of incident detection include the following:

  • Automated network and system logs analysis: Automated analysis of network traffic and system access helps identify suspicious, abusive, or unauthorized activity and escalates to security staff.

  • Testing: The security team actively scans for security threats using penetration tests, quality assurance (QA) measures, intrusion detection, and software security reviews.

  • Internal code reviews: Source code review discovers hidden vulnerabilities, design flaws, and verifies if key security controls are implemented.

  • Product-specific tooling and processes: Automated tooling specific to the team function is employed wherever possible to enhance our ability to detect incidents at product level.

  • Usage anomaly detection: We use many layers of machine learning systems to differentiate between safe and anomalous user activity across browsers, devices, application logins, and other usage events.

  • Data center and workplace services security alerts: Security alerts in data centers scan for incidents that might affect our infrastructure.

  • Google employees: A Google employee detects an anomaly and reports it

  • Google’s vulnerability reward program: Potential technical vulnerabilities in Google-owned browser extensions, mobile, and web applications that affect the confidentiality or integrity of user data are sometimes reported by external security researchers


When an incident is reported, the on-call responder reviews and evaluates the nature of the incident report to determine if it represents a potential data incident and initiates our incident response process.

After confirmation, the responder hands incident over to an incident commander who assesses the nature of the incident and implements a coordinated approach to the response. At this stage, the response includes completing the triage assessment of the incident, adjusting its severity if required, and activating the required incident response team with appropriate operational and technical leads who review the facts and identify key areas that require investigation. We designate a product lead and a legal lead to make key decisions on how to respond. The incident commander assigns the responsibility for investigation and the facts are assembled.

Many aspects of our response depend on the assessment of severity, which is based on key facts that are gathered and analyzed by the incident response team. These key facts include the following:

  • Potential for harm to customers, third parties, and Google

  • Nature of the incident (for example, whether data was potentially destroyed, accessed, or unavailable)

  • Type of data that might be affected

  • Impact of the incident on our customers’ ability to use the service

  • Status of the incident (for example, whether the incident is isolated, continuing, or contained)

The incident commander and other leads periodically re-evaluate these factors throughout the response effort as new information evolves to ensure that our response is assigned the appropriate resources and urgency. Events that present the most critical impact are assigned the highest severity. A communications lead is appointed to develop a communications plan with other leads.


At the resolution stage, the focus is on investigating the root cause, limiting the impact of the incident, resolving immediate security risks (if any), implementing necessary fixes as part of remediation, and recovering affected systems, data, and services.

Affected data is restored to its original state wherever possible. Depending on what is reasonable and necessary in a particular incident, we might take a number of different steps to resolve an incident. For instance, there might be a need for technical or forensic investigation to reconstruct the root cause of an issue or to identify any impact on customer data. We might attempt to recover copies of the data from our backup copies if data is improperly altered or destroyed.

A key aspect of remediation is notifying customers when incidents impact their data. Key facts are evaluated throughout the incident to determine whether the incident affected customer data. If notifying customers is appropriate, the incident commander initiates the notification process. The communications lead develops a communication plan with input from the product and legal leads, informs those affected, and supports customer requests after notification with the help of Customer Care.

We strive to provide prompt, clear, and accurate notifications containing the known details of the data incident, steps that we have taken to mitigate the potential risks, and actions that we recommend customers take to address the incident. We do our best to provide a clear picture of the incident so that customers can assess and fulfill their own notification obligations.


Following the successful remediation and resolution of a data incident, the incident response team evaluates the lessons learned from the incident. When the incident raises critical issues, the incident commander might initiate a post-mortem analysis. During this process, the incident response team reviews the causes of the incident and our response and identifies key areas for improvement. In some cases, this might require discussions with different product, engineering, and operations teams and product enhancement work. If follow-up work is required, the incident response team develops an action plan to complete that work and assigns project managers to lead the long-term effort. The incident is closed after the remediation efforts conclude.

Continuous improvement

At Google, we strive to learn from every incident and implement preventative measures to avoid future incidents.

Actionable insights from incident analysis enable us to enhance our tools, training, processes, overall security and privacy data protection program, security policies, and response efforts. The key learnings also facilitate prioritization of engineering efforts and building of better products.

Security and privacy professionals enhance our program by reviewing our security plans for all networks, systems, and services, and by providing project-specific consulting services to product and engineering teams. Security and privacy professionals deploy machine learning, data analysis, and other novel techniques to monitor for suspicious activity on our networks, address information security threats, perform routine security evaluations and audits, and engage outside experts to conduct regular security assessments. Additionally, Project Zero, aims to prevent targeted attacks by reporting bugs to software vendors and filing them in an external database.

We conduct regular training and awareness campaigns to drive innovation in security and data privacy. Dedicated incident response staff are trained in forensics and in handling evidence, including the use of third-party and proprietary tools. Testing of incident response processes and procedures is performed for key areas, such as systems that store sensitive customer information. These tests take into consideration a variety of scenarios, including insider threats and software vulnerabilities and help us better prepare for security and privacy incidents.

Our processes are tested on a regular basis as part of our ISO-27017, ISO-27018, ISO-27001, PCI-DSS, SOC 2 and FedRAMP programs to provide our customers and regulators with independent verification of our security, privacy, and compliance controls. For a list of third-party certifications for Google Cloud, see the Compliance resource center.


Protecting data is core to our business. We continually invest in our overall security program, resources, and expertise, which enables our customers to rely on us to respond effectively in the event of an incident, protect customer data, and maintain the high reliability customers expect of a Google service.

Our world-class incident response program delivers these key functions:

  • A process built upon industry-leading techniques for resolving incidents and refined to operate efficiently at Google’s scale.

  • Pioneering monitoring systems, data analytics, and machine learning services to proactively detect and contain incidents.

  • Dedicated subject matter experts who can respond to any type or size of data incident.

  • A mature process for promptly notifying affected customers, aligned with Google’s commitments in our terms of service and customer agreements.

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