11 Key Elements of an Information Security Policy
An information security policy is a set of rules and guidelines that dictate how information technology (IT) assets and resources should be used, managed, and protected. It applies to all users in an organization or its networks as well as all digitally stored information under its authority. An information security policy addresses threats and defines strategies and procedures for mitigating IT security risks.
There are many components of an information security policy. Fundamental elements include:
- Information security roles and responsibilities
- Minimum security controls
- Repercussions for breaking information security policy rules
An information security policy is an aggregate of directives, regulations, rules, and practices that prescribes how an organization manages, protects, and distributes information.The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST)
What is an Information Security Policy?
Since organizations have different structures and requirements, IT departments should create an information security policy that is optimal for operational teams and users. The policy should also provide the guidance required to comply with regulatory requirements—corporate, industry, and government.
An information security policy should clearly define the organization’s overall cybersecurity program’s objectives, scope, and goals. This creates a solid foundation for the policy and provides context to the specific rules that employees must follow.
While there are common elements across information security policies, each policy should reflect consideration of the unique operational aspects and specific threats related to an industry, region, or organizational model that can put IT resources and data at risk. For example:
- Healthcare-related organizations must meet strict Protected Health Information (PHI) data protection standards set forth by HIPAA.
- Manufacturing companies have to protect and monitor remote internet of things (IoT) devices.
- Life sciences organizations must meet strict requirements related to electronic documents and signatures (Title 21 CFR Part 11).
- Local regulations
- Adverse weather conditions—e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes
- Physical threats related to conflict
- Organizational model:
- Remote offices
- Field staff
- Contract workforce
An information security policy should be a living document, reviewed and updated regularly to consider new or changing threats, processes, and regulations. This has several benefits:
- Demonstrates that the organization considers information security a high priority
- Keeps security protocols up to date and ready to effectively address threats and meet compliance requirements
- Provides accurate direction for issue resolution, disaster recovery, and overall security management
- Reduces the risk of reduced productivity, financial loss, and damage to reputation in the event of a security incident
The Importance of an Information Security Policy
An information security policy helps everyone in the organization understand the value of the security measures that IT institutes, as well as the direction needed to adhere to the rules. It also articulates the strategies in place and steps to be taken to reduce vulnerability, monitor for incidents, and address security threats.
An information security policy provides clear direction on procedure in the event of a security breach or disaster.
Important outcomes of an information security policy include:
Facilitates the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data
A robust policy standardizes processes and rules to help organizations protect against threats to data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
Reduces the risk of security incidents
An information security policy outlines procedures for identifying, assessing, and mitigating security vulnerabilities and risks. It also explains how to quickly respond to minimize damage in the event of a security incident.
Executes security programs across an organization
To ensure successful execution, a security program needs an information security policy to provide the framework for operationalizing procedures
Provides clear statement of security policy to third parties
The policy summarizes the organization’s security posture and details how it protects IT assets and resources. It allows organizations to quickly respond to third-party (e.g., customers’, partners’, auditors’) requests for this information.
Helps to address regulatory compliance requirements
The process of developing an information security policy helps organizations identify gaps in security protocols relative to regulatory requirements.
11 Elements of an Information Security Policy
An information security policy should be comprehensive enough to address all security considerations. It must also be accessible; everyone in the organization must be able to understand it.
Boilerplate information security policies are not recommended, as they inevitably have gaps related to the unique aspects of your organization. The information security framework should be created by IT and approved by top-level management.
A robust information security policy includes the following key elements:
- 1. Purpose
- 2. Scope
- 3. Timeline
- 4. Authority
- 5. Information security objectives
- 6. Compliance requirements
- 7. Body—to detail security procedures, processes, and controls in the following areas:
- Acceptable usage policy
- Antivirus management
- Backup and disaster recovery
- Change management
- Cryptography usage
- Data and asset classification
- Data retention
- Data support and operations
- Data usage
- Email protection policies
- Identity and access management
- Incident response
- Insider Threat Protection
- Internet usage restrictions
- Mobile device policy
- Network security
- Password and credential protocols
- Patch management
- Personnel security
- Physical and environmental security
- Ransomware detection
- System update schedule
- Wireless network and guest access policy
- 8. Enforcement
- 9. User training
- 10. Contacts
- 11. Version history
Information Security Policy Best Practices
Established best practices for an information security policy lead with obtaining executive buy-in. Implementation and enforcement are much easier and more effective when the policy has the support of top leadership.
Other best practices for information security policy development include:
- Establish objectives.
- Identify all relevant security regulations—corporate, industry, and government.
- Customize the information security policy.
- Align the policy with the needs of the organization.
- Inventory all systems, processes, and data.
- Identify risks.
- Assess security related to systems, data, and workflows.
- Document procedures thoroughly and clearly.
- Review procedures carefully to ensure they are accurate and complete.
- Train everyone who has access to the organization's data or systems on the rules that are outlined in the information security policy.
- Review and update the policy regularly.
Take Information Security Policy Development Seriously
A well-developed information security policy helps improve an organization’s security posture by raising awareness. It also provides the guidance needed to include all users in baseline security preparedness that ultimately protects your organization’s data and systems. Investing in the development and enforcement of an information security policy is well worth the effort.
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Last Updated: 12th July, 2021