Introduction: What Are Cybersecurity Policies and Procedures?

Cybersecurity policies and procedures are vital to any successful information security strategy. A cybersecurity policy is a document that outlines clear expectations, rules, and the approach that an organization uses to maintain integrity, confidentiality, and availability of sensitive information.

A comprehensive cybersecurity policy defines the IT systems and data assets that must be protected, the threats to these assets, and the rules guiding the protection of the assets.

Whether you’re building a cybersecurity team or setting security standards for your employees, outlining cybersecurity policies is crucial, especially in the modern business world. This is because cyber-attacks have increased over the years. As such, security policies help each employee understand their role in protecting your organization’s IT systems and data assets.

Without a cybersecurity policy, an organization becomes vulnerable to cyberattacks and data security risks, resulting in the loss of consumer data. If deemed negligent, your organization could face legal issues and substantial financial losses.

Are you in the process of creating network security standards? Here is a complete guide on how to develop cybersecurity policies and procedures for your organization.

Why Security Policies Are Important

Besides the risk of disastrous data breaches, cybersecurity policies and procedures are essential for many other reasons:

  1. Cybersecurity policies help organizations set clear expectations and security standards for each employee, user, or department. For example, your company’s cybersecurity policy may set well-defined guidelines regarding encryption of email attachments, sharing of passwords, installing unapproved software, using company devices for personal use, or restrictions for social media usage.
  2. Security policies also ensure organizations meet regulatory and compliance requirements. This includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Information Security Management System (ISO 27001), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), and SOC2.
  3. Information security procedures regulate how technical controls are implemented across all levels of an organization. For example, a security policy could cover access control standards and authentication systems.
  4. By setting out standards for the security program, everyone understands their responsibilities and what to do in certain events. This improves organization efficiency, facilitates smoother workflows, and helps you achieve business goals.

Before developing a cybersecurity policy, you must understand the types of policies and which one your organization needs.

Types of Cybersecurity Policies and Procedures

Cybersecurity policies depend on the organization's needs. This means they can differ in scope, applicability, and complexity. Security policies can have different objectives and address unique issues.

Although there is no single model, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identifies three criteria for classifying security policies:

Program Policies

Also called a master policy, a program policy is essentially a security program plan for the entire organization. It is a clear and well-defined blueprint that establishes security objectives and execution procedures to ensure overall security.

Program policies define the goals of the entire organization's cybersecurity team and plan, including compliance mechanisms and the responsibilities of each employee. A master policy is scarcely changed or updated because they are strategically written to remain relevant irrespective of technological and organizational transformation.

Examples of program policies are:

  • Patent formulas
  • Frequency of upgrading antivirus software and installing security updates
  • Data backup
  • Malicious software
  • Disaster recovery plans
  • Password management and construction, etc.

Issue-Specific Policy

This type of security policy addresses certain operational concerns. An issue-specific policy outlines a specific issue and the relevant security procedures that go with it.

Instructions are sent to the appropriate employees or cybersecurity team members to help resolve the problem. Examples of issue-specific policies are:

  • Email security
  • Social media usage measures
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD)
  • Remote access
  • Wireless security and Bluetooth policies.

System-Specific Policy

A system-specific cybersecurity policy focuses on specific systems such as a web server, firewall, or even a single computer. According to NIST, system-specific policies should include a security goal and operational guidelines.

As the most detailed type of cybersecurity policy and procedure, system-specific policies involve all IT and security teams. However, the executive still makes the major decisions and rules.

Examples of system-specific policies are:

  • Server security
  • Workstation
  • Application security
  • Database policies, etc.

Cybersecurity policies have evolved recently, especially with the increased cyber-attack rate. Employee-specific policies are a type of cybersecurity policy that focuses on developing your employees' security skills and awareness.

According to a Haystax survey, employees are the number one cause of data breaches through carelessness or negligence of security policies. Employees are more likely to click on malicious URLs, forget to encrypt sensitive documents, and use unverified cloud applications. Cybrary provides team-focused training to 96% of the Fortune 1000 to help develop comprehensive cybersecurity policies. Publicly traded companies in regulated industries like Healthcare, Insurance, and Finance usually face the most threats. Individuals and teams in these companies can learn IT security policy on Cybrary to strengthen their organization’s data security frameworks, supply chain management, and legal concepts.

Elements of a Cybersecurity Policy

Here are the essential components of any cybersecurity policy:

1. Have Well-Defined and Realistic Objectives

Every cybersecurity policy must have a clear purpose and realistic objectives. The goal of your organization's policy must be well-defined so that each employee, team member, and department understands its importance and responsibilities.

Cybersecurity policies and procedures must also be realistic and enforceable. They shouldn't be excessively burdensome, nor should they be thin.

2. Establish the Scope and Applicability

It’s essential to state the scope or applicability of your security policy. Information security policies and procedures must outline who they apply to and under what circumstances. This also covers the geographic region, which is especially important for remote teams.

3. Use Non-Technical Terms for Program Policies

Most cybersecurity policies and procedures require concise language because the audience is usually non-technical. This is especially true for program policies. System-specific policies may include technical jargon, but generally, policies should be easily understandable.

4. Update Based on Growing Risks

Cybersecurity threats are growing daily. While program policies are not frequently updated, they should be flexible enough to remain relevant. Other cybersecurity policies must be regularly reviewed to ensure the organization remains safe from attacks.

5. Have it in Writing

Cybersecurity policies and procedures should be documented. Every concerned staff member must read, understand, and sign the policy. New hires must be required to read and confirm their understanding.

This security policy isn't a set of voluntary guidelines but an employment condition. Hence, there should be clear penalties for breaches in security policy.

How to Develop Cybersecurity Policies and Procedures

When developing an information security policy, ensure it guides all employees on the following:

  • The type of information that can be shared and where they can be shared.
  • The acceptable devices and online materials to be used.
  • Handling and storing sensitive business data, material, and other confidential assets.

In most organizations, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) leads the development of cybersecurity policies and procedures. If you want to create a robust network security procedure, here is a complete cybersecurity compliance checklist to get you started:

1. Identify Your Organization’s Security Risks, Assets, and Threats

It is vital to identify and prioritize your assets, as well as the potential risks or threats that these assets may suffer. These questions will help you establish potential risks and the assets that should be prioritized:

  • What risks or threats does your company currently face?
  • Are there information and data assets that should be restricted?
  • Do your employees send or receive many large files and attachments?
  • Which security threats will damage your organization the most?

Teams should begin with a cybersecurity risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and areas of concern that could lead to a data breach.

Understanding the organization's tolerance for various security threats is critical. This also includes identifying which concerns are low risk and which endanger the organization's sustainability.

2. Establish Password Requirements Across the Organization

Employees are more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals due to security negligence, such as weak passwords.

Therefore, password management and construction policies must form part of your overall IT security policy. It should have cybersecurity procedures on:

  • Password creation and requirements for strong passphrases
  • The right way to store passwords and update frequency
  • The importance of unique passwords for different logins

It should also contain the type of authentication that is required for different user accounts.

3. Provide Designated Email Security Measures

Cybersecurity policies and procedures must contain designated email security measures across all units. This includes guidelines for sharing work email addresses, opening email attachments from trusted business contacts only, deleting and reporting spam emails, and preventing phishing.

4. Outline Procedures to Handle Sensitive Data

When developing a cybersecurity policy, it’s important to clearly define what sensitive data is and how it must be handled. Data security policies must contain sharing permissions and data masking techniques during a threat. In addition, the policy must include how employees should store physical files containing sensitive data.

5. Set Standards for Handling Technology, Social Media, and Internet Usage

Cybersecurity standard operating procedures for handling technology are essential, especially for remote teams. Your cybersecurity policy must establish guidelines on the following:

  • Where to access devices when not physically at work.
  • How devices that are not in use should be shut down and stored
  • Steps to report the loss of a work device
  • Protecting data on secondary storage or removable devices like USB sticks
  • System updates on personal computers
  • Data scanning and protection
  • Locking device screens when they are not in use

6. Develop Cybersecurity Response Plans

Dread it, run from it, but you’ll probably still face cyber-attacks at some point. That’s why every cybersecurity policy must contain what steps each user must take in the event of a cyber-attack. Hence, the security policy must cover procedures, response actions, and incident handling.

7. Ensure Your Policy Meets Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

Implementing a cybersecurity policy doesn't guarantee it will pass a compliance check. There are regulations you must follow regarding companies. Your cybersecurity team, especially Privacy Officers, must consider regulatory requirements and ensure your security policy meets compliance and federal government standards.

8. Test Run Your Cybersecurity Policy

You shouldn't wait for cyber-attacks, or other data breach attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of your security policy. This is why it's crucial to have Penetration Testers and Ethical Hackers in your cybersecurity team. These professionals will help conduct regular cybersecurity risk assessments such as Incident Response Tabletop Exercises and Ransomware Readiness Assessments. This is the only way to determine if your chosen cybersecurity policies and procedures are adequate in real-world scenarios.

9. Update Guidelines Regularly

It’s important to work with senior management officials, the IT team, and other relevant departments to update cybersecurity policies collectively. As security trends evolve, your organization must keep an eye out for the latest threats in the industry and update its security infrastructure.

10. Train Your Employees

Although updating your security policies is an effective way to avoid new threats, you shouldn't neglect your employees. They are the ones that will operate new security technologies and methodologies, making it essential to train them.

Before you continue An effective cybersecurity policy is critical to the reputation and survival of your company. It will help provide comprehensive threat protection and ensure immediate recovery after security incidents.

Understanding the appropriate cybersecurity policies and training your staff has never been easier. Cybrary offers a suite of hands-on learning options to significantly improve your information security infrastructure, from program and issue-specific policies to system and employee-centric policies. Start for free now.

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