Business leaders must reassess their information security requirements and management processes as modern cyber threats grow in frequency and sophistication. Many companies focus on integrating advanced cybersecurity tools and third-party services. However, it’s essential 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 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report found that less than half of medium to large companies worldwide are prepared for cyber attacks, it’s crucial to develop proactive standards that every employee can easily access and understand. 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 as new threats are identified, or new processes are implemented. This distinction 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 cyber attacks due to the widespread adoption of internet of things (IoT) technologies, which are considered 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. Policy templates rarely offer comprehensive frameworks companies need to preserve their core systems, networks, and data integrity and availability.
Key Elements of a Successful IT Security Policy
IT security policies should clearly define the company’s overall cybersecurity program’s objectives, scope, and goals. 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 all stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. 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 essential elements of IT security management is ensuring employees create robust login credentials. Weak passwords can make it easy for cyber criminals to access critical systems and sensitive data, often through automated scripting programs. Users should also regularly update their credentials every few months to reduce their risk of exposure. Unfortunately, 65% of businesses have more than 500 users who never change their passwords, according to a 2018 report from Varonis.
The lack of oversight can seriously threaten organizations’ overall network integrity and lead to costly data breaches, exploitation, and theft. System administrators should include clear password guidelines when developing an IT security policy, 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 to 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 the case of prevention, Internet access is limited to websites and applications that directly support a company’s business needs. This restriction can offset the risk of viruses and reduce the misuse of IT resources. Making these restrictions clear through an IT security policy can promote compliance and 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.
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 limitation 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 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 are essential to an organization’s overall security framework, reducing response times and supporting their broader disaster recovery plan.
This escalation is significant for large corporations with a substantial workforce, though small businesses should also take every chance to expand their employees’ cybersecurity awareness. According to Verizon’s research, around 61% of data breach victims in 2017 were companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, demonstrating the universal need for comprehensive IT security management.
These are only a few essential components of an effective IT security policy, so businesses need to analyze their specific cybersecurity posture further and build a personalized program that aligns with their unique needs. Contact us today if your company wants to improve its information security and prevent costly cyber attacks.
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