The 3 Main Types of Security Policies in Cybersecurity

by KirkpatrickPrice / April 2nd, 2024

In 2020, security breaches cost businesses an average of $3.86 million, but the cost of individual incidents varied significantly. The main factor in the cost variance was cybersecurity policies and how well they were implemented. Cost mitigating factors include security best practices such as encryption and vulnerability testing, but board involvement in creating and enforcing security policies also had a substantial impact. 

Organizational security starts at the top, with clearly defined information security policies that influence how the organization as a whole prioritizes security, implements security best practices, and responds to threats. 

What is an Information Security Policy?

Information security policies are high-level documents that outline an organization‚Äôs stance on security issues. They are typically supported by senior executives and are intended to provide a security framework that guides managers and employees throughout the organization. 

Information security policies rarely mandate specific security technologies and approaches, but they do define the organization‚Äôs goals, requirements, and responsibilities concerning information security. 

For example, a security policy might mandate that data on company-owned laptops is encrypted, that employees must not share data using unencrypted services, and that team leaders are responsible for ensuring people under their supervision follow these encryption best practices. However, high-level policies do not usually explain which encryption algorithms should be used or how encryption should be implemented. 

Learn more about why security policies matter in Auditor Insights: Policies and Procedures Are Better Than Gold.

What Are The Types of Cybersecurity Policy?

Security policies can be categorized according to various criteria. One method is to categorize policies by scope:

  • An organizational security policy describes the whole organization‚Äôs security objectives and its commitment to information security. It can be thought of as the primary document from which other security policies are derived. Also, it often informs the organization‚Äôs compliance goals. 
  • System-specific security policies focus on the information security policies of particular systems. For example, policies for customer-facing applications, payroll systems, or data archive systems. They typically articulate security objectives and the operational security rules intended to support them. 
  • Issue-specific security policies provide guidelines for particular threats or categories of threats. An organization may create a security policy that focuses on phishing attacks or general email security, for example. 

The organizational security policy is often the broadest and most abstract, with objective and rule specificity increasing as the policy addresses increasingly low-level issues. 

Which Information Security Issues Should Cybersecurity Policies Address?

If your organization lacks an information security policy for some area of concern, security in that area is likely to be disorganized, fragmented, and ineffective. 

The issues that security policies should address differ between organizations, but some of the most important include:

  • Physical security: How is security handled at data centers, server rooms, and end-points within the company‚Äôs offices and elsewhere? Physical security policies address a wide range of objectives, including access management, monitoring, and identification of secure areas.
  • Data retention: Which data does the company collect and process? Where, how, and for how long should it be stored? Data retention policies impact several areas, including security, privacy, and compliance.
  • Data encryption: How does the organization handle the secure storage and transmission of data? In addition to encryption objectives, data encryption policies may also discuss objectives and rules around key management and authentication.
  • Access control: Who can access sensitive data, and what systems should be in place to ensure that sensitive data is identified and protected from unauthorized access?
  • Security training: Security relies as much on people as it does on technology and systems. Human error contributes to many security breaches that could have been avoided if employees and executives received sufficient training. 
  • Risk management: Information security risk management policies focus on risk assessment methodologies, the organization‚Äôs tolerance for risk in various systems, and who is responsible for managing risk. 
  • Business continuity: How will your organization react during a security incident that threatens critical business processes and assets? Security and business continuity interact in several ways: security threats can quickly become threats to business continuity, and the processes and infrastructure businesses use to maintain continuity must be designed with security in mind. 

Cybersecurity Policy FAQs

Why is compliance with security policies, standards, and procedures mandatory?

Compliance with security policies, standards, and procedures is mandatory because they establish a framework necessary to achieve and maintain security within an organization. Security policies set out the overarching security goals and requirements, while standards provide specific instructions on how to fulfill those objectives. Procedures offer detailed guidance on implementing security controls, ensuring that all necessary security measures are in place.

By adhering to these documents, organizations create a structured approach to security that safeguards against potential threats and vulnerabilities. Ultimately, compliance with security policies, standards, and procedures is essential to maintaining comprehensive security and minimizing risks across the organization.

How do security guidelines differ from security policies and standards?

Security guidelines differ from security policies and standards in their level of flexibility and optional compliance. While security policies and standards are usually mandatory and dictate specific rules and requirements, guidelines are more like recommendations and practical guidance. They are designed to help staff implement standards and baselines, targeting all levels of staff, including security professionals and general users.

Guidelines are intentionally flexible and can be customized for new equipment and emerging situations. Compliance with guidelines is considered optional, allowing for some adaptability based on specific needs and circumstances.

What is the purpose of security baselines and common standards referenced?

Security baselines serve the purpose of defining minimum levels of security that all systems must adhere to, ensuring a foundational level of protection against potential threats. These baselines are often specific to individual systems and are typically framed in relation to industry or government standards. By setting these baselines, organizations can establish a solid starting point for their security posture.

Common standards referenced in relation to security baselines include the Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (TCSEC), the Information Technology Security Evaluation and Criteria (ITSEC), and the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) standards. These standards provide established guidelines and frameworks that help organizations evaluate and enhance their security measures, ensuring alignment with best practices in cybersecurity.

By following these standards, organizations can strengthen their overall security infrastructure and better protect their systems and data from potential threats.

Partner with KirkpatrickPrice to Strengthen Your Information Security Program

We‚Äôve covered just a few of the security policies relevant to organizations in many different industries. Each organization is different. The type and content of policies should be tailored to your business‚Äôs unique circumstances, and they should evolve as those circumstances change. You can learn more about how to write effective security policies in our Style Guide to Creating Good Policies. However, we know that determining which policies are right for your organization can feel overwhelming at first. If you need help reviewing your policies or have questions about your organization’s information security program, connect with one of our experts today.