If your organization handles any type of sensitive information, safely managing it should be a top priority. Writing a sound information security policy can ensure Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of information systems to protect your organization from security risks and strengthen your business. But how do you write one? Let’s start with the basics.
What is an information security policy?
An information security policy defines principles, objectives, and broad rules for managing information security. It outlines your organization’s approach to protecting information, from simple situations like creating safe passwords, to significant efforts like preventing a data breach.
Effective information security policies describe information security risks and explain how to address each risk. They’re also the key to achieving security compliance, so it’s crucial to write airtight policies that take into account several factors. Below are seven questions to answer before writing your start writing one.
1. Why do you need an information security policy?
2. Who is involved in creating each policy?
3. What will the information security policy cover?
4. What key information should the policy include?
5. How will the information security policy be enforced?
6. When should the policy be reviewed and updated?
7. How does an information security policy fit in with other policies?
1. Why do you need an information security policy?
While designing sound information security policies, it’s essential to understand what’s at stake. Does your organization need strict rules for accessing user data? Do you need ISO 27001 compliance to meet international security standards? Accidentally mishandling customer data or failing a compliance audit can have a devastating impact on your business, causing revenue loss, fines, and legal action.
Writing clear policies prepares you for handling these potential risks, so it’s necessary to think about worst-case scenarios for everyday information tasks. If you can articulate why policy requirements are essential, not only are they more likely to be thorough, they’re more likely to be followed.
2. Who is involved in creating an information security policy?
While creating your policy, you’ll need to understand the people, systems, and processes that impact information security. Here are the most common scope areas to take into account when writing your policy:
- Personnel: All Employees, contractors, vendors, third parties, or even visitors who will access company equipment.
- Information systems: CRMs, databases, etc.
- Equipment: technology, file storage, etc.
The scope can vary for each organization and potential security risk, so you’ll want to consider your organization’s unique structure.
3. What does an information security policy cover?
Information security policies have three main pillars: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA). These criteria are established by the Assurance Services Executive Committee and are required in security compliance certificate programs. You can include the pillars at the beginning of your policy since they provide a foundation of relevant context and are integral to the overall policy goals. When introducing the CIA pillars, it’s helpful to explain the scope of the policy, clarifying which specific contributors and systems are involved. For example:
Information security at Acme Company is built on the three essential tenets of information security: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. This policy defines management roles and responsibilities for the organization’s Information Security Management System (ISMS). Specifically, this policy references all security controls implemented within the organization.
4. What key information should an information policy include?
Once you have an introduction to your policy, you can work to address each of the three main pillars of an information security policy in detail. If you apply the three pillars to each specific policy, you’ll cover the most essential details. Here’s an example of a customer data policy that addresses these three pillars:
Customer information will only be accessed by authorized individuals who have received training on best practices. These individuals are limited to departments X, Y, Z, unless special permission is granted.
Customer data should not be altered unless the customer requests the change, or the customer updates their information within their Acme Company account. Acme Company will take the necessary precautions to protect customer data outlined in X policy.
Customer’s should be able to access their data within a reasonable time period of X amount of days, within their accounts or upon request. Authorized customer support teams should fulfill any request for information.
5. How will the it be enforced?
After you have written your policy, you will need to document how your company intends to make sure the policy is actually followed. For the policy to be effective, you will need to provide details about the following:
- Teams involved in enforcing compliance
- Official workflows for any exception to the policies
- The disciplinary actions due to non-compliance
Here’s an example of an enforcement policy:
The Security Team, along with senior management of Acme Company, is responsible for the success of the Information Security program. The top management is responsible for implementation, enforcement, and review of security controls. All employees, contractors, and other individuals subject to the organization’s policy must read and acknowledge all information security policies.
6. When should it be reviewed and updated?
As your organization grows and changes, policies will need to change along with it. Once you have written your policy, you will need to determine and document how often your policies will be reviewed and updated. Depending on your organization, policies may need to be reviewed frequently, but it’s a general rule that they should be reviewed and updated at least every 12 months.
7. How does it fit in with other policies?
Information Security policies take into account several risks and factors, so after you’ve written each policy, make sure to reference any other related policies. You can provide direct links and policy numbers, or simply explain that all policies represent, extend, and are related to your organization’s main policy.
These are just some of the many questions that arise when creating your information security policy, and every organization has different security needs. Keeping these questions in mind will help you design thorough policies that adhere to security standards and safeguard your organization’s information.