IT Security Policy: The Complete Guide

Does your organization have a foolproof and comprehensive IT security policy to safeguard your data? Have you taken the necessary security measures to protect your network from advanced threats and potential cyberattacks?

These are critical questions considering the current cybersecurity landscape.

Today more than ever, organizations need well-designed IT security policies to ensure all their strategies and efforts remain successful. In this Nira guide, we’ll explain the importance of an IT security policy, along with its core elements and best practices to help you protect your network and train your employees.

Let’s dig right in.

What is an IT Security Policy Anyway?

An IT security policy is the most vital element of an IT security program that’s developed according to principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

It outlines all the rules and procedures people accessing your computer resources must follow to keep your data safe. This way, all your information assets will be protected from unauthorized disclosure, disruption, use, access, or modification.

Having a security policy also puts your security posture into writing. Documentation helps describe and assign functions and responsibilities while simultaneously granting authority to security professionals and identifying the incident response processes and procedures.

How Does an IT Security Policy Work?

Considering the ever-changing technological trends, your IT security policy should be a living document that’s routinely updated to accommodate new technology and procedures to keep malicious agents at bay.

Below, we’ll discuss the main components of a security policy to give you a better understanding of how every approach works in tandem to protect your network. Remember, these components can change from one organization to another depending on their size, services offered, available revenue, and of course, technology, so not every component will be applicable in your case.

1. Security Definition & Vision

Your IT security policy should define your security vision for your company clearly and concisely. It should also address why the security policy is being implemented and the mission it’ll entail, tying the policy to the mission and the business rules of your company.

2. Enforcement

The enforcement section should outline the policy enforcement and how the company will handle any security breaches and/or misconduct. Primarily, implementing policy and ensuring compliance is the job of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO). But you can have any high-ranking official to implement and embrace the policy.

Additionally, the enforcement part should also include procedures for requesting short-term exceptions to the policy, where all exceptions are manually reviewed and approved—or denied—by the security officer.

3. User Access to Computer Resources

This is where you identify user roles and responsibilities who have access to your network. Typically, this section should include information like:

  • Passwords
  • Procedures for threat notification
  • Security awareness training
  • Specifications for both acceptable and prohibited Internet usage
  • Application guidelines
  • Procedures for using removable media devices
  • Procedures for identifying applicable email standards of conduct
  • Procedures for obtaining network access and resource level permission
  • Restrictions on installing applications and hardware
  • Procedures for remote access, along with guidelines for the use of personal machines to access resources during WFH situations
  • Policies prohibiting personal use of organizational computer systems
  • Procedures for account termination
  • Procedures for routine auditing

You may require a more detailed listing for Wide Area Networks (WAN), Local Area Networks (LAN), Virtual Private Network (VPNs), and Extranets, depending on the size of your network. After all, your security policy is only as good as the weakest link.

4. Security Profiles

Your IT security policy should mention how security profiles will be applied uniformly across common devices, such as workstations, proxy servers, firewalls, and routers. It should also reference applicable standards and procedures for locking down devices, including security checklists for when adding and/or configuring devices.

New devices have a default configuration to make them easy to deploy and ensure architecture compatibility. Unfortunately, while this may be convenient for the vendor, it’s practically a nightmare for IT professionals.

Your security professionals will have to do a quick assessment to determine what services are necessary on which devices to meet the needs and requirements of your security policy. All unnecessary services must be turned off or removed in accordance with the standard operating procedure.

5. Passwords

Passwords are another critical element to protect your infrastructure.

Weak passwords leave you vulnerable to external and internal threats as they can easily be cracked through social engineering or sophisticated password cracking techniques, giving unauthorized access to intruders. We all know just how disastrous the situation can be!

Your IT security policy should have stringent password rules that everyone on your network must follow. Nobody should have weak passwords, like their username, a telephone number, or personal information like a birthday or social security number.

Instead, urge them to use automated password policy techniques that require a minimum of eight characters, a combination of symbols, numbers, and letters, as well as a mixture of uppercase and lowercase.

Having a lockout policy that gets implemented immediately after a predetermined number of unsuccessful attempts is also crucial.

6. Email

Your IT security policy should include an email usage policy as it’s the most popular vehicle that hackers used to propagate viruses, malware, and Trojans.

The internet is filled with malicious agents who exploit unsuspecting users by tricking them into clicking on an attachment, which instantly infects their device before launching propagation throughout the network. What’s worse, rectifying this error can take several hours and sometimes even days, leading to serious losses.

7. Internet

The world wide web is a double-edged sword. While it lets you connect with the world at large, it also serves as the same pathway that manifests vulnerabilities.

A good internet usage policy can restrict access to unprotected sites and state what level of personal use, if any, is authorized. You can also consider using software to filter out most of the forbidden sites, including chat rooms, pornographic sites, free web-based email services, and so on.

8. Anti-Virus

Anti-virus is critical for every IT security policy since it helps detect and mitigate viruses.

You have to identify the frequency of updating the virus definition files and figure out how to scan removable media, email, and other attachments before opening. We recommend configuring your antivirus software, so it scans all incoming and outgoing files automatically.

9. Backup and Recovery

Having a comprehensive backup and recovery plan is also important to mitigate incidents. You never know when disaster may strike, so if you want to protect your data, backups are key.

When designing your backup and recovery plans, you should do a comprehensive risk assessment of all systems on your network. At the very minimum, your backup and recovery policy should include the following:

  • Testing restorations
  • Checking log files
  • Back-up schedules
  • Tape labeling convention
  • Tape rotation procedures
  • Identification of the type of tape backup
  • The type of equipment used
  • Tape storage location-on and off-site

Keep in mind backup procedures will differ depending on the system. For instance, the backup requirements for your budget and payroll system will be different from a miscellaneous file server. Precisely why you should set up your policies based on the systems you use.

10. Intrusion Detection

A Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS) detects anomalous, inappropriate, and unauthorized data inside a network. Unlike a firewall, this system captures and inspects all traffic, irrespective of whether it‘s permitted or not. Then, based on the contents, it generates an alert either on the IP or application level.

Intrusion detection tools, such as Cisco, Zone Alarm, and Snort, help detect and mitigate access attempts into your network. NDIS systems can be either network-based or host-based, so it’s essential to do a risk assessment to determine which one would be a safer choice.

11. Security Awareness and Training

Your IT security policy should include awareness training provisions to enhance the effectiveness of your security policy. Ensure you periodically provide training at all levels for staff, system administrators, security officers, and executives. In addition to this, you can also hire newly trained staff.

The good thing about having trained staff is that they can alleviate some of your security professionals’ burdens and become better equipped to identify network threats and other anomalies.

How to Get Started With a Good IT Security Policy for Your Business

We’ve already established we need an IT security policy to provide management direction and support for information security while adhering to business requirements and relevant laws and regulations. Below are a few steps to help you develop and implement this policy effectively across your organization.

Step 1: Identify Risks to Your Network

What kind of risks do you face from unauthorized access or inappropriate use? Can you restrict your critical information? Does your team generally send and receive tons of large attachments and files?

Ask yourself a lot of similar questions to assess the impact and extent of your risks. Some of them might be a non-issue, but some of them may cost you thousands of dollars due to computer downtime or lost employee productivity.

The best way to identify and assess your wrist is through monitoring and reporting tools. But be sure all your employees know you’ll be recording their activities for our assessment to stay on the right side of the law.

Step 2: Ensure Legal Conformity

To ensure the privacy and integrity of your data, you have to conform to certain minimum standards depending on your data holdings, jurisdiction, and location. This is particularly important if your company holds any personal information or data.

Ensure you have a viable security policy in place and documented to mitigate any liabilities you may incur in case of a security breach.

Step 3: Provide the Necessary Training

Many business owners overlook or avoid staff training when, in reality, it’s arguably the most critical part of data and network security.

Staff training creates awareness among employees, helping them understand security policies better. This, in turn, makes it more likely for your staff to follow them. Moreover, employees usually ask insightful questions and identify improvement opportunities that can help fine-tune a policy to eliminate any gaps.

Don’t forget to update your staff in case you make any changes to the IT security policy.

Step 4: Install Useful Tools

Having a policy is very different from enforcing it. But luckily, installing some tools will ensure your policy, regardless of how complex it is, is always adhered to.

Of course, this involves some investment but considering it’s the safety of your company’s critical assets that’s on the line, it’s an investment well worth it.

Step 5: Penalize When Necessary

Data safety and network security are no joke. You didn’t spend all that effort and those hours developing an effective IT security policy just for show—you have to enforce it, too.

If you find your employees aren’t following the policies, set clear penalties and penalize them to set an example. Remember, a security policy with haphazard compliance is just as bad as no policy at all.