Information security policies play a central role in ensuring the success of a company’s cybersecurity strategies and efforts. In this article, learn what an information security policy is, why it is important, and why companies should implement them.
An information security policy is a documented statement of rules and guidelines that need to be followed by people accessing company data, assets, systems, and other IT resources. The main purpose of an information security policy is to ensure that the company’s cybersecurity program is working effectively.
A security policy is a "living document" — it is continuously updated as needed. It defines the “who,” “what,” and “why” regarding cybersecurity. It’s different from a security procedure, which represents the “how.” A security policy might also be called a cybersecurity policy, network security policy, IT security policy, or simply IT policy.
The security policy doesn’t have to be a single document, though. A more sophisticated, higher-level security policy can be a collection of several policies, each one covering a specific topic. It’s quite common to find several types of security policies bundled together.
What should be included in a security policy? For starters, information security policies may consist of acceptable use, confidential data, data retention, email use, encryption, strong passwords, wireless access, and other types of security policies.
Why do we need to have security policies? Here are 5 reasons:
1. To define roles and responsibilities
A well-written security policy document should clearly answer the question, “What does a security policy allow you to do?” It should outline who is responsible for which task, who is authorized to do such a job, what one employee can do and cannot do, and when each task should be completed.
If security policies are in place, any onboarding employee can be quickly acquainted with company rules and regulations. They define not only the roles and responsibilities of employees but also those of other people who use company resources (like guests, contractors, suppliers, and partners).
2. To define accountability
Employees can make mistakes. What’s more, some mistakes can be costly, and they can compromise the system in whole or in part. This is one area where a security policy comes in handy. It outlines the consequences for not following the rules.
Security policies are like contracts. They are to be acknowledged and signed by employees. This means no employees shall be excused from being unaware of the rules and consequences of breaking the rules. Should an employee breach a rule, the penalty won’t be deemed to be non-objective. Security policies can also be used for supporting a case in a court of law.
3. To increase employee cybersecurity awareness
Security policies act as educational documents. They can teach employees about cybersecurity and raise cybersecurity awareness. The range of topics that can be covered by security policies is broad, like choosing a secure password, file transfers, data storage, and accessing company networks through VPNs.
4. To address threats
Security policies must tackle things that need to be done in addressing security threats, as well as recovering from a breach or cyberattack and mitigating vulnerabilities. The aspect of addressing threats also overlaps with other elements (like who should act in a security event, what an employee must do or not do, and who will be accountable in the end).
5. To comply with regulations
Security policies also shape the company’s cybersecurity efforts, particularly in meeting the requirements of industry standards and regulations, like PCI, GDPR, HIPAA, or ISO/IEC 27002.
Security policies form the foundations of a company’s cybersecurity program. These policies are not only there to protect company data and IT resources or to raise employee cyber awareness; these policies also help companies remain competitive and earn (and retain) the trust of their clients or customers. Think about this: if a bank loses clients’ data to hackers, will that bank still be trusted? Eventually, companies can regain lost consumer trust, but doing so is a long and difficult process.
Unfortunately, smaller-sized companies usually don’t have well-designed policies, which has an impact on the success of their cybersecurity program. In some cases, smaller or medium-sized businesses have limited resources, or the company’s management may be slow in adopting the right mindset. Many times, though, it’s just a lack of awareness of how important it is to have an effective cybersecurity program.
Creating a security policy, therefore, should never be taken lightly. When developing security policies, the policymaker should write them with the goal of reaping all five of the benefits described above. Regardless of company size or security situation, there’s no reason for companies not to have adequate security policies in place. Contact us at Zeguro to learn more about creating effective security policies or developing a cybersecurity awareness program. Zeguro offers a 30-day risk-free trial of our Cyber Safety solution that includes pre-built security policy templates that are easy-to-read and quickly implementable.