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Cyber security continues to be a top concern for IT departments and business leaders across industry lines. An organization’s overall security posture is heavily dependent on end-user behavior. Every employee, regardless of their position, plays a crucial role in preventing security breaches, safeguarding confidential data, and keeping critical applications up to date.

Without a comprehensive cyber security policy in place, companies can struggle to maintain best practices and insulate essential infrastructure from a variety of cyber threats, from ransomware attacks to social engineering campaigns. But before organizations can create an effective security program, they first need to understand how internal policies and controls can ward off cyber attacks.

An organization's overall security posture is heavily dependent on end-user behavior.An organization’s overall security posture is heavily dependent on end-user behavior.

What is the purpose of cyber security policy?

For many modern organizations, a cyber security policy serves a variety of functions. These policies provide general and specific guidelines for the appropriate use of business technologies, creates standards of behavior for end-users, and outlines employees’ responsibilities for protecting data and technology. As noted by McAfee, a cyber security policy combines several sections that outline different facets of an organization’s security program.

The first portion typically describes general expectations and roles, helping companies establish a clear hierarchy of responsibilities. Following this general overview, the cyber security policy should provide a detailed breakdown of specific guidelines, including compliance requirements, key security risks, and incident response procedures.

Developing a written cyber security policy offers many benefits for companies of all sizes and in every industry. These documented programs are a vital link between people, processes, and technologies. When security incidents occur, employees must be able to reference and understand their company’s cyber security policy.

More importantly, these policies help cultivate a higher level of security awareness and accountability.  With heightened awareness, end-users can identify suspicious activity and take the appropriate steps to prevent large-scale data breaches. However, since every industry relies on different technologies and adheres to distinct regulatory requirements, it’s vital to align cyber security policies within an organizations’ unique circumstances.

The impact of human error

One of the main reasons companies need a robust cyber security policy is that employees are often the weakest link in current security programs. According to research from IBM, roughly 95% of cyber security breaches are caused, in some part, by human error. These security incidents can take many forms, from phishing emails and infected web links to weak login credentials.

Educating employees about key security risks can help reduce the frequency and severity of cyber attacks. This reason is why cyber security training requirements are a core part of any cyber security policy. It’s also important to develop internal processes that can help ensure all employees adhere to the documented guidelines. Corrective actions and additional training can encourage end-users to uphold best practices in information security, password management, application patching, and more.

Building and maintaining a strong cyber security policy

Creating a comprehensive cyber security policy requires input from a variety of stakeholders within an organization. While the IT department usually handles the security programs, C-suite business executives must also play an active role in the policy creation process. The reason for this is because business leaders typically have the final say in security investments and often have a more intimate understanding of their companies’ needs and resources. According to McAfee, other key stakeholders include:

  • The legal department.
  • Human resources professionals.
  • Procurement specialists.
  • Board members.
  • Third-party cyber security vendors.

Generally speaking, C-level executives and IT professionals are responsible for writing the cyber security policy, while HR representatives and legal experts are in charge of enforcement. This level of collaboration is crucial for developing proactive measures and quickly adapting to new cyber threats. Regularly reviewing current security policies can help stakeholders stay ahead of cyber criminals. Additionally, performing regular reviews can help eliminate inefficient processes when new prevention techniques become relevant.

In terms of specific provisions, organizations should prioritize the following when building or revising their cyber security policy:

81% of hacking-related data breaches involve either stolen or weak passwords. 81% of hacking-related data breaches involve either stolen or weak passwords.

Password management

Weak passwords are a significant liability, as they can lead to large-scale security breaches and the theft of confidential data. Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 81% of hacking-related data breaches involve either stolen or weak passwords. To offset these prime exploits, companies must incorporate strict password management guidelines into their cyber security policy and take steps to enforce these rules. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team offers the following password recommendations:

  • Always use unique passwords for different systems and accounts.
  • Avoid including personal information within passwords, such as names and dates.
  • Use the longest passphrases possible within an organization’s password system.
  • Incorporate multi-factor authentication.

Organizations should also include password rotation requirements and minimum character limits to ensure employees are choosing strong passphrases. In terms of complexity, users should consist of different character sets in their passwords. Strong passwords use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

Email security

Developing comprehensive email policies is crucial for warding off malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks. From the previously mentioned Verizon study, approximately 94% of all malware is delivered by email in the form of infected links or malicious attachments.

Educating employees on how to spot suspicious communications is paramount, as is establishing clear reporting guidelines. Alongside these user-focused provisions, organizations should also incorporate automated email protection tools that can scan for junk, spam, and scam emails.

Information security

Cyber criminals are always looking to steal confidential data to commit fraud and identity theft. This reason alone is why any cyber security policy must include information security standards. These provisions should explain when it’s appropriate to share sensitive data with others, how to store digital and physical files, and other vital data management practices.

Research from Varonis estimates that approximately 7 million data records are compromised each day, totaling roughly 2.55 billion exposed records annually. Training employees on the proper handling of confidential data can reduce the risk of costly data breaches and ensure all users adhere to federal rules and regulations.

Application and device patching

Business applications and workstations require constant patching to remain secure and efficient. Still, many end-users fail to install security updates in a timely fashion. Unpatched vulnerabilities can lead to zero-day exploits that allow hackers to bypass security features, increasing the risk of large-scale cyber attacks and data breaches.

From a recent CSO Online article, security researchers discover around 15,000 new publicly available vulnerabilities each year.  The number of potential attacks continues to grow as more organizations embrace digital transformation. Eliminating these code-level bugs requires regulated patch management processes and tools, which should outline in detail in an organizations’ cyber security policy.

Security risks and mitigation strategies

Effective cyber security policies provide a mountain of information about specific hacking techniques and security risks, along with crucial mitigation strategies. By documenting relevant cyber attack methods, companies can continuously improve their IT posture and keep pace with critical threats. Some examples include:

  • Phishing, spear-phishing, and baiting.
  • Malware, ransomware, spyware, and viruses.
  • Zero-day exploits and code-level bugs.
  • Brute-force attacks, including DDoS and cross-site scripting.
  • Data breaches and data theft.
  • Eavesdropping, keylogging, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Keep in mind, every industry contends with a different set of operational and security challenges. These differences are why a one-size-fits-all approach to cyber security is heavily discouraged. Organizational leaders must conduct detailed risk assessments and penetration testing to understand which threats pose the most significant risk to their critical infrastructure and employees.

As a proud supporter of American manufacturing, Certitude Security® is working diligently to inform leaders and facilitate essential asset protection priorities for manufacturing businesses throughout the United States. If you are interested in learning about the empowerment services that Certitude Security® can offer, visit our website or coordinate a time to speak to a team member today.