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How to Design an Effective Cybersecurity Policy

Posted on August 11th, 2021

Every year, more than 34 percent of organizations worldwide are affected by insider threats.

For that reason, cybersecurity needs to be a priority and concern for each employee within an organization, not only the upper-level management team and IT professionals. Employees tend to be the weakest link in an organization’s security posture, often clicking on malicious links and attachments unintentionally, sharing passwords, or neglecting to encrypt sensitive files. An effective way to educate employees on the importance of security is through a cybersecurity policy that explains each employee’s responsibilities for protecting systems and data within the organization.

Implementing such policies is considered a best practice when developing and maintaining a cybersecurity program. As more businesses build out digital programs, having effective security policies in place is a necessity. This post will break down what a security policy is, how it can strengthen your cybersecurity posture, and key examples of security policies that can be implemented in an organization.

What is a cybersecurity policy?

A cybersecurity policy is a set of standardized practices and procedures designed to protect a business’s network from threat activity. Typically, the first part of the cybersecurity policy is focused on the general security expectations, roles, and responsibilities within the organization. The second part may include sections for several areas of cybersecurity, such as guidelines for antivirus software or the use of cloud applications.

Typically, a cybersecurity policy is dozens of pages long for larger organizations or those in regulated industries. For smaller organizations, a cybersecurity policy can be just a few pages that cover basic safety practices. Nonetheless, policies should always prioritize the areas of importance to the organization, such as including security for the most sensitive and regulated data.

Why is a cybersecurity policy important?

A cybersecurity policy is extremely important to ensure the entire organization is following the same set of guidelines and rules to maintain positive cyber health and to respond appropriately in the event of a data breach. Designing an effective cybersecurity policy will help onboard new employees who are unfamiliar with cybersecurity best practices and help educate your entire business on the effects of poor cybersecurity.

What is cybersecurity policy management?

Cybersecurity policy management is the process of identifying, implementing and managing the rules, guidelines, and procedures that exist within your cybersecurity policy. Keeping these policies up-to-date by assessing new IT assets and resources ensures you are staying one step ahead of new or emerging threats presented to your business.

How do you write a cybersecurity policy?

Typically, the CISO leads the development of a security policy as well as the process to update it. However, CISOs should also work with executives from other departments to collaboratively create up-to-date policies. Teams should start with a cybersecurity risk assessment to identify the organization’s vulnerabilities and areas of concern that are susceptible to a data breach. It’s important to understand the organization’s tolerance for various security risks, outlining the concerns that rank as low risk and the ones that threaten the organization’s survival. The team should then consider the regulatory requirements it must meet to maintain compliance.

CISOs can then determine what level of security should be implemented for the identified security gaps and areas of concern. Keep in mind that CISOs should match the required level of protection with the organization’s risk tolerance. In doing so, the organization ensures that areas with the lowest risk tolerance are getting the highest level of security.

What should a cybersecurity policy include?

When developing your organization's cybersecurity policy, be sure to include the following:

  1. Organization-wide password requirements

  2. Designated email security measures

  3. Outline how to handle sensitive data

  4. Create rules around handling technology

  5. Implement a set of standards for social media and internet access

  6. A plan on how to prepare for a cyber incident

Having a clear set of rules and guidelines for each of these will help build out a successful cybersecurity policy that is easy to understand and essential to maintain a positive cyber posture.

6 examples of security policies

Negligence-based insider threat incidents cost organizations an average of $3.8 million per year – that’s a lot of money! Improved cybersecurity policies (and the distribution of said policies) can help employees better understand how to maintain the security of data and applications. To help you develop a mature security program, here are some security policy examples to consider:

1. Acceptable use policy (AUP)

An AUP is used to specify the restrictions and practices that an employee using organizational IT assets must agree to in order to access the corporate network or systems. It is a standard onboarding policy for new employees, ensuring that they have read and signed the AUP before being granted a network ID. A template for the AUP policy template is available at SANS for your use.

2. Data breach response policy

The goal of the data breach response policy is to describe the process of handling an incident and remediating the impact on business operations and customers. This policy typically defines staff roles and responsibilities in handling an incident, standards and metrics, incident reporting, remediation efforts, and feedback mechanisms. A template for the data breach response policy is available at SANS for your use.

3. Disaster recovery plan

A disaster recovery plan is developed as part of the larger business continuity plan, which includes both cybersecurity and IT teams’ recommendations. The CISO and assigned teams will then manage an incident through the data breach response policy. However, the business continuity plan is activated only when the incident has a significant impact on the organization. A template for the disaster recovery plan is available at SANS for your use.

4. Business continuity plan

A business continuity plan (BCP) describes how the organization will operate in an emergency and coordinates efforts across the organization. Additionally, BCP will work in conjunction with the disaster recovery plan to restore hardware, applications, and data that are considered essential for business continuity.

5. Remote access policy

According to an IBM study, remote work during COVID-19 increased data breach costs in the United States by $137,000. Organizations can implement a remote access policy that outlines and defines procedures to remotely access the organization’s internal networks. Organizations require this policy when there are dispersed networks with the ability to extend into unsecured network locations, such as home networks or coffee shops.

6. Access control policy

An access control policy (ACP) defines the standards for user access, network access controls, and system software controls. Additional supplementary items often include techniques for monitoring how systems are accessed and used, how access is removed when an employee leaves the organization, and how unattended workstations should be secured.

How SecurityScorecard can help enforce cybersecurity policies

Organizations need well-designed cybersecurity policies to ensure the overall success of their cybersecurity efforts. A cybersecurity policy establishes the guidelines and procedures that all employees must follow when accessing and using organizational IT assets. Essentially, the goal is to address and mitigate security threats and vulnerabilities.

With SecurityScorecard’s Security Ratings, you can make sure that security policies and programs stay in alignment. Our platform provides easy-to-read A-F ratings, giving at-a-glance visibility into your security controls’ effectiveness. Additionally, the platform provides actionable remediation suggestions in case of an incident so you will always be prepared.

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