Data Security

IT security policies: the basics

Since the introduction of the computer in business and mainstream society, electronic security has been a rising issue. Every day, there are new, unique, and unprotected ways to infiltrate computers, networks, and entire cyber environments.

September 30, 2022

Numerous cybersecurity threats, such as viruses, data breaches, and Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks, work to cause damage or steal information from those seeking to enjoy themselves online or conduct serious business. The threats that attack business professionals and their data, specifically, cost companies and individual users money, time, and — in many cases — reputation. 

So, how can you protect your company data, devices, and employees from every threat out there? That’s where the importance of cybersecurity comes in. Learn more about the types of security to consider and how to set security policies in cybersecurity to document and plan for all threat events as well as meet compliance within all industries.

What Are Security Policies?

One of the most vital ways to protect an organization is through strong cyber protection measures. Security policies help build those solid cybersecurity safety nets.

IT security policies are formal statements of the rules concerning the use of computer resources that people who have access to an organization's technology and information assets must comply with. This definition, according to RFC 2196 of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) from 1997, is widely accepted even today. 

Security policies within a company should take into account everything that needs protection and action against threats, including buildings, assets, technology, and networks. The policy should outline and explain all potential threats to employees, so no rock is left unturned. That means internal threats also need to be documented and planned for, such as disgruntled employees or hacks from the inside. 

Why Are Security Policies Important?

The amount of information that flows between companies on the internet makes it absolutely critical to adopt stringent IT security policies and procedures. Below are some pros and cons of implementing security policies within your business.

Pros of Security Policies

Adding extra layers of protection between organizations: Laying out requirements for employees within your company — as well as any users who utilize the company's technology assets — not only protects your business, but it can help keep organizations that connect with yours safe too.  This additional layer of protection between your organization and theirs makes others feel secure in doing business with you too.

For example, Oracle, a large provider of global enterprise computing, shares its security policy with the public to show how they approach data security but also to boost its authority and help train other businesses who may be struggling to plan theirs. Their security policy states in the introduction: “Oracle continually works to strengthen and improve the security controls and practices for Oracle internal operations and services offered to customers. Companies that Oracle acquires are required to align with these Security Practices as part of the integration process.”

Prevents financial loss and damage to a business’s reputation: It's an unfortunate reality that working between networks and across the internet has the capacity to expose private user data, trade secrets, and a plethora of other information that could be harmful to a company if stolen.

For financial institutions and healthcare facilities, the fallout from an event involving a breach or data loss is exceptionally severe. The level of financial loss and damage to an organization's reputation is potentially devastating.

Cons of Security Policies

The cost and time spent up-front to train and implement policies can be extensive and expensive. That’s why some security policies aren’t up to code when implemented. If this is the case, employee information can be handled haphazardly, and adequate policies aren’t in place to make sure it’s not shared or stored incorrectly. Not only does this put personal employees at risk, but it also creates more ways for data breaches and security issues to happen.

The cost of setting up an adequate security policy protocol can be large upfront. Most packages available for purchase offer total policy packages upwards of $1,000 or ala carte options ranging from $200–$800 for each policy needed. This doesn’t include the time and money IT professionals need to implement the policies in your company. Plus, the cost to maintain the policies can be even larger in terms of employee time and commitment. If a security policy is not maintained and updated with the newest information and it falls out of date, processes are immediately ineffective and put employees at risk.

But a single data breach or virus infiltration is likely to be much more costly in the long run. For this reason, the pros of a robust security policy far outweigh the cons.

"There are risks and costs to a program of action — but they are far less than the long-range cost of comfortable inaction.” 
- John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

What Are the Types of Security?

When considering how to secure your technology resources, there are four main types of security to think about.

Cloud Security

With the mass migration to the cloud, it's critical that companies don't overlook or downplay the importance of cloud security. Yet, only 20% of organizations assess their overall cloud security in real-time. 

Nearly 80% of companies have experienced at least one cloud data breach since 2020. If your company is migrating to the cloud, take note of the important factors below that your cloud host should be providing. Document them and outline action plans for any cloud data breaches that can affect your business.

Visibility: Ensure that your hosting provider has safeguards in place to keep information and components hidden that aren't meant to be seen by end users. For most, the only visible element that users — or anyone outside of the company — should see is the user interface. 

For example, make sure there's no "cheat code" or other back doors into the system that’s accessible from outside the host environment.

Cloud user management: It may seem like a bit of a hassle on the front end, but keeping employees and users in their lane is vital to maintaining appropriate security. Define each user's privileges within the cloud environment and configure the system to not allow any usage outside of the user's established role. 

For instance, in most cases, there should be no reason for HR or personnel managers to have access to company financial records, and help desk support should be kept out of the system's root management. 

Web Application Security

Throughout 2021, half of all sites identified at least one serious exploitable vulnerability in their web application. Maintaining a system of checks and procedures around individual web applications — either utilized or hosted by your company — will ensure new threats are caught and added to the policy plan if you routinely test and inspect the effectiveness of these applications. 

For example, SSL is a communication protocol that's crucial to protecting online resources. Admins and cybersecurity personnel should stay on top of any news pertaining to SSL — and all other security protocol updates — and then implement the updates when available. 

Mobile Security

Making up 72.9% of total e-commerce sales, mobile devices give hackers a strong incentive to infiltrate and obtain credit card and consumer information.

Mobile devices also pose a risk for security breaches. With company phones and tablets, it's important that users exercise prudence in their usage. Apps that request access to the device's components, such as location settings, the microphone and/or camera, or the contacts stored within, pose a potential threat. If IT security provides these devices, they can implement policies that lock the user out of any unapproved activity.

If employees or organization members must use a personal device to access a company's system, the company should make sure that users follow strict policies when using that device too. 

IoT Security

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a rapidly-growing system of smart device technology. Refrigerators, thermostats, industrial tools, and countless other appliances and devices are equipped with sensors and communications systems that will ultimately connect devices everywhere. 

An estimated 646 million IoT devices were used in healthcare in 2020, and this number only continues to grow. These instruments collect data regarding their usage — and that of users — for manufacturers and their third parties to assess. The information they collect helps to improve device features and the businesses that create them. 

Unfortunately, this continual transmission of data via smart machines also provides numerous opportunities for unintended recipients to intercept information and exploit it for their own purposes. Each device has the potential to serve as a point of entry for hackers. In the case of healthcare-related devices — such as pacemakers and C-PAP machines —infiltrators may be able to partake in far more nefarious efforts than simple data-collecting.

The complexity and diversity of so many devices provide numerous challenges to employing widespread security measures. It falls on IT security and operations personnel to implement IoT security policies for their organization. 

Security teams should take the following steps when assessing IoT security:

  • Identify all devices that can potentially connect to the network.
  • Evaluate the potential risk each device poses.
  • Employ effective security software appropriate to each device that could pose a risk.
  • Identify and avoid obtaining any device that could compromise the network and doesn't have any built-in or available third-party safeguards.
  • Stay vigilant for unknown threats.
  • Swiftly respond to any threat with measures appropriate to that device and your network.

Bonus: Multi-layer or Key-based Authentication

In addition to the four types of policies you will want to consider implementing, planning a multi-layer authentication process can boost your protection against all threats. Sophisticated password-cracking programs and key-loggers can easily access passwords and breach company networks and systems, especially if they are the sole means of access to any technology resource. Adding another layer of access control, such as user-based or key-based authentication, works wonders in keeping unwanted guests out of the system. 

User-based authentication inserts an encrypted code in the user's profile. When attempting to access the cloud environment, any user that doesn't possess a recognized code within their profile is blocked from entry. Other layers to consider are biometric (fingerprint) scanners for more sensitive access, a security flash drive, and one-time passcode access.

Security Policies Compliance

When considering security policies and compliance criteria, the most important practices and relevant steps in setting proper security procedures should be considered.

Employ a CISO

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) ensures the protection of data and technology resources. The CISO is also responsible for: 

  • implementing security procedures 
  • assigning security roles to the appropriate team members

The CISO usually operates outside of the purview of sys-admin but works closely with them to make sure that the chance of infiltration or data loss is slim to none.

Observing HIPAA (for medical organizations)

Medical software or any program that touches the medical field is required to make sure PHI (Protected Health Information) isn't compromised. Most third-party affiliates lock out any communications that cross international borders (even TCP packets making hops across Canada) and won't accept data packets employing up-to-date ssh keys. If you configure routing tables and keep internet protocols updated, HIPAA compliance will be met.

Adhering to CMMC

CMMC (Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification) compliance ensures that a data infrastructure meets stringent government criteria to work with controlled and sensitive data. Organizations that work with Department of Defense (DoD) data or with other entities that work with DoD data must certify for CMMC compliance. The certification process is extensive and often requires the assistance of an expert consultant to meet DoD data-handling standards. 

Meeting PCI DSS Standards when using card payments

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) security measures are in place to ensure businesses that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information also employ adequate data security. These standards apply to any merchant that processes a significant number of credit card transactions and must meet compliance standards to be able to accept most major credit cards.

Complying with ISO 27000 requirements

The International Standards Organization (ISO) oversees and administers regulations concerning international commerce. In order to engage in trade with most developed nations, a company must observe ISO 27000 requirements — including observing ISO rules governing data infrastructure. 

The guidelines for ISO compliance are quite involved and complex. If your organization seeks to operate or trade on the global stage, a visit to the official ISO site is a great place to start your journey. 

NIST Compliance Standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory agency that developed standards and measures for a wide variety of industries, including cybersecurity. NIST IT security standards are a way to inform and encourage organizations to implement optimal security controls. 

Though NIST isn't a regulatory institution, companies must prove NIST compliance to do any sort of trade with any entity that falls within the supply chain for government contract work.

Implementing CIS controls

Critical Security (CIS) controls is a series of steps for organizations to take so they can ensure they're implementing measures to properly protect their data and their infrastructure. The top 18 controls are a must for any company that operates in the cloud or over a data control environment.

CIS top 18 controls

1: Inventory and Control of Enterprise Assets

2: Inventory and Control of Software Assets 

3: Data Protection

4: Secure Configuration of Enterprise Assets and Software

5: Account Management

6: Access Control Management 

7: Continuous Vulnerability Management 

8: Audit Log Management 

9: Email and Web Browser Protections

10: Malware Defenses

11: Data Recovery

12: Network Infrastructure Management

13: Network Monitoring and Defense

14: Security Awareness and Skills Training 

15: Service Provider Management 

16: Application Software Security 

17: Incident Response Management

18: Penetration Testing

Wherever your organization falls in the list of regulatory compliance, understanding the security risks involved and working with the proper agency to ensure your company meets security standards is key for proprietary security policies and solutions that work. 

Takeaways

If your organization relies on technology — and especially if you employ any sort of cloud or web application environment — a strong IT security policy is critical to protecting your data, your assets, and your company's reputation. Focusing on the main types of security policies to build up your company’s cybersecurity will help you get started.

A strong IT protection suite contains tools to keep out unwanted guests and protect your proprietary technology from prying eyes. With device tracking, multi-OS management, and a host of reliable protection features, Prey is the perfect tracking and monitoring resource to aid your CISO and cybersecurity team and give them the extensive monitoring of all devices and systems they need. Start on the road to your company's robust cyber protection plan, and try Prey today.

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