How to Develop an IT Security Policy
Getting started with an effective information security policy
- Why You Need an IT Security Policy
- How to Write an Effective IT Security Policy
No matter the size, every business is a target for a cyber attack or IT security breach. And the cost of which could obliterate an organization.
According to Ponemon Institute’s Cost of a Data Breach study, the average data breach costs a company $3.86 million. For US-bases companies, that number jumps to a staggering $7.91 million. And it takes an average of 196 days to even identify a data breach. That’s sobering – and scary.
Unfortunately, much of a company’s vulnerability can be traced to human error.
Whether careless or simply naïve, employees introduce risks and vulnerabilities by not following procedures with things like phishing attacks, insufficient password security, poor access controls around sensitive information, and other errors that are not malicious but still cause damage to companies.
This is why you need to develop an IT security policy that equips employees in reducing the risks introduced by human error.
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Why You Need an IT Security Policy
While most employees want to do what’s right and not expose their company to a security threat, they don’t always know where the threats are coming from and how to avoid them.
Keep in mind that while you might live and breathe risk and security issues every day, most employees don’t. Because they’re not security experts, all it takes is one slip-up to create huge exposure and, potentially, financial ramifications.
Creating an IT security policy sets the expectation for all employees and standardizes certain procedures to help mitigate risk.
Think of it this way – preventing a problem is almost always easier, quicker, and less costly than fixing the aftermath.
When employees are aware of safe practices, understand the why behind the policies, and receive proper training, they’re more likely to comply with expected standards.
The corporate computer security policy serves as your battle plan and is just one step in creating a security-aware workforce.
This will go a long way in protecting the resources and reputation of your company.
How to Write an Effective IT Security Policy
Once you understand the importance of reducing the risks introduced by human error, you might be wondering, “How do I write a security policy?”
Follow these guidelines to put theory into practice – and protect your data and networks from cyber attacks and IT security breaches.
To boost the success of your information security policy, you’ll need to communicate, train, enforce, and update your employees on what the policy requires of them.
Your best bet? Incorporate your company’s IT security policy into the onboarding process and employee job descriptions so it becomes part of their regular workday.
1. Start with a situational assessment.
Before you can write a policy, you need to understand the current landscape. What are the threats you specifically face, what are the most damaging scenarios if you are exposed to a security breach, how do you define what is and isn’t sensitive data, and where is that data stored?
Assessing all of these potential risks, threats, and vulnerabilities needs to be done up front before you can begin creating a policy.
Next, you need to evaluate what are and are not acceptable risks. The policy needs to be a balance of getting work done effectively and efficiently while providing the organization
with an appropriate amount of protection against security threats.
This takes a collaborative process between key groups within the company to ensure multiple perspectives are heard, not just the security or compliance team making the policy in a vacuum.
Research by Kaspersky echoes this point, stating “this business vulnerability must be addressed on many levels, not just through the IT security department.”
For this reason, a boilerplate information security policy probably won’t work.
You need to the employees’ perspective on how they really use and share information in their day-to-day jobs.
In most cases, this can be done in house. But in high-security or high-liability situations, you might want to involve an outside consultant to perform a third-party assessment, which can uncover vulnerabilities the internal team members are blind to.
2. Include the appropriate elements for your context.
Not sure what to include in a corporate computer security policy? Use this list of common elements that appear in most standard security policies as a guideline.
- Acceptable Use Policy (AUP): This policy governs how employees can use a website, network, or internet service. It might outline, for example, what types of files users can upload or download, or might prohibit harassing others or leaking company information. You might want to check out the detailed example from the SANS Institute of what an AUP looks like.
- Access Control Policy (ACP): This policy outlines who has access to what information within your company and how this is monitored and controlled. To get a feel for what an ACP looks like, you might want to check out this example from the International Association of Privacy Professionals.
- Passwords: This policy highlights what rules and processes you put around password security. For example, what are your requirements for safe passwords and how often should employees update them?
- Antivirus Software: This policy emphasizes whether or not antivirus software is required on each employee’s computer and explains why or why not.
- Remote Access: This policy lays some ground rules on whether workers can access sensitive data outside the office firewall or if they need a virtual private network (VPN) to securely access corporate resources. It also addresses access issues pertaining to mobile devices.
- BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): This policy delineates how and when employees can use their own technology to conduct company business and access company information.
- Auditing and Policy Review: This policy underscores how – and how often – you’ll monitor and review your IT security policy. Because threats are constantly changing, this policy needs to be “a living document” that is regularly reviewed to ensure it stays up-to-date.
- Enforcement: This policy explains how you plan to hold people accountable for following your computer security policies and procedures. It also clarifies what actions you’ll take if they don’t comply.
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Because you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to develop an information security policy, you might need to include some additional elements depending on your individual circumstances. For instance, you might need to include policy components such as:
- Security Profiles
- Physical Security
- Monitoring and Intrusion Detection
- Disaster Recovery
The bottom line, after you’ve taken the assessment above, you’ll need to come up with a set of practices you want your employees to follow similar to these standard elements outlined above.
In most cases, each of these is a stand-alone policy. However, depending on your context, some policies might be combined or included as part of a larger security policy.
3. Develop an implementation and communication plan.
These IT security policies and procedures will likely impact the everyday tasks that employees perform. Plus, you need to implement your policies with minimal disruption to your company’s workflow.
That’s why it’s imperative that employees first understand the reasons behind the changes.
Clearly explain why the company needs these policies, what’s at risk without them, and their role in protecting the company and its assets.
Next, employees need to comprehend the new policies and procedures. Make sure they’re written in easy-to-understand language and in a way that shows how these policies impact their daily routines.
Finally, they need to know where to go to find the policies when they have a question.
That’s where PowerDMS can help. We give you a secure, online repository to store, manage, and disseminate all of your most important content – including your IT security policy.
Our policy management solution makes it easy to find, easy to update, and easy to communicate what has changed and when.
Your IT security policy, in particular, will be ever-updating because of how quickly threats evolve. No need to scramble for information when you can instantly access whatever you need, wherever you are.
4. Conduct regular security awareness training.
Part of creating a security-aware workforce means you need to regularly train your employees on security issues. It’s not enough to release a policy and assume everyone will comply 100% of the time.
You need to provide ongoing training to teach employees the new policies and procedures and get them to understand the risks they can help mitigate. In most cases, this can be done annually.
But for those in high-risk areas or with stricter access-control rules, this may need to be done more regularly and should definitely be a part of all new-hire onboarding.
This is where a policy management software like PowerDMS can help you create, deliver, test, and track training online, which streamlines the entire process and helps you save time and money.
With online training delivery and powerful tracking, you can easily see who’s completed training and makes follow-up easy. Plus, you can measure training impact to boost retention.
Now that you’re sold on the importance of IT security policies, you can get to work on developing specific policies to safeguard your company from cyber attacks and IT security breaches. And it all starts at ground zero – the employee level.