IT Security Policies: What They Are and What to Include

Establishing effective information technology security policies is vital for both your company’s security and your customers’ security. In order to meet compliance needs, learn which IT security policies are necessary for your business. Knowing you have effective safeguards in place will keep all the data you create and receive protected. Learn what IT security policies are, understand why they’re important, review the elements of an IT security policy and assess examples of policies to include for your business. 

 

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What are IT security policies?

IT security policies, or ISPs, are a set of rules and procedures that ensure an organization’s digital security and protection. Usually, ISPs also protect sensitive information and make sure only authorized individuals can access it. While the ISP is usually established and maintained by the IT team, the included rules and guidelines apply to all members of the organization. 

Please note that ISPs can sometimes refer to internet service providers. In this context, it refers to IT security policies. 

Related: How to Write an IT Project Manager Job Description Sample

 

The importance of IT security policies

The primary goal of ISPs is to protect important company information from data breaches and leaks. Regardless of the age or size of your organization, protecting the information you create and gather is vital. In fact, some industries have legal guidelines regulating how they store and protect some types of information. 

Many ISPs provide guidelines for internal employees, contractors and third-party subcontractors. Not every member of the organization should or will have access to every piece of company data. 

Related: How to Write an IT Business Analyst Job Description

 

Elements of an IT security policy

Some companies have a broad ISP while others write a very specific ISP. While the actual contents of your ISP may vary, most ISPs include the following: 

 

Purpose

The introduction to your ISP describes the purpose of your document. You may have more than one reason for establishing an ISP. Common purposes include:

  • Protecting customer data
  • Creating a company model for IT protection
  • Meeting regulatory requirements
  • Identifying and preempting IT security breaches or leaks
  • Protecting the company’s reputation

 

Audience

The audience section of your ISP specifically denotes who must abide by the rules and procedures listed in the ISP. Usually, this includes internal employees. If you employ contractors or other third-party vendors and plan to share any proprietary or sensitive information with them, you should consider including these individuals or groups in the audience as well. 

 

IT security objectives

In this section, you’ll list the objectives of establishing an ISP and the strategies you’ll use to reach those goals. Usually, the strategies included in this section are summaries. In later sections, you’ll provide more specific guidelines for adhering to the IT security policy. 

 

Authority and access control

The authority and access control section is a comprehensive description of which departments and people have IT authority over which data. Depending on your industry, the state or federal government may regulate some of these access restrictions. Healthcare organizations, for example, must abide by HIPAA data protection requirements. This section often includes guidance on:

  • Data authority at every organizational level
  • Who manages security controls
  • What security protocols are acceptable
  • Who can access the organization’s computers and servers
  • What authentication requirements the organization requires

 

Data classification

Most ISPs organize data by privacy levels. While the specific levels vary from business to business, companies frequently use these categories:

  • Level 1: Information available to the public
  • Level 2: Confidential information, but if it were released, would not cause material harm
  • Level 3: Confidential information that may cause material harm if released
  • Level 4: Confidential information that would cause material harm if released
  • Level 5: Confidential information that would cause serious material harm if released

 

Data support and operations

This section of the ISP manages how your organization will handle and protect each level of data. Often, this involves three specific components: 

  • Protection: This component describes how your company will protect data, particularly intelligence like personally identifiable information, or PII, and other types of sensitive information.  
  • Backup: This component explains how your organization will backup and encrypt data to keep it safe from accidental deletion. 
  • Communication: This section provides guidance on how your business will communicate all levels of information and provide specific safe protocols for sharing confidential data.

 

Security awareness training

This section of your ISP describes how you’ll train your employees, contractors and third-party affiliates about your IT security policies. In most cases, you’ll see better compliance if you explicitly explain the contents of the ISP rather than just providing the document. 

 

Employee responsibilities and duties

The final section of your ISP describes specifically who is in charge of what elements of IT security. Usually, it includes information on who’s responsible for:

  • Handling data incidents 
  • Managing security programs
  • Recovering from data breaches
  • Providing security awareness training
  • Maintaining network and physical security
  • Updating acceptable use policies

Related: How to Write an IT Director Job Description

 

Examples of specific policies to include

When writing your own ISP, consider including these specific policies to ensure you’ve thoughtfully protected your company, your employees and your customers at all levels:

  • Access Control Policy (ACP)
  • Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)
  • Business Continuity Plan (BCP)
  • Change Management Policy
  • Data Classification Policy 
  • Data Security Policy
  • Disaster Recovery Policy 
  • Email and Communication Policy
  • Identity Access and Management Policy (IAMP)
  • Incident Response Policy (IRP)
  • Information Security Policy
  • IT Operations and Administration Policy
  • Personal and Mobile Devices Policy
  • Privacy Regulations
  • Remote Access Policy
  • SaaS and Cloud Policy

Related: IT Security for Your Small Business: Key Considerations

Establishing thorough IT security policies for your business will help ensure that proprietary company data, confidential employee data and personally identifiable customer data are all appropriately protected and secure. Check the regulations for your industry and state to make sure your ISP is in compliance.

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