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Your glossary for risk and compliance

Helpful definitions of all of the terms you need to know to better manage risk and compliance.

Policy & Controls

What is an IT security policy?

An information technology (IT) security policy establishes rules and procedures for the individuals who interact with an organization’s IT assets and resources, in order to protect information and IT systems from any unauthorized access, use, alteration, or destruction, and to provide guidance as to the actions an organization should take if any IT systems are compromised.

‍In developing an IT security policy, a company will want to consider how its employees, and any individuals accessing and using its IT resources, use and share information internally and externally. An effective IT policy will be different for each organization, addressing categories that include the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and information through the lens of an organization’s specific approach to its work and information management.

‍An effective IT security policy should include information about the goals and expectations of the policy; information about any regulations that may shape elements of the policy; information about when and how information technology systems are to be tested against potential challenges; and a plan for the policy to be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure the continuity of its effectiveness.

‍Conducting a SOC 2 security audit can help support the goals of an organization’s IT security policy, by bringing to light potential risks in a company’s security implementation and creating an opportunity — and a streamlined process — to improve a company’s overall security posture.

IT Security Policy: An Overview

An organization’s IT security policy involves procedures and rules that enable employees and other stakeholders to safely use and access digital resources and assets. It is important to note that an information technology security policy is far more than a set of strategies. It is also a reflection of the company’s culture, and buy-in from everyone in the organization is necessary for its successful execution.

For an IT security policy to be effective, it has to be documented and made available to people at all levels of the organization. The document should outline important elements, such as:

  1. The high-level and granular objectives of the policy
  2. The policy’s scope
  3. The goals of the policy, both for the organization as a whole and for the specific departments and assets it is designed to protect
  4. Any responsibilities related to making sure the organization complies with internal measures and governmental legislation

Why Do Enterprises Need an IT Security Policy?

The importance of an IT security policy cannot be overstated. Enterprises need it because it clearly outlines everyone's responsibility regarding the protection of specific processes and assets. It serves as a central document that anyone can refer to—a cybersecurity compass that provides direction, in a sense.

In addition, because the company’s executives accept and endorse the policy, it represents a commitment at the highest levels to the security of the organization's IT infrastructure. In this way, the policy serves as both a technical reference point and a cultural artifact—tangible evidence of the organization’s commitment to cybersecurity.

IT Security Policy Key Components

The key components of an IT security policy include confidentiality, integrity, and availability, also known as the CIA triad, and authentication.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality involves preventing information from being stolen or accidentally made available to unauthorized people—whether from within or outside the organization. This is because threats can be internal, too, and limiting employee access to specific areas of the company’s infrastructure prevents bad actors from abusing their privileges. At the same time, it limits the possibility of people accidentally divulging information, changing a setting, or otherwise impacting the integrity of data or systems.

Integrity

Data integrity refers to how accurate the data is and whether it is changeable only by those with the appropriate authorization. By maintaining a high level of integrity, your IT team ensures that your data is usable, both by individuals and systems.

To maintain stringent integrity standards, limiting the number of people who can access your data is essential. In other words, a system characterized by integrity is much unlike Wikipedia or Quora, which invite people to access and contribute data. With Wikipedia, for example, it is easy for nearly anyone to modify content, and perhaps you have seen the results: inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and even fake information included as a joke. 

An IT security policy takes the opposite stance. It minimizes the number of people and systems that can alter data.

Availability

Availability, in terms of an IT security policy, refers to whether or not data can be accessed by the appropriate people or systems when and how they need it. At times, it can be difficult to balance availability with confidentiality, especially because as you boost confidentiality, you have no choice but to limit availability.

Availability in terms of digital systems needing to access data is just as important, if not more so. For example, an application usually depends on a database that holds information. In some cases, this data is highly sensitive, and if allowed outside the organization's digital boundaries, there could be considerable damage—fines resulting from data exposure, for instance. Your IT security policy has to both make this data available to the application without potentially exposing it to bad actors.

Authentication

Authentication involves verifying that anything that claims to be true is, in fact, true. A simple example would be a user’s identity as they try to log in to a system.

For instance, if someone steals the username and password of an authenticated user, they can try to log in using those credentials. But your IT security policy may require multi-factor authentication (MFA) for that segment of your network. If that is the case, the malicious actor will need more than just the username and password. And because it may not be possible to find a way to provide additional authentication credentials, such as a fingerprint or facial profile, you may be able to thwart their attack.

What Are the Three Types of IT Security Policy?

The three types of IT security policy include:

  1. Organizational: This focuses on creating a company-wide blueprint that outlines policies for all of the organization's digital infrastructure.
  2. Issue-specific: An issue-specific policy is designed around a specific issue, such as who can make configuration changes to the organization’s firewalls.
  3. System-specific: A system-specific policy aims to protect a particular system, such as the backend of the company’s website, making sure only authorized people can access it.

IT Security Policy Best Practices

Here are some of the most effective IT security policy examples and best practices:

  1. Use the COBIT framework: The Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT) framework is designed to facilitate how IT systems and tools are managed, implemented, and improved. An effective IT security policy leverages several of its principles, such as end-to-end enterprise coverage and employing integrated frameworks.
  2. Have a strict password management policy: Passwords are usually necessary to access important systems, so managing them needs to be a priority. Effective password management involves requiring everyone to use unique, strong passwords, as well as outlining how to change them securely when needed.
  3. Have an acceptable use policy: An acceptable use policy describes the proper way to use computers, the internet, social media, email servers, and sensitive data. It is best practice to never presume that people know the right ways to access and use data. By including relevant instructions in your IT security policy, you give everyone a central source of truth they can refer to.
  4. Institute a regular backup policy: A properly executed backup policy can help maintain the resiliency of your organization. Many companies choose to follow what is known as the “3-2-1 rule:” maintain three copies of data, place them on two different kinds of backup media, and have one backup saved off-premises so it can be used for disaster recovery.

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