Policies, Standards, Guidelines, and Procedures

A security program (the total of all technology, processes, procedures, metrics, training, and personnel that are part of the organization's approach to addressing security) should be based on an organization's security policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines that specify what users and administrators should be doing to maintain the security of the systems and network. Collectively, these documents provide the guidance needed to determine how security will be implemented in the organization. Given this guidance, the specific technology and security mechanisms required can be planned for. Policies are high-level, broad statements of what the organization wants to accomplish. Standards are mandatory elements regarding the implementation of a policy.

Some standards can be externally driven. Government regulations for banking and financial institutions, for example, require that certain security measures be taken. Other standards may be set by the organization to meet its own security goals. Guidelines are recommendations relating to a policy. The key term in this case is recommendation- guidelines are not mandatory steps. Procedures are the step-by-step instructions on how to implement policies in the organization.

Just as the network itself constantly changes, the policies, standards, guidelines, and procedures should be included in living documents that are periodically evaluated and changed as necessary. The constant monitoring of the network and the periodic review of the relevant documents are part of the process that is the operational model. This operational process consists of four basic steps:

  • Plan (adjust) for security
  • Implement the plans
  • Monitor the implementation
  • Evaluate the effectiveness

In the first step, you develop the policies, procedures, and guidelines that will be implemented and design the security components that will protect your network. Once these are designed and developed, you can implement the plans. Next, you monitor to ensure that both the hardware and the software as well as the policies, procedures, and guidelines are working to secure your systems. Finally, you evaluate the effectiveness of the security measures you have in place. The evaluation step can include a vulnerability assessment (an attempt to identify and prioritize the list of vulnerabilities within a system or network) and penetration test (a method to check the security of a system by simulating an attack by a malicious individual) of your system to ensure the security is adequate. After evaluating your security posture, you begin again with step one, this time adjusting the security mechanisms you have in place, and then continue with this cyclical process.