Five basic security mistakes

Having a corporate security policy – and disseminating it – isn’t just a good idea. Both actions are required by a slew of regulations.

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Yet there are five mistakes that companies commonly make when writing and implementing security policies.

As simplistic as some of the following errors sound, they happen often enough and cause heavy damage to companies' bottom lines when they do.

Not having a policy

As security policy mistakes go, this is a big one and can range from not having any policy at all to only having an "implied policy" (ie one informally discussed by management, but not written down or distributed to staff).

Not only does this careless approach leave a security weakness and create legal liability, but it might also be in violation of regulations that explicitly mandate a properly written and disseminated security policy.

Of course, as soon as a policy is formally created, companies often discover a large portion of their systems violate it. This isn't surprising, since it indicates the policy was not developed solely around current standards of IT operations.

This means that, in addition to a security policy, companies also must document the deficiencies in their current systems, analyse the risks and assess the costs of remedying those deficiencies.

Not updating the security policy

If you don't fall victim to mistake number one, you will soon become aware of a crucial security point, namely that just having a nicely written policy is not enough for improved security.

Inevitably, there will be changes made to the company network as well as business processes; the security risks and compliance requirements will also change. It makes sense that, as both threats and corporate landscapes evolve, so must the security policy.

Reasons to update the policy include:

  • deployment of new technology (or disposal of outdated software and hardware)
  • new or updated regulatory mandate
  • corporate growth
  • mergers or reorganisations that bring new data and users into the system; and
  • new business lines or practices.

Companies that do not regularly review and update their security policy with these and other changes risk having gaping holes in their threat posture and becoming sitting ducks in the security pond, despite having a "shiny new" security policy document.

Not tracking compliance with the security policy If you have a policy in place and you regularly update it, you have taken two important steps. But other mistakes might get you!

A security policy becomes practically and sometimes even legally useless if a company does not track whether the policy is followed or even whether or not employees are aware of its stipulations.

To be able to enforce the policy, a company must ensure that all employees are informed and given regular awareness training, especially when the policy is updated.

Further, to ensure the usefulness of the policy, ongoing activity monitoring is essential.

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