While organizations usually have some form of security in place to protect their important data against cyber incursions, the way they go about handling and securing that data may not be well established unless they have a comprehensive information security policy. This policy is a set of rules that ensure every potential user operating in or accessing the organization’s network follow the same procedures and guidelines in regards to handling data.
Even when an information security policy is in place, it should be re-evaluated and updated periodically to reflect changes in infrastructure and security best practices. New cyberthreats can emerge quickly, so it’s important to keep up-to-date on potential risks that could compromise an organization’s data. By creating and maintaining an information security policy, a company can make sure all users and personnel are behaving in ways that enhance data security rather than undermine it.
A chief information security officer (CISO) typically takes the lead on developing a cybersecurity plan. This person is extremely valuable because they form a link between a company’s business and its technological needs. “It’s also important to keep your CEO and CIO up to date with what’s happening with your policy. Your leadership should be involved in evaluating your organization’s security needs and risks and the discussions about incident response plans,” advises Becky Friedman, a business writer at Assignment Service. Involving leadership throughout the writing process makes it easier to secure buy-in for the policy across the organization and also helps keep security a “top-of-mind” concern.
Once the development team is in place, they need to identify all risks that could threaten the organization. This may include anything from unauthorized access of proprietary data or poorly encrypted data to internal concerns like offensive material being passed around by employees or the sharing of user profiles. Any one of these issues could result in a data breach or system downtime, costing the company in terms of money and productivity. While sophisticated cybersecurity analytics can identify the factors that threaten an organization’s well-being, the policy should not stop there. Companies must inform and educate their employees not only about external cyberthreats, but also about how their own behavior could potentially compromise sensitive data if they don’t adhere to established procedures.
The extent of security measures implemented should reflect the actual threat. Being overzealous with a cybersecurity plan can actually harm an organization’s operations, creating inefficiencies and imposing unwarranted burdens upon employees. When drafting an information security policy, the scope should match the company’s realistic needs. A small advertising startup, for instance, doesn’t need the same level of security protocols as a major health insurance company or government agency. Whatever protections are put in place, however, it’s critical that the actual written information security policy be both detailed about procedures and clear about how to comply with them. Even with competent and vigilant staff in place, organizations need a robust document to serve as a point of reference and a guiding principle for behavior.
Developing an information security policy can be a contentious and challenging process. It must balance the need for security against the business needs of the organization, and favoring one side often comes at the expense of the other. A sales department, for instance, may want ready access to customer information, but the need to protect that data from cyberthreats could impose some restrictions on how they handle it. Ultimately, the organization must establish a clear consensus on what it wants its information security policy to achieve. Debate over the content and nature of the policy is healthy during the early stages of the development process, but if there is still disagreement over the policy’s goals once the policy is established, enforcement will likely suffer.
Although training employees is one of the most crucial aspects of an effective information security policy, many organizations overlook this step. Without sufficient training, employees may not even be aware of the ways their actions could compromise security. After all, the best cybersecurity plan won’t amount to very much if no one actually follows its protocols. Training also presents an opportunity to discuss the practical implications of the policy, while giving employees a chance to ask questions and clarify any issues that weren’t made explicit in the policy. This process might even reveal some gaps or inconsistencies in the policy. The training process should not be treated as an afterthought, then, but rather an important step in finalizing an information security policy.
Today’s organizations live and die by the security of their critical information. An effective, comprehensive information security policy protects them from having their important data compromised due to external cyberthreats or human error. By developing a policy with careful consideration for their specific business needs, companies can put themselves in a position for sustainable growth and success.