What is an Information Security Policy and What Should it Include?

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on Apr 6, 2021

Compliance requires organizations to have written policies, processes, and procedures. Policies act as the foundation for programs, providing guidance, consistency, and clarity around an organization’s operations. As a set of internal standards, they give your employees repeatable steps for managing legal and compliance risk. As you mature your compliance posture, knowing what an information security policy is and what it should include can help you protect sensitive information more effectively.

What is an information security policy?

An information security policy (ISP) sets forth rules and processes for workforce members, creating a standard around the acceptable use of the organization's information technology, including networks and applications to protect data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

What are the three principles of information security?

ISPs establish formalized rules to ensure that the company has a series of controls around the three principles of information security: confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Confidentiality

Data confidentiality focuses on protecting sensitive information, such as nonpublic personal information (PII) or cardholder data (CD), from unauthorized access. Malicious actors often target confidential information because the data can be used for identity theft and perpetrating fraud. Confidential data can also include sensitive corporate information such as trade secrets.

When writing your ISP, you want to consider the following:

  • How to control access to information
  • How to prevent “snooping”
  • How to prevent a data breach
  • How to prevent data leakage

Integrity

Data integrity focuses on ensuring that data accuracy and preventing changes to information entered into a database or other resource. Organizations need to maintain data quality by preventing malicious or accidental changes to data that can harm data owners.

When writing your ISP, you want to consider the following:

  • How to mitigate human error risk
  • How to prevent malicious actors from gaining access and changing information
  • How to establish change control processes
  • How to prevent unintended transfer errors
  • How to ensure no misconfigurations or security errors impact information
  • How to harden hardware to prevent a compromise
  • How to audit processes and procedures to ensure traceability

Availability

Data availability focuses on information accuracy, completeness, and consistency to ensure users can access information when they need it. Organizations need to establish procedures and processes for data storage, disaster recovery, and business continuity.

When writing your ISP, you want to consider the following:

  • How to prevent natural disasters, human error, or storage erosion from impacting physical integrity
  • How to prevent human error or malicious attacks that impact logical integrity
  • How to maintain the data pieces’ unique values to protect entity integrity
  • How to establish processes that keep data stored and used uniformly to protect referential integrity
  • How to measure format, type, and amount of data entered into a database to protect domain integrity
  • How to create rules that address user needs to maintain user-defined integrity

What is the purpose of an information security policy?

Information security policies have more than one purpose. Because they have more than one purpose, they often feel unwieldy.

Some reasons you need to have an ISP include:

  • Creating a repeatable and consistent process for managing information
  • Educating workforce members around best practices and corporate security protocols
  • Documenting controls to ensure people adhere to security measures
  • Meeting mission-critical compliance requirements
  • Establishing guidelines for detecting new threats and mitigating new risks
  • Giving customers confidence over your organization’s security posture
  • Ensuring appropriate access to IT and data resources on an “as needed” basis

Your ISP sets forth high-level controls for protecting information and then to measure compliance more efficiently. Then, you incorporate additional protections as part of processes and procedures. For example, you may include in your ISP that you have firewall rules that prevent workforce members from accessing risky websites. You then build your firewall rules separately, allowing access to certain websites and denying access to others.

How is an information security policy different from an information security program?

Your ISP sets the rules that your information security program puts into practice. A good way to think about the difference is that your ISP acts like an introduction in an essay that tells someone what you’re going to tell them to do. Meanwhile, your information security program is the set of practices that act as the body of an essay, giving the specific data points your reader needs to know.

An information security program outlines the critical business processes and IT assets that you need to protect. Then, it identifies the people, processes, and technologies that can impact data security. Your information security program incorporates more than your ISP, including areas like incident management, enterprise security architecture, and vulnerability management.

SecurityScorecard enables organizations to draft information security policies

SecurityScorecard’s security ratings platform continuously monitors risks across ten categories of risk, including IP reputation, network security, web application security, DNS health, patching cadence, and endpoint security. Our platform monitors for best practices giving customers a way to create an ISP that maps directly back to controls.

Our easy-to-read A-F rating scale gives at-a-glance visibility into controls’ effectiveness, and our platform provides actionable remediation suggestions to mitigate risk. Customers can use these to make sure that their policies and programs stay in alignment.

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