Information security policies: why they are important to your business
Outdated, incomplete, and absent information security policies continue to plague organisations of all sizes. This article provides an overview of information security policies and outlines exactly why they're so important to your Business.
What is An Information Security Policy?
An information security policy is a document that establishes a framework of guidelines, processes, and rules for using, managing, and protecting information assets and resources. Individual policies address specific areas of security, such as data destruction, acceptable use, and standards compliance (ISO 27001). Together, these policy documents constitute an information security policy set that ideally meets all the goals and objectives of your information security program.
Recent statistics paint a worrying picture about the current state of information security policy adoption:
60 percent of small businesses don't have any information security policy at all.
88 percent of employees aren't aware of their organisation’s information security policies and rules.
These trends indicate the ineffectiveness of many information security programs, the root cause lies with unclear, incomplete, and inaccurate security policies. Poor integration between policies and practices results in a weakened cybersecurity posture in which employees don't truly adopt the necessary controls and rules.
Information security policies are not static documents, as new threats emerge, IT environments can change overnight (think Covid-19!), and compliance regulations evolve to mandate better ways of doing things. Your information security policies must be equipped to dynamically evolve in response to changing circumstances.
Benefits of Information Security Policies
When you have a complete and integrated information security policy set, you can expect the following benefits to accrue to your organisation.
Address Your Main Security Risks
Organisations that draft robust information security policies are far better positioned to address security threats they face and protect their valuable information assets.
The threat landscape is complex, information security policies can cover a wide range of internal and external security risks, including application security, physical security, user access controls, cloud computing, internal and external threats and more.
Compliance and Security requirements are becoming essential in business and achieving certification requires both documentation and software. The documentation comes from an information security policy that outlines the required procedures, controls, and rules to comply with specific regulations and standards.
Gaps in the policy documents can result in noncompliance. The importance of compliance was highlighted in a recent survey that found 63 percent of businesses planned to increase their compliance spending over the next 12 months.
Clients prefer to engage with businesses that demonstrate sufficient care and control over how businesses use and protect their data. Some clients may even mandate certain standards as part of doing business with you.
Meeting Cyber Essentials or ISO 27001 standards attests to people and businesses that your brand cares about cyber security, data privacy and protection. Information security policies drive compliance with these standards, and software achieves that compliance in practice via technical controls.
Elements of A Basic Information Security Policy
Information security policy documents vary across different organisations and across disparate areas of information security. An access control policy diverges widely from a security awareness training policy. However, there are some basics common to information security policies across different industries, businesses, and information security domains that are useful to keep in mind:
Front Matter: outlines the purpose of the policy, its scope, the roles for enforcement, who is responsible to adhere to the policy, definitions that clear up potential ambiguities, and the policy's revision history.
Policy Statement: a directive or statement written in clear and concise language highlighting minimal security controls or behavioral requirements.
Back Matter: this is typically a reference section that outlines the source materials for policy statements because many of these statements are derived from existing reference standards or regulations.
Information Security Policy Lifecycle
Information security policies have an ongoing lifecycle that reflects the iterative and continuous approach that these documents need. The policy lifecycle includes the following phases:
You can't write an effective information security policy without explicitly assessing, identifying, and defining your risk profile. The risk profile includes the information assets you need to protect, the threats and vulnerabilities to your assets, and a cost-benefit analysis on different forms of protection for your assets against different threats. Personnel in charge of the policy will then present it to management with the intention of receiving buy-in and support.
Developing the policy
Policy development is where your organisation builds the policy into a written document. The development stage includes formally writing down any legal requirements, policy statements, business strategies, and specific control measures to protect your assets.
Implementing the policy
Policy implementation attempts to turn a written document into a strengthened cybersecurity posture.
The implementation phase includes requesting all employees to thoroughly read the document, allocating responsibilities for different aspects of information security, and ensuring ongoing security training so that employees are aware of what they need to do to protect your information assets based on policy requirements.
Maintaining and reviewing the policy
It's prudent to set an annual review schedule for any information security policy to make sure it's up to date and relevant given the current risk landscape.
An organisation's cyber risk profile can change almost overnight--attacks on remote access technologies increased drastically in response to the Covid-19 pandemic's work from home mandates.
Time: A Stumbling Block for Information Security Policies
A stumbling block for many organisation's in the information security policy lifecycle is in the development phase. It's reasonably straightforward to conduct a risk assessment that identifies the business assets your organisation wants to protect and the threats those assets face.
Constructing a robust security policy based on this risk assessment can take a long time, particularly when you want to create a document to achieve compliance with standards, such as Cyber Essentials or ISO 27001.
Information security policies are key documents that outline what's required to protect your most valuable information assets. As soon as a security incident impacts your organisation, (Do you have an Incident response plan?) having a policy provides evidence for investigations into what went wrong and who should be accountable.
Employees are far likelier to adopt the controls and rules outlined in a well-written policy, which reduces the risk of cyber security threats and incidents across your IT eco-system.