As modern cyberthreats grow in frequency and sophistication, business leaders are having to reassess their information security requirements and management processes. Many companies focus on integrating advanced cybersecurity tools and third-party services. However, it’s important to recognize the vital role written IT security policies play in protecting digital assets and sensitive data. These guiding documents help ensure that an organization’s security program is comprehensive, clearly defined and supportive of its overall business objectives. Considering that a 2019 PricewatherhouseCoopers report found that less than half of medium to large companies around the world are adequately prepared for cyberattacks, it’s clearly  crucial to develop proactive standards that can be easily accessed and understood by every employee. But what specific information should be included in a written IT security policy?

Building an Effective IT Security Policy

First, it’s worth noting that these policies are living documents, and as such should be consistently updated when new threats are identified or new processes are put in place. This not only demonstrates that a company takes data privacy and cybersecurity seriously, but it also provides every stakeholder with detailed information on best practices for problem resolution, disaster recovery and security management. Without a policy in place, organizations are at a higher risk of dropped productivity, financial loss and reputational harm following a security incident.

Every IT security policy should conform to the specific operational parameters and threat landscape of the organization it protects. For example, manufacturing companies typically face a greater risk of device-level cyberattacks due to the widespread adoption of internet of things technologies, which must be taken into account during the policy development and implementation stages. Generally speaking, policies outline the rules and procedures for all employees who access or use an organization’s digital assets or resources, whether they work onsite or remotely. They should also contain detailed prevention and recovery strategies that IT administrators can use to mitigate potential threats and improve their incident response plans. Adopting boilerplate security requirements usually does more harm than good, as policy templates rarely offer comprehensive frameworks companies need to preserve the integrity and availability of their core systems, networks and data.

Laptops connected in a digital network.Every endpoint connected to a corporate network represents a possible entry point for unauthorized users.

Key Elements of a Successful IT Security Policy

IT security policies should clearly define the objectives, scope and goals of a company’s overall cybersecurity program. This information is typically included in the introduction and helps establish context for the specific standards employees must adhere to. As pointed out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, IT security policies are most effective when they explicitly outline the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders. This ensures critical tasks and best practices are not overlooked. To that end, here are some of the key components of a successful IT security policy:

Password and Credential Guidelines

One of the most important elements of IT security management is ensuring employees create robust login credentials. Weak passwords can make it easy for cybercriminals to gain access to critical systems and sensitive data, often through the use of automated scripting programs. Users should also regularly update their credentials every few months to reduce their risk of exposure. Unfortunately, close to 65% of businesses have more than 500 users who are never prompted to change their passwords, according to a 2018 report from Varonis. This lack of oversight can pose a serious threat to organizations’ overall network integrity and may lead to costly data breaches, exploitation and theft. When developing an IT security policy, system administrators should include clear password guidelines, such as minimum and maximum length, complexity requirements and more.

Internet Usage Restrictions

When it comes to managing internet usage, businesses should be cautious about giving their employees unrestricted access on company-owned devices. According to estimates from SiteLock, around 18.5 million websites are infected with malware at any given time, which means organizations are only a single misguided click away from a large-scale security incident. In most cases, internet access should be limited to websites and applications that directly support a company’s business needs, as this can offset the risk of viruses and reduce the misuse of IT resources. Making these restrictions clear through an IT security policy can not only promote compliance, but may also improve employees’ general awareness of cybersecurity threats. Another common practice is to create a list of disciplinary actions for non-compliance, which may compel users to adhere to the policy’s guidelines.

Access Controls

While considered best practice, companies that collect and store sensitive client data should always include a section on access controls in their IT security policies. This ensures IT administrators can quickly locate data on security requirements when creating new roles and managing user access to business applications. Adopting a least-privilege approach is also recommended, as this can help insulate critical assets from unauthorized users and provide an extra layer of defense against credential theft. All access permissions should be controlled at a high level and classified in written policies to prevent unnecessary workflow disruption.

Incident Reporting Procedures

In the event of a breach, employees must be able to quickly reference their company’s IT security policy to find out how they should report the incident and who they need to contact. Publishing clear instructions is essential to an organization’s overall security framework, helping to reduce response times and support their broader disaster recovery plan. This is especially important for large corporations with a substantial workforce, though small businesses should also take every chance to expand their employees’ cybersecurity awareness. In fact, around 61% of data breach victims in 2017 were companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, according to research from Verizon, demonstrating the universal need for comprehensive IT security management.

These are only a few of the essential components of an effective IT security policy, so it’s important for businesses to further analyze their specific cybersecurity posture and build a personalized program that aligns with their unique needs. If your company is looking to improve it’s IT posture and prevent costly cyberattacks, reach out to the experts at Certitude Security for a personalized consultation.