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Important Elements of a Data Security Policy

Aidan Simister
| Read Time 7 min read| Updated On - January 16, 2023

Elements of a Data Security Policy

A data security policy controls how data is accessed, used, managed, and monitored within an organisation. It’s main purpose is to safeguard all protected data, both at rest and in transit, and also helps to maintain the quality, integrity and availability of data. Although data security policies are often not required by law, they can assist firms in adhering to data protection laws that are relevant to their industry. All data kept by an organisation should be covered by data security policies, including data stored on endpoints like laptops or mobile devices, off-site locations, cloud services, and on-premises storage devices.

Why You Need a Data Security Policy?

A data security policy is crucial for businesses that need to comply with regulations, prevent data breaches, and deal with other security incidents. Certain data is protected by laws or industry standards in many nations and sectors. For example, intellectual property (IP), personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), and payment card information (PCI), are some of the main types of information that require additional levels of protection. A failure to protect confidential data could result in costly lawsuits and fines, as well as damage the reputation of the company, which may result in a loss of business, or in some cases, it may lead to a fall in the company’s share price. Data security policies must also cover the physical assets that relate to data security in some way. For example, companies must have the appropriate measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to the sever room, which may include the use of locks, alarms, ID badges, CCTV cameras, security guards, and so on.

Key Elements of a Data Security Policy

As a starting point, it is a good idea to outline the scope and objectives of the data security policy, including information about the why the policy is necessary. Perhaps include some real-life examples of how/why the policy would have helped to mitigate a security incident. In addition to the above, an effective data security policy will consist of the following core components:

  • An inventory of all protected data stored by the organization. This includes information stored in both on-premise and cloud-based repositories.
  • A list of all stakeholders that may be affected by the policy in some way, e.g. customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, shareholders, and so on.
  • A list of the roles and responsibilities relevant to the safeguarding of protected data.
  • Information about how the policy will be enforced, including details about any service providers, equipment and security technologies used.
  • Information about who should be allowed access to which resources.
  • Information about how data is classified. A typical classification schema will include categories such as Public, Private and Restricted. However, you can create whichever categories best suit your needs. For example, if you are a healthcare service provider, you may want a dedicated category for HIPAA, or some other relevant data protection regulation.
  • Information about how and when security awareness training is carried out, and by who. Training should have a strong emphasis on phishing and ransomware attacks, and other insider-related threats.
  • Information about how the effectiveness of the data security policy is measured, and how it is updated, were it to fall short of expectations.

Below are the most important elements (or sub-policies) of a data security policy:

Acceptable use

This policy should outline how users can access and use company resources, specifically for non-work-related activities. The policy should also include details about how the acceptable use policy is enforced.

Password management

This policy will include details about the required length and complexity of passwords, including the procedures for password expiration and resets. The policy should also specify how passwords should be stored and remembered by the employee, and how they should be processed and stored by the company.

Email management

This includes information about how email accounts can be used, the techniques used to mitigate phishing attacks and SPAM, whether mailboxes are encrypted, and what types of data can be shared with whom.

Network auditing

This section should specify how your network is monitored for anomalous activity. This includes how you plan to gain visibility into logon attempts, access and use of sensitive data, configuration changes, network traffic, and more.

Social media usage

Since it is common these days for employees to use social media platforms when they are at work, a policy will be required that specifies if, how, when, and where, these platforms can be used.

Incident response

Were a security incident to unfold, there will need to be a clear set of procedures that describe how they are handled, and by whom. The Incident Response Plan (IRP) should also include a section that describes how to investigate and mitigate future incidents.

Data classification

A data classification policy should describe how you intend to classify your data, as well as the technologies used to do so. A classification schema might include general categories, such as Public, Private, and Restricted. Alternatively, your data could be classified in accordance with the data privacy laws relevant to your organization.

Access control

An access control policy describes how access to critical resources is granted and revoked. This should also include information about the types of authentication protocols used (e.g. MFA), and the types of access control methods used (e.g. RBAC).

Physical security

This section will describe the physical safeguards that are (or should be) in place to protect servers, desktops, routers, firewalls, and other critical network resources. Examples of safeguards might include screen locks, door locks, movement sensors, CCTV cameras, key cards, and so on.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

An MDM policy will describe how mobile devices can connect to your network, including the resources they are allowed to access.

Data encryption

Your data encryption policy should explain how sensitive data is encrypted, both at rest and in transit. It should explain the encryption methods used (e.g. RSA) and the types of data that need to be encrypted. Your encryption policy should be in alignment with your data classification policy.

Backup & recovery

You will need a policy that describes how and when backups are taken, where they are stored, and how they are secured. You will also need to include information about how the backups are tested, and how they can be restored in a timely manner.

Software license management

You will need procedures for purchasing software, which will include creating an inventory of all software used, along with any licensing information. You will also need to periodically scan your system for any unauthorized or unlicensed software.

Patch management

In order to ensure that critical software patches are installed as soon as they become available, you will need to document and follow some sort of patch management procedure. You will also need to periodically scan your network for software vulnerabilities.

Regulatory compliance

A section of your data security policy should be dedicated to the data privacy regulations that your organization is bound by. For example, if you are covered by the GDPR, you will need to describe the rights of data subjects, data breach notification procedures, how you plan to lawfully collect, process, and store personal data, and so on.

Data is one of the most valuable resources in an IT organization. It is constantly being created, transmitted, and exposed in a variety of ways over a company’s network. Good policies are the basis of an effective cybersecurity strategy, and the best policies deal with security concerns in advance before they have a chance to materialize.

If you’d like to see how Lepide can help you develop and maintain your data security policy, schedule a demo with one of our engineers or start your free trial today.

Aidan Simister
Aidan Simister

Having worked in the IT industry for a little over 22 years in various capacities, Aidan is a veteran in the field. Specifically, Aidan knows how to build global teams for security and compliance vendors, often from a standing start. After joining Lepide in 2015, Aidan has helped contribute to the accelerated growth in the US and European markets.

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