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How to create an information security policy in your company?

by | May 3, 2019 | BLOG

The evolution of computer networks has made information sharing increasingly prevalent. Information is now exchanged at a rate of trillions of bytes per millisecond, a daily number that can extend beyond the comprehension or available nomenclature. A proportion of this data is not intended for sharing beyond a limited group, and many data is protected by law or intellectual property.

The  Information Security Policy is a set of rules enacted by an organization to ensure that all users or networks of the IT structure in the company’s domain comply with the requirements regarding the security of digitally stored data within the limits in which the company has authority.

A policy can be as broad as its creators want: Basically, everything from A to Z in terms of IT security, and even more. For this reason, in this article we list some key elements of a policy, however, each organization must decide what to include, according to the characteristics of their business.

1 – Purpose

A company creates an information security policy for several reasons:

  • To establish a general approach to information security;
  • To detect and avoid the compromising of information security, such as misuse of data, networks, computer systems, and applications;
  • To protect the company’s reputation for its ethical and legal responsibilities;”
  • To comply with their customers’ rights; To provide effective mechanisms to respond to complaints and queries regarding actual or perceived nonconformities.

2 – Scope

The policy should address all data, programs, systems, facilities, other technology infrastructures, technology users, and third parties in a given organization without exception.

3- Information Security Goals

A company that strives to have a security policy in place needs to have clear goals in relation to security and the strategy adopted by top management. Any inconsistency in this context may render the information security policy project incompetent with little adherence to the organization’s business. The most important aspect that a security professional should remember is that knowing the security management practices will allow to incorporate them into the documents he or she is in charge of writing. This ensures the integrity, quality, and feasibility of the policy.

Simplifying the policy’s language is something that can smooth out differences and ensure consensus among employees. Consequently, ambiguous expressions should be avoided. Beware also of the correct meaning of common words or terms. Redundancy should be avoided so as not to make documents long and out of sync. In the end, too much detail may prevent the policy’s full compliance.

The security professional should make sure that the policy has institutional importance equal to the other policies adopted by the corporation. In cases where an organization has a complex structure, policies may differ and it is therefore recommended that they are segregated to define the transactions in the intended subset of such organization.

Information security is considered to safeguard three main goals that are known as information security pillars or triad:

  • Confidentiality – data and information assets must be entrusted to people authorized to access and should not be disclosed to other individuals;
  • Integrity – to keep data intact, complete and accurate, including operational IT systems;
  • Availability – a goal indicating that the information or system is available to authorized users when necessary.

Donn Parker, one of the pioneers in the field of IT security, has expanded this triple paradigm by also suggesting “authenticity” and “compliance.”

4- Authority and Access Control Policy

Normally, a security policy has a hierarchical pattern. This means that a lower-level team is generally required not to share the little amount of information they have unless explicitly authorized. On the other hand, a manager or a senior professional may have enough authority to make a decision about which data can be shared and with whom, which means that they are not bound by the same terms of the information security policy. Therefore, logic requires that the policy address all the organization’s basic positions with specifications that clarify their authority status.

In essence, it is a hierarchy-based control delegation in which one can have authority over their own work. A project manager, for example, has authority over project files belonging to a group for which they are assigned. The system administrator likewise has authority over system files only – which is like the doctrine of separation of powers. Obviously, a user may have the “need to know” for a specific type of information. Therefore, the data must have an attribute of minimal granularity to allow the appropriate authorized access. This is the fine line for finding the delicate balance between allowing access to those who need to use the data as part of their work and denying unauthorized access.

5 – Data classification

The data can have different values. Value index graduations may impose separation and specific handling regimes/procedures for each type. The data classification policy can organize the entire set of information as follows:

  • High-Risk Class – Data protected by state and federal laws (Data Protection Law, HIPAA, PCI) as well as finance, payroll, and staff (privacy requirements) data are included here;
  • Confidential Class – Data in this class does not enjoy the privilege of being under the law, but the data holder believes that they must be protected against unauthorized disclosure;
  • Public Class – This information may be distributed freely.

Data owners should determine both the data classification and the exact measures that a data custodian needs to take to preserve the integrity according to this level.

6 – Support and Data Operations

In this part, we can find clauses that stipulate:

  • The rules of the general system mechanisms responsible for data protection;
  • Data Backup;
  • Data movement.

7 – Security awareness

Sharing IT security policies with the team is a critical step. Making them read and sign a document does not necessarily mean they are familiar with or understand the new policies. A training session would involve employees in a positive attitude towards information security, which would ensure that they had a sense of the procedures and mechanisms in place to protect data, confidentiality levels, and data sensitivity issues. This awareness training should address a wide range of vital topics: how to collect /use/delete data, maintain data quality, record management, confidentiality, privacy, proper use of IT systems, correct use of social networks, etc.

8 – Responsibilities, rights, and duties of staff

Defining the responsibility of people assigned to perform implementation, education, incident response, user access reviews, and periodic updates to an information security policy.

Theft prevention, knowledge of information, and industrial secrets that could benefit competitors are among the most often cited reasons why a company might want to employ a policy to defend its digital assets and intellectual rights.

9 – Other items that an information security policy might include are:

References to relevant legislation, Virus Protection Procedure, Intrusion Detection Procedure, Remote Work Procedure, Technical Guidelines, Audit, Employee Requirements, Consequences of Noncompliance, Disciplinary Actions, Dismissed employees, IT Physical Security, References to Supporting Documents, and so on.

Some organizations, without thinking too much, choose to download samples of IT policies from a website and copy/paste those ready-to-use materials in an attempt to readjust their policy goals and purposes to a template that is often unpolished and too broad. Understandably, if the structure is not very accurate, the result will not satisfy.

A high-quality Information Security Policy can make a big difference in your company. Increased efficiency, greater productivity, clarity of each department’s goals, understanding of the data to be protected and why, identifying the type and levels of security required, and defining recommended information security practices are sufficient grounds for creating this document in the most appropriate way. If you want to lead a company that is more likely to thrive in today’s digital age, it certainly needs to have a good information security policy.

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