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10 must-have information security policies

Data is extremely valuable in today’s business climate, so organizations must have information security policies. Data integrity and confidentiality must be protected at all costs. At the same time, that data has to be accessible to make it functional. So, how can you balance these objectives effectively so that your data produces value while staying protected? The answer is to create an organization-wide information security policy.

10 must-have information security policies

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is an information security policy?

An information security policy is a set of directives, rules, and practices that specify how data should be protected and how this protection will be provided. It defines an organization’s security posture. This policy is built around the information security objectives of integrity, confidentiality, operationality, and availability.

  • Integrity. An information security (“infosec”) policy should keep data accurate and complete and provide measures to protect data from corruption or loss.
  • Confidentiality. An infosec policy must also dictate rules for keeping data confidential and outline rules and practices for ensuring that only authorized people can access sensitive information.
  • Operationality. Systems that allow access to data must be kept operational, and an infosec policy should define how these systems can be protected.
  • Availability. To produce value, data needs to be accessible and available to those authorized to use it. Policies must balance the need for availability against the risks of unauthorized access to sensitive information.

The role of information security policies in compliance and risk management

Why does an organization need information security policies? The answers are in the security threats these policies are designed to protect against.

  • Cyberattacks are increasingly prevalent, and antivirus software is nowhere near enough to keep organizations safe from malicious actors. Hackers may attempt to steal, corrupt, or destroy sensitive data as corporate espionage or to extract ransoms.
  • Non-compliance can result in fines, lawsuits, and loss of business for companies in many industries. Companies that handle sensitive personal or private data are increasingly regulated by government bodies. This is especially true in the health, insurance, and financial industries. Even if an industry isn’t legally regulated, it’s still likely in an organization’s best interest to ensure regulatory compliance and prove it trustworthy.
  • Disasters can strike at any time. Natural disasters like floods and earthquakes, as well as human-caused events like acts of terrorism and industrial accidents, can cause similar effects. Power outages and damage to infrastructure could cause information loss or enable data breaches.

The purpose of any data security policy is to identify data that could be put at risk by these threats. It should then provide clear security measures to both prevent them and recover if they should occur.

Information security policies every organization should put in place

Infosec is a complex realm, and organizations must consider all aspects to protect data. This list of information security policies lays out the key elements that every organization needs to consider to ensure comprehensive protection.

Access control policy

The first item on our list of information security policies is an access control policy, which should be designed to limit access to data. This kind of security policy can be based on a simple principle of only allowing people to access data that they need for their specific role or function.

Limiting authorization in this way ensures that no one can access data unnecessarily. The less access there is to data, the lower the chance of a data breach. Managers must decide what data people need for their rules and give authorization accordingly.

Creating an access control policy often requires collaboration between human resources (HR) and information technology (IT) departments. Working together, these departments grant access to data for new employees according to their roles. They then remove that access when employees leave or are terminated.

Backup and disaster recovery policy

Because accidents and disasters can strike at any time, policies need to be in place to protect crucial data from being lost or damaged. Backup and disaster recovery plans can work to ensure that data security is maintained and business downtime is reduced to a minimum.

A backup policy defines what data needs to be backed up, how often, and the methods that will be used to perform backups. The security policy should also explicitly state who is in charge of backing up data and clearly outline their specific responsibilities.

Likewise, it’s crucial to have a recovery plan with responsibilities clearly assigned to different people. This policy will dictate how the organization responds to disastrous incidents. It should detail the steps necessary to regain access to data and re-stabilize network security as quickly as possible.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policy

Employees all have their own personal devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Since they bring these to work and back home daily, organizations need to decide the degree to which they should be used for work-related purposes.

Controlling personal devices is a big challenge, and a BYOD policy should reflect how to enhance security controls for them. This can include methods to keep devices updated and secured by antivirus software.

This may be done through a mobile device management program that allows administrators to control network access and remotely wipe devices of enterprise data if necessary. Finally, it should include informing employees of the consequences of using their devices improperly.

Employee training and awareness policy

Organizations should assume that their employees are not experts in information security. However, every uninformed employee could become a weak point in a computer security system. That’s why it’s crucial to provide employee training to improve awareness of risks and compliance with security protocols.

An employee training and security awareness policy should focus on teaching workers about how their behavior can affect the organization’s security program. It should promote both awareness and compliance.

Employees should learn about maintaining their devices and workstations and practicing safe email and network access behaviors. The policy should detail who is in charge of training and the resources available to teach employees how to contribute to organizational security.

Incident response policy

While every organization hopes that data breaches will never occur, they should still all plan for the worst. Cyberattacks can steal, expose, corrupt, or destroy data assets and represent major company threats. Rogue software and both internal and external malicious actors should not only be feared but also expected.

An incident response policy should focus on the prevention of these threats but must also go further. It should detail methods for containment, eradication, and recovery as well. It should include an incident response plan that lays out who does what in the event of a security incident.

The policy must provide systems for reporting security incidents once they are detected. It can also outline provisions for investigating and reporting on how computer security was compromised so that improvements can be made in the future.

Network security policy

A network security policy should define how networks are designed and the measures to ensure their security. This policy should certainly include managing access to networks but also focus on monitoring, reporting, and development procedures.

A company’s network security policy will also encompass hardware and software standards. This process will ensure that quality connections can be maintained and equipment like modems and routers are updated to prevent security from being compromised.

Password management policy

Access to sensitive data should always be password protected, but these passwords are only useful if they are strong and secure. Every organization needs to enact a password management policy that sets out the standards for strong passwords, how they can be managed, and where they should be stored.

Most employees might use passwords too short or simple to be considered strong and effective. These passwords may also be used on multiple websites and devices, reducing effectiveness.

A password policy should include requiring appropriately strong passwords that need to be changed at least once per year. It may also dictate extra protection factors such as password encryption and multi-factor authorization to enhance security.

Physical security policy

In information security, a physical security policy is used to limit physical access to points of access to data. This can include locations, equipment, terminals, and servers. This policy aims to identify access points and determine who does and does not receive access to them based on their roles and functions.

Physical security can involve monitoring using security personnel and cameras. Location access is also normally controlled by automated systems that require card access. This policy should detail which employees need access to which physical locations and equipment, how this access will be controlled, and who is responsible for granting authorization.

Remote work policy

Since the global coronavirus pandemic, working from home has become increasingly common. The technological developments required for networking and communications have made off-site and hybrid positions more desirable for staff and employers.

However, this trend has also increased security concerns. A remote work policy must focus on enabling employees to work remotely by accessing and interacting with enterprise data as needed.

At the same time, the policy needs to determine how this sensitive data can be kept safe in the process. It should detail best practices like connecting to trusted networks and using a VPN for remote connections. The policy should also include employee training specific to remote work, such as how to guard devices, encrypt email, and keep devices updated.

Third-party vendor management policy

There’s little point in working so hard to protect your data only to turn around and hand it to an unprotected third party. This is why every organization needs to develop a third-party vendor management policy to validate their vendors’ security capabilities.

Such a policy can lay out the standards the organization will require vendors to comply with. Organizations can create their own compliance requirements, but they more commonly use established compliance frameworks like FIPS or SOC-2 to assess vendors’ security capabilities.

The policy should include how your vendors will be contracted and monitored, as well as the consequences that they will face should their security fail.