Companies are increasingly relying on computer networks for carrying out day-to-day operations. While doing things over the internet has made processes more convenient and cost-effective, it also leaves companies more vulnerable to network security threats. Network attacks, in particular, can be devastating and can result in the loss of high-priority data and personal information of customers and employees, plus allow unauthorized people access to sensitive information.
That’s why cybersecurity experts today urge companies to create network security policies, laying out their respective organization’s security expectations. From defining which network assets must be protected to describing the practices and guidelines that need to be implemented to protect the said assets, a well-drawn network security policy helps IT teams and network admins control their network environments and protect themselves against evolving security threats.
What is a Network Security Policy Anyway?
A network security policy is a formal document that outlines and defines guidelines on how a company plans to protect its personal IT assets. It goes into detail about the principles, procedures, and best practices to enforce, monitor, and manage organizational networks.
Here are the benefits of creating a network security policy:
- Provides the company with a blueprint for security purchases and implementations
- Details steps to follow in case of a security breach or cyber incident
- Explains what kind of technologies the company should use and cannot use to maintain effective network security. It also accounts for compatibility with the company’s existing tech stack
- Defines responsibility for every level of the organization—from the board to employees—for sanctioning, implementing, funding, supporting, monitoring, and auditing network security policies
- Creates a baseline for the next step in the evolution of network security
- Builds a basis for an enforceable legal course of action
Why is a Network Security Policy Important?
The whole point of a network security policy is to protect a company network from internal and external network security threats.
You’re responsible for your company’s customers and staff, physical assets, and data that travels across and lives within your networks. In order to protect them, you need to set security policies that describe detailed specific parameters like who and what is allowed to access which resources.
The security policies become guidelines for accessing computer networks, covering the enforcement of these policies. They also determine the operational architecture of your network, including policy application.
Once you finalize everything, your company will have integrated policies across the network, enabling consistency of service regardless of where your employees are, how they are connected, and what devices they will be using.
Think of it as taking effective measures to improve security and communicate your commitment to the protection of your company’s data assets. Even your company employees will become more aware of data security best practices and be vigilant when doing their jobs.
6 Useful Security Policies for Your Network
A network security policy is a set of standardized procedures and practices outlining rules regarding network access, network architecture, security environments, and how the policies will be enforced.
Below, we’ve listed a few useful security policies you should include in your company’s network security policy.
1. Password Policy
A password policy establishes a standard for creating strong passwords, the frequency of changing them, and the protection of these passwords.
2. Account Management Policy
The account management policy outlines standards for creating, administrating, using, and removing accounts that facilitate access to your organization’s IT assets.
3. Email Policy
The email policy establishes rules for using the company email for sending, receiving, and storing messages.
4. Clean Desk Policy
Creating a clean desk policy ensures all confidential information stays protected from unauthorized individuals, including passersby, thieves, and outsiders. It encourages the methodical management of one’s workspace and significantly reduces the risk of compromising confidential information.
5. Network Security and VPN Acceptable Use Policy
The purpose of the network security and VPN acceptable use policy is to clarify standards for connecting to the company’s network from any host. This helps minimize potential risks, such as loss of sensitive or confidential data, damage to public image, damage to intellectual property, and damage to critical company internal systems.
6. Systems Monitoring and Auditing Policy
The systems monitoring and auditing policy serve as the blueprint to determine if inappropriate actions had occurred within your organization’s systems. System monitoring can help you identify actions in real-time, while system auditing helps you look for them after they take place.
How to Get Started With Creating and Implementing a Network Security Policy
In this section, we’ll cover the basic steps to help you create an effective network security plan for your organization.
Step 1: Identify Your Organization’s Sensitive Assets
The first step in outlining a network security policy is to know what exactly you need to protect. You should understand what your most sensitive and highest-priority assets are, where they are located, and how the business produces revenue.
Step 2: Do a Threat Assessment
Next, you need to familiarize yourself with your organization’s assets, systems, and resources that are active on your network. To know this information, you need to conduct a threat assessment.
A threat assessment is typically carried out by a third party and can take a few weeks or longer depending on how big your environment is. It’ll help identify and classify security gaps in the network, weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exploited (think: weak passwords), and network security vulnerabilities in file, application, and database servers.
Besides the above, a threat analysis also audits encryption settings on critical systems and provides proof to support increased IT investments in network security.
Step 3: Post-Threat Assessment Action Plan
After the threat assessment, the third-party expert you hired will create a detailed report specifying vulnerabilities detected and make remediation recommendations based on the severity of their findings.
After the third assessment, the third party you hired will create a detailed report covering the detected vulnerabilities and security gaps, as well as make remediation recommendations based on its findings. This means you need to be ready to make changes within your organization to protect your networks. For instance, you may have to update an existing application or purchase new equipment or software.
Step 4: Develop IT Security Policies and Procedures
Based on the results of the threat assessment and recommendations made by the expert, you’ll create or expand the current version of the IT security policies and procedures of your organization.
While you can create separate policies for as many aspects you want (mobile devices, passwords, VPN, social media), it’s important to ensure all the documentation is written and visible in terms that the average user in your environment can understand what needs to be done and what their role is. This will help create an atmosphere of accountability and lay the foundation of a “security-first“ company culture.
Once the policy content has been processed and reviewed, you need to pass it on to executive leadership for final approval before distribution into the corporate infrastructure.
Step 5: Carefully Define Incident Response
Incident response is a critical element of any good network security policy.
Cyber threats can disrupt the operation of businesses around the world, and yours is no exception. Hackers are really working around the clock in search of methods to infiltrate your network by way of fishing, installing ransomware, and several other social engineering tactics.
While there is some great technology available to thwart these attacks like firewall, endpoint malware protection, and network segmentation, you still cannot dismiss the probability of an incident occurring. What will you do when an incident occurs? What if the Head of IT is on a vacation? How will you stop a hacker from going further into the system who has already gained access to your accounting database?
Incident response will help you answer these questions, helping you create an organized approach to addressing and managing the aftermath of a data security breach or cyberattack.
The incident response plan will provide information on who the members of the incident response team are and clarify their duties. It should also outline lessons learned from the attack after the incident, helping teams understand how the incident occurred and how they can prevent it from repeating in the future.
Step 6: Implement Security Controls
In addition to having a network security policy, you also need tools and controls to support the policy statements.
A good rule of thumb is to follow security control frameworks that can provide direction to your team on, say, how to secure firewalls, password best practices, implementing secure operating system best practices, and so on. Here are a few examples:
- CMCC Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification
- NIST National Institute of Standards and Technology
- PCI DSS Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard
- ISO/IEC 27001 International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission
- CIS Center for Internet Security
If you go through these payments, you’ll realize they share a common theme: to build secure networks. You don’t have to adopt the full set of controls listed in each framework but can better understand the measures to take and the best practices to adopt to implement effective network security.
Step 7: Manage and Manage Network Security for the Future
Congratulations! At this stage, your organization has an effective network security plan that’s been communicated across the company, and security controls have been implemented to support your plan. You’ve laid the groundwork to protect your networks and manage breaches.
Now, your priority should be to ensure the entire organization is in tune with the security culture, roles, and resources required to orderly enforce the policy and move the culture along. Of course, there will be pain points along the way since adopting any change takes time, but with the executive leadership also supporting the culture, the transition will be faster and smoother.
Regularly review the state of the network security program to access gaps in processes, tools, and training. We also recommend an annual review of the network security plan to ensure it’s on track, relevant, and deliberate.
A network security policy is a critical part of the more comprehensive information security policy, which is why it focuses on protecting company infrastructure from loss, unauthorized access, misuse, and destruction. It forces organizations to think for the long term, enabling them to defend their assets and networks and take precautionary measures.
Make your network security policy strong enough to protect your systems against evolving external and internal threats.