How to write an information security policy, along with templates
In order to run a successful and secure organization, IT managers need well-documented policies that address potential security issues and explain how those issues will be managed within the business. These policies are also fundamental to the IT audit process, as they establish controls that can be reviewed and validated.
Below, learn why policies are essential for security, common types of cybersecurity policies, how to prepare an IT security policy, and the components of a security policy. Also included are two out-of-the-box customizable templates, one for general cybersecurity and one for perimeter security, to help guide IT teams through the policy writing process.
Examples of security policies
Security policies come in many forms, including the following:
- General information security policy. Provides a holistic view of the organization’s security needs and defines the activities used in the security environment.
- Access security policy. Specifies how users access applications, data, databases, and other computing resources. This policy is particularly important for audits.
- Authentication policy. Governs how users are verified for access to a system’s resources.
- Password Policy. Defines how passwords are configured and managed.
- Perimeter Security Policy. Defines how an organization protects its network perimeter from unauthorized access and the technologies used to minimize perimeter porosity.
- Cybersecurity Policy. Defines how an organization prepares for and responds to malware, phishing, viruses, ransomware, and other attacks.
- Cloud Security Policy. Defines security settings for situations involving cloud-based technology, such as data storage and applications.
- Incident Response Policy. Indicates how an organization will react to an abnormal situation that affects security.
- Patch Policy. Defines the patch installation and management process for various systems, including security systems.
- Physical Access Policy. Shows how company assets, such as data centers, office buildings, parking lots, and other physical facilities, are protected from unauthorized access.
Why companies need security policies
IT policies and procedures complement each other. Policies highlight security areas that require assistance, while procedures explain how that security area will be addressed.
Policy discrepancies and weaknesses are often raised during audits, so it is best to prepare in advance. It is also common for users to have concerns about the security of their data and systems, so it is advisable to disseminate security policies to employees and customers to allay their concerns.
How to prepare a security policy
Follow these steps when preparing a security policy:
- Identify the business objective of a specific type of IT security policy.
- Obtain senior management approval to develop the policy.
- Adapt existing security policies to maintain policy structure and format, and integrate relevant components to ensure information security.
- Establish a project plan to develop and approve the policy.
- Create a team to develop the policy.
- Schedule management briefings during the writing cycle to ensure relevant issues are addressed.
- Invite internal departments to review the policy, especially the legal team and HR.
- Invite the risk management team to review the policy.
- Distribute the draft for final review before submitting it to management.
- Obtain management approval and distribute the policy to employees.
- Establish a process for reviewing and changing the policy using change management procedures.
- Plan and prepare for annual policy audits.
Components of a security policy
Information security policies and related issues need not be complicated; a few paragraphs are sufficient to describe the relevant security objectives and activities. More details can be included as needed. The following diagram can help your organization start the process:
- Introduction. State the basic reasons for having a security policy.
- Purpose and scope. Provides details about the purpose and scope of the security policy.
- Policy statement. Indicates the security policy in clear terms.
- Declaration of conformity. Specifies the security laws, regulations, standards, and other guidelines that the policy aims to comply with.
- political leadership. Indicates who is responsible for approving and implementing the policy, as well as imposing penalties for non-compliance.
- Verification of policy compliance. Indicates what is needed, such as assessments, drills, and penetration tests, to verify that security activities comply with policies.
- Penalties for non-compliance. Sets out penalties for non-compliance, such as a verbal reprimand and a note in the personnel file of the non-compliant employee for internal incidents and fines and/or legal action for outside activities.
- Appendices. Includes additional reference information, such as contact lists, service level agreements, and additional details about specific security policy statements.
The following list provides additional details on preparing a security policy. A policy must do the following:
- be developed by a team capable of resolving operational, legal, competitive and other issues related to information security;
- obtain the opinion of the internal services on their requirements in terms of security;
- be discussed with HR to ensure uniform compliance by employees;
- be supported by senior management;
- specify who is eligible to access computing resources;
- specify security requirements for physical devices, such as laptops and firewalls;
- specify hardware and software security requirements;
- identify the frequency of changes to security controls;
- be periodically tested, reviewed and updated to ensure its relevance to the organization; and
- be audited periodically to ensure security controls are being followed.
Once completed, the policy should be reviewed by IT management and the legal department. It is also important to disseminate the policy to the appropriate internal departments and to external parties. Then, deploy the approved policy and schedule ongoing review, audit, and maintenance activities.
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This was last published in March 2022
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