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Top Tips For Writing Security Policies

A fact of modern-day online life is that organizations of all sizes need to build effective security programs. It's no longer just a “nice to have,” it's become a “must have.” In order for an organization to create effective security policies there are generally 4 areas of focus to consider, which are described in more detail below.

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Keep Policies Separated

Security and compliance teams expect to find information in specific policies. For example, if you are looking for information about endpoint protection, you would first look for an overall security policy or a specific endpoint protection policy. If the information is buried in a vulnerability management policy, it may be difficult to find and could lead to confusion.


Security policy creation teams should avoid copying and pasting elements from other existing policies. This is because the copied information may quickly become out of date, unless the documents are linked so that they update automatically. Instead of inserting sections of other policies, the policy creation team should reference them as needed.


Policies should be individually comprehensive with minimal overlap. Overlap between policies can lead to language conflicts, uncertainties, and gaps in compliance and security. If an organization decides to mix policies, an index or guide should be created to help team members find information quickly.


What, Not How

Technology changes rapidly, so security policies should focus on high-level goals and requirements, not on specific technical details. This is helpful in some of the following ways:

  • The IT team can then use the policy requirements to develop a solution that meets the organization's needs.

  • Too many details in a policy can make it difficult to update and can lock the IT team into outdated solutions.

  • If specific technical details are needed, they can be included in exhibits or additional reports.

  • System-specific policies may require more detailed descriptions of tools, settings, and allowed users. However, this is a matter of preference for the individual organization.

Ultimately, the level of detail that is included in a security policy will depend on the specific needs of the organization. However, by focusing on high-level goals and requirements, organizations can create policies that are more effective and easier to maintain.


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Practicality Is Key

Security policies will not be successful if they are not practical, understandable, or aligned with the organization's culture. The following are some key points in making policies practical:


Make Policies Usable

Stakeholder-friendly security policies are more likely to be adopted by the people who are responsible for implementing them. Policies that are too demanding, impractical, or unrealistic are more likely to be ignored or circumvented. To create stakeholder-friendly policies, it is important to involve all stakeholders in the development process and to get their input. The policies should be based on existing practices, whenever possible, to make them easier to adopt. They should be clear and concise, avoiding unnecessary details. Policies should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in the organization's environment.


Here are some additional tips for creating stakeholder-friendly security policies:

  • Use plain language that is easy to understand.

  • Avoid jargon and technical terms.

  • Be specific about the requirements, but don't be too detailed.

  • Give examples to illustrate the requirements.

  • Use visuals, such as charts and diagrams, to help explain the requirements.

  • Get feedback from stakeholders throughout the development process.


Make Policies Understandable

When drafting security policies for an international audience, it is important to use simple language that is easy to understand for both technical and non-technical audiences.

  • The policies should be written in plain language, avoiding jargon and technical terms.

  • The policies should be clear and concise, and they should avoid unnecessary details.

  • The policies should be reviewed by a team of stakeholders, including executives, legal counsel, and key staff members responsible for implementing the policy.

  • Any confusion, vagueness, or uncertainty should be addressed and eliminated before approving the policy.


Tailor Policies To Your Organization

Security policies should be based on the organization's true needs, not on existing practices or capabilities. This can be done in the following ways:

  • The organization should carefully examine its environment and identify all of the security risks that it faces.

  • The policies should be designed to mitigate these risks, not to simply reflect the organization's current practices.

  • The policies should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the organization's environment.

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“Goldilocks” Policy Lengths

Security policies should be the right length: not too long, not too short. IT and security teams often favor shorter policies because they provide maximum flexibility for execution. This is because shorter policies are less restrictive and allow the IT team to have more freedom in how they implement the policies. However, shorter policies can also be more difficult to verify for management or compliance. This is because they may not be specific enough to ensure that the organization is meeting its security requirements. Attorneys often feel compelled to lock down as many details as possible in policies to make verification more simple and to clarify as many points as possible. This is because they want to ensure that the organization is protected from legal liability in the event of a security breach. However, over-prescriptive policies can also be a problem. They can lock the IT team into outdated practices and make it difficult for them to keep up with a dynamic IT environment. Finding the “Goldilocks” length is key.


Auditability

Effective security policies define clear and measurable deliverables. This ensures that the IT or security team knows exactly what is expected of them and how they can demonstrate compliance with the policy. The security process should be measurable and testable. This means that there should be a way to measure the effectiveness of the process and to determine whether it is meeting the policy requirements.


Reporting requirements should document the following:

  • Metrics for measurement. This includes the specific metrics that will be used to measure the effectiveness of the security process.

  • Needed evidence. This includes the specific evidence that will be used to demonstrate compliance with the policy, such as log files, vulnerability scans, etc.

  • Frequency of reports. This specifies how often reports will be generated.

  • Who should receive the reports. This specifies who will receive the reports, such as management, auditors, or compliance officers.


Ultimately, the policies an organization adopts should ease the burden of security for readers rather than adding to it. Designing the best quality policies for your organization can be as much of an art as a science. The knowledge required to craft these policies is oftentimes developed over many years of experience. A way take a shortcut to compliance, and having high-quality policies in place, is to make use of virtual Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) available through Webcheck Security. Contact Webcheck today to discuss your organization’s needs and how we can best help you fulfill them.

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