Information Security Policies and Procedures Part 1

Friday, March 04, 2011

Alex Hamerstone

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Note: This is part of an ongoing series on documentation development.

Policy writing can be a daunting task, and one for which many are not overly enthused. However, Policies and Procedures are an integral part of any information security program.

Not only do they provide direction and accountability, many specific policy elements are a requirement of specific laws, regulations, and/or standards. In this multipart series, I will work to help you become comfortable writing policies and their associated procedures.

Before we get started, there are a few things that are important to know.

Policy sets are different in each environment. With information security, the number of policies as well as the breadth of each policy will vary depending on the complexity of the environment as well as the sensitivity and criticality of the information.

There are other factors that will affect information security policy development as well. For example, it is common that some of the elements of an Acceptable Use Policy will already be covered in basic HR policies and employee handbooks.

It is essential that different departments work together to ensure that policies work in concert and do not contradict each other.

It is also essential to determine the audience for any given policy. For most users, the Acceptable Use Policy will determine the rules for their access.

Network Security Policies, Access Control Policies, and System Access Logging and Maintenance Policies will have IT departments as their audience.

It is also important to note that certain policies may be confidential according to an asset classification program. A Network Security Policy delineating requirements for protections such as connection restrictions or intrusion protection and detection may be valuable for an attacker.

It is vital to consider business need to know when distributing policies.

The Differences Between Policies, Procedures, and Standards

It is important to understand the differences between a policy, procedure, and standard, and the functions of each.

Policies delineate the laws for an organization. Procedures and standards describe how to implement policies. A simple analogy is that of a red light. The policy, or law, requires that drivers come to a complete stop at any and all red lights.

The procedure, however, will describe how to operate the brake, operate the clutch, etc. The standard would describe what types of brakes and tires are appropriate.

An exception process would describe the circumstances under which the policy may be violated--in this example, an emergency vehicle.

In the next part of this series, we will discuss how to determine which policies are necessary for your environment.

Cross-posted from the SecureState Blog

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