Developing a Successful Information Security Policy (ISP)

Developing a Successful Information Security Policy (ISP)

To effectively prevent data breaches, companies must develop and implement a comprehensive information security policy. An information security policy is a set of rules, procedures and guidelines that protect an organization’s data. These policies are tailored to the unique threats, security frameworks and organizational model of each company. An effective security policy reflects how the organization’s people see and value their information. This approach can then be distilled into the policy’s goals, objectives, and regulations. Here are the steps you need to follow while developing an effective information security policy:

Define the Scope and Objectives of the Policy

The first step in developing an effective information security policy is to define the scope and objective. The scope of the information security policy defines the boundaries of the policy. It identifies the information assets, systems, networks, and employees that the policy applies to. The scope of the policy should be clear and well-defined, so that everyone understands the purpose and limits of the policy. The scope may also include any legal, regulatory, or contractual requirements that the policy must comply with.

The objectives of an information security policy are the goals and outcomes that the policy aims to achieve. The objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Ensure that the security objectives are aligned with the overall business objectives of the organization. This will help to ensure that the policy is integrated into the organization's strategic planning.

Conduct Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is an essential part of developing an information security policy. It helps you identify potential threats and vulnerabilities that may affect your business and allows you to develop a strategy to prevent those risks from happening. To identify potential threats, you must examine every type of information, including hardware, software, and network connections. You also need to evaluate your organization’s processes and procedures, so you know how to protect sensitive data. Once you’ve gathered all the information, you can analyze each potential threat to determine how likely it is that you will be affected by it. This can be done through a combination of risk modeling and threat assessments, as well as analyzing existing cyber security controls to determine whether they are effective.

Your risk management team must also look at advanced persistent threats (APTs). They can occur in a wide variety of ways, such as through malware, ransomware, or cyber-espionage. APTs are a major focus for many security teams, and they can have significant impacts on your business. They can disrupt operations, steal confidential data, and cause reputational damage.

In addition, regularly review and update the risk assessment to ensure that it remains current and relevant to the organization's changing information security environment.

Define the Policy

The definition of information security policy is a vital part of any successful IT security program. The policy is a blueprint for your organization’s data protection efforts, and it must be updated on a regular basis to remain effective. It must be realistic and relevant, and it must have language that’s both comprehensive and concise. Define the framework for the policy, including encryption, access controls, and monitoring that will be used to protect the information assets and stakeholders. You’ll also need to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of employees, contractors, and partners in implementing the policy. This will help to ensure that they can avoid security threats such as phishing scams and social engineering attacks.

Another important thing is to establish procedures for responding to security incidents, including reporting, investigation, and remediation.  They outline the steps that an organization should take in the event of a security incident, such as a data breach, cyber-attack, or other security event. By having well-defined incident response procedures in place, an organization can minimize the impact of security incidents and ensure that critical information assets are protected.

You should carefully document your procedures. By ensuring that all the workflows are documented, you will be able to easily implement your policies.

Communicate the Policy

Communicating the information security policy effectively is critical to its success. Use clear and simple language to communicate the policy, avoiding technical jargon or complex terminology.  It’s crucial to educate everyone who is working with your organization’s data and IT systems. This will ensure that they understand the importance of implementing your information security policy and are willing to comply with it. 

This will also help to avoid any potential gaps in your policy that could result in information leaks or other issues. Educating everyone is also essential to making information security a part of your culture. This will make employees more likely to implement the policies you set for them and will prevent them from ignoring any warnings you give them. Unless the people who use your computer network are knowledgeable about what they are required to do, there will be no guarantee that your policies will be a success.

Implement and Maintain the Policy

Once you’ve developed a solid policy, it’s time to put it into action. Start by forming a team that’s solely focused on information security. This team will be in charge of developing and enforcing your policy, responding to an ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity threats and defining risk thresholds.

It’s also important to make sure this team is familiar with all the regulatory and compliance standards that apply to your business, so they can understand how to comply with them. This will ensure that your policy reflects the best practices in information security in your industry.

Another important part of this step is determining the kind of security that’s required for the different types of data your organization holds. For example, you may want to set higher standards for the finance department than for the marketing department based on the sensitive data they handle.

In addition, be sure to enforce your security policies equally at all levels of your company. This will ensure that everyone is held accountable for their own actions.

Monitor and Enforce the Policy

Once implemented, your information security policy needs to be kept up-to-date, and reviewed regularly. It should also be flexible enough to accommodate technological advances and changes within the organization. Assign responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the policy to a specific individual or team, such as an information security officer or IT security team.

Reinforce the policy regularly through ongoing training and communication, and through reminders such as posters, newsletters, or email notifications. You can also use technology to help enforce the policy, such as implementing access controls, intrusion detection systems, and data loss prevention tools.

By monitoring and enforcing the information security policy, you can help ensure that the policy is effective in protecting the organization's information assets, and those employees and stakeholders understand their responsibilities in protecting sensitive information.

Characteristics of a Successful Information Security Policy

The role of policy is to codify guiding principles, shape behavior, provide guidance for decision makers, and serve as an implementation roadmap. An information security policy is a directive that defines how an organization is going to protect its information assets and information systems, ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and maintain an environment that supports the guiding principles. 

The objective of an information security policy and corresponding program is to:

1.    Protect the organization, its employees, its customers, and also vendors and partners from harm resulting from intentional or accidental damage, misuse, or disclosure of information;

2.    Protect the integrity of the information; and

3.    Ensure the availability of information systems.

Successful information security policies establish what must be done and why it must be done, but not how to do it. Good policy has the following seven characteristics:

1.    Endorsed – The policy has the support of management.

2.    Relevant - The policy is applicable to the organization.

3.    Realistic – The policy makes sense.

4.    Attainable – The policy can be successfully implemented.

5.    Adaptable – The policy can accommodate change.

6.    Enforceable – The policy is statutory.

7.    Inclusive – The policy scope includes all relevant parties.

Taken together, the characteristics can be thought of as a policy pie, with each slice being equally important.


We have all heard the saying “Actions speak louder than words.” In order for an information security policy to be successful, leadership must not only believe in the policy, they must also act accordingly by demonstrating an active commitment to the policy by serving as role models. This requires visible participation and action, ongoing communication and championing, investment, and prioritization. 

Nothing will doom a policy quicker than having management ignore, or worse, disobey or circumvent it. Conversely, visible leadership and encouragement are two of the strongest motivators known to human kind. 


Strategically, the information security policy must support the guiding principles and goals of the organization. Tactically, it must be relevant to those who must comply. Introducing a policy to a group of people who find nothing recognizable in relation to their everyday experience is a recipe for disaster.

Policy writing is a thoughtful process that must take into account the environment. If policies are not relevant, they will be ignored or worse, dismissed as unnecessary and management will be perceived as being out of touch.


Think back to your childhood to a time you were forced to follow a rule you did not think made any sense. The most famous defense most of us were given by our parents in response to our protest was “Because I said so!” We can remember how frustrated we became whenever we heard that statement, and how it seemed unjust. We may also remember our desire to deliberately disobey our parents – to rebel against this perceived tyranny. In very much the same way, policies will be rejected if they are not realistic. Policies must reflect the reality of the environment in which they will be implemented.

If you engage constituents in policy development, acknowledge challenges, provide appropriate training, and consistently enforce policies, employees will be more likely to accept and follow the policies.


Information security policies and procedures should only require what is possible. If we assume that the objective of a policy is to advance the organization’s guiding principles, one can also assume that a positive outcome is desired. A policy should never set up constituents for failure; rather, it should provide a clear path for success.

It is important to seek advice and input from key people in every job role in which the policies apply. If unattainable outcomes are expected, people will fail. This will have a profound effect on morale and will ultimately affect productivity. Know what is possible.


In order to thrive and grow, businesses must be open to changes in the market and willing to take measured risks. A static set-in-stone information security policy is detrimental to innovation. Innovators are hesitant to talk with security, compliance, or risk departments for fear that their ideas will immediately be discounted as contrary to policy or regulatory requirement. “Going around” security is understood as the way to get things done. The unfortunate result is the introduction of products or services that may put the organization at risk.

An adaptable information security policy recognizes that information security is not a static, point-in-time endeavor, but rather an ongoing process designed to support the organizational mission. The information security program should be designed in such a way that participants are encourage to challenge conventional wisdom, reassess the current policy requirements, and explore new options without losing sight of the fundamental objective. Organizations that are committed to secure products and services often discover it to be a sales enabler and competitive differentiator.


Enforceable means that administrative, physical, or technical controls can be put in place to support the policy, that compliance can be measured and, if necessary, appropriate sanctions applied.

If a rule is broken and there is no consequence, then the rule is in effect meaningless. However, there must be a fair way to determine if a policy is violated, which includes evaluating the organization support of the policy. Sanctions should be clearly defined and commensurate with the associated risk. A clear and consistent process should be in place so that all similar violations are treated in the same manner.


It is important to include external parties in our policy thought process. It used to be that organizations only had to be concerned about information and systems housed within their walls. That is no longer the case. Data (and the systems that store, transmit, and process it) are now widely and globally distributed. Organizations that choose to put information in or use systems in “the cloud” may face the additional challenge of having to assess and evaluate vendor controls across distrusted systems in multiple locations. The reach of the Internet has facilitated worldwide commerce, which means that policies may have to consider an international audience of customers, business partners, and employees. The trend toward outsourcing and subcontracting requires that policies be designed in such a way to incorporate third parties. Information security policies must also consider external threats such as unauthorized access, vulnerability exploits, intellectual property theft, denial of service attacks, and hacktivism done in the name of cybercrime, terrorism, and warfare.

An information security policy must take into account organization objectives; international law; the cultural norms of its employees, business partners, suppliers, and customers; environmental impacts and global cyber threats. The hallmark of a great information security policy is that it positively affects the organization, its shareholders, employees, and customers, as well as the global community.

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