Organizational Policies and Procedures

Policies are high-level statements created by management that lay out the organization's positions on particular issues. Policies are mandatory but are not specific in their details.

Policies are focused on the result, not the methods for achieving that result. Procedures are generally step-by-step instructions that prescribe exactly how employees are expected to act in a given situation or to accomplish a specific task. Although standard policies can be described in general terms that will be applicable to all organizations, standards and procedures are often organization-specific and driven by specific organizational policies.

Regarding security, every organization should have several common policies in place in addition to those already discussed relative to access control methods. These policies include acceptable use policies, due care, separation of duties, and policies governing the protection of personally identifiable information (PII), and they are addressed in the following sections. Other important policy-related issues covered here include privacy, service level agreements, human resources policies, codes of ethics, and policies governing incident response.

Security Policies

In keeping with the high-level nature of policies, the security policy is a high-level statement produced by senior management that outlines what security means to the organization and the organization's goals for security. The main security policy can then be broken down into additional policies that cover specific topics. Statements such as "this organization will exercise the principle of least access in its handling of client information" would be an example of a security policy. The security policy can also describe how security is to be handled from an organizational point of view (such as describing which office and corporate officer or manager oversees the organization's security program).

Change Management

The purpose of change management is to ensure proper procedures are followed when modifications to the IT infrastructure are made. These modifications can be prompted by a number of different reasons including new legislation, updated versions of software or hardware, implementation of new software or hardware, or improvements to the infrastructure. The term "management" implies that this process should be controlled in some systematic way, and that is indeed the purpose. Changes to the infrastructure can have a detrimental impact on operations. New versions of operating systems or application software can be incompatible with other software or hardware the organization is using. Without a process to manage the change, an organization can suddenly find itself unable to conduct business.

Classification of Information

A key component of IT security is the protection of the information processed and stored on the computer systems and network. Organizations deal with many different types of information, and they need to recognize that not all information is of equal importance or sensitivity. This prompts a classification of information into various categories, each with its own requirements for its handling. Factors that affect the classification of specific information include its value to the organization (what will be the impact to the organization if it loses this information?), its age, and laws or regulations that govern its protection. The most widely known classification of information is that implemented by the government and military, which classifies information into categories such as confidential, secret, and top secret. Businesses have similar desires to protect information but can use categories such as publicly releasable, proprietary, company confidential or for internal use only. Each policy for a classification of information should describe how it should be protected, who may have access to it, who has the authority to release it and how it should be destroyed. All employees of the organization should be trained in the procedures for handling the information that they are authorized to access. Discretionary and mandatory access control techniques use classifications as a method to identify who may have access to what resources.

Acceptable Use

An acceptable use policy (AUP) outlines what the organization considers to be the appropriate use of company resources, such as computer systems, e-mail, Internet, and networks. Organizations should be concerned with the personal uses of organizational assets that do not benefit the company.

The goal of the policy is to ensure employee productivity while limiting organizational liability through inappropriate use of the organization's assets. The policy should clearly delineate what activities are not allowed. Issues such as the use of resources to conduct personal business, installation of hardware or software, remote access to systems and networks, the copying of company-owned software, and the responsibility of users to protect company assets, including data, software, and hardware should be addressed. Statements regarding possible penalties for ignoring any of the policies (such as termination) should also be included.

Internet Usage Policy In today's highly connected environment, employee use of access to the Internet is of particular concern. The goal for the Internet usage policy is to ensure maximum employee productivity and to limit potential liability to the organization from inappropriate use of the Internet in a workplace. The Internet provides a tremendous temptation for employees to waste hours as they surf the Web for the scores of the important games from the previous night, conduct quick online stock transactions, or read the review of the latest blockbuster movie everyone is talking about. Obviously, every minute they spend conducting this sort of activity is time they are not productively engaged in the organization's business and their jobs. In addition, allowing employees to visit sites that may be considered offensive to others (such as pornographic or hate sites) can open the company to accusations of condoning a hostile work environment and result in legal liability.

E-Mail Usage Policy Related to the Internet usage policy is the e-mail usage policy, which deals with what the company will allow employees to send in terms of e-mail. This policy should spell out whether non-work e-mail traffic is allowed at all or is at least severely restricted. It needs to cover the type of message that would be considered inappropriate to send to other employees (for example, no offensive language, no sex related or ethnic jokes, no harassment, and so on). The policy should also specify any disclaimers that must be attached to an employee's message sent to an individual outside the company.

Due Care and Due Diligence

Due care and due diligence are terms used in the legal and business community to address issues where one party's actions might have caused loss or injury to another's. Basically, the law recognizes the responsibility of an individual or organization to act reasonably relative to another with diligence being the degree of care and caution exercised. Reasonable precautions need to be taken that indicate that the organization is being responsible. In terms of security, it is expected that organizations will take reasonable precautions to protect the information that it maintains on other individuals. Should a person suffer a loss as a result of negligence on the part of an organization in terms of its security, a legal suit can be brought against the organization.

Due Process

Due process is concerned with guaranteeing fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty in relation to an individual's legal rights. In the United States, due process is concerned with the guarantee of an individual's rights as outlined by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Procedural due process is based on the concept of what is "fair." Also of interest is the recognition by courts of a series of rights that are not explicitly specified by the Constitution but that the courts have decided are implicit in the concepts embodied by the Constitution. An example of this is an individual's right to privacy. From an organization's point of view, due process may come into play during an administrative action that adversely affects an employee. Before an employee is terminated, for example, were all of the employee's rights protected? An actual example pertains to the rights of privacy regarding employees' e-mail messages. As the number of cases involving employers examining employee e-mails grows, case law is established and the courts eventually settle on what rights an employee can expect. The best thing an employer can do if faced with this sort of situation is to work closely with HR staff to ensure that appropriate policies are followed and that those policies are in keeping with current laws and regulations.

Separation of Duties

Separation of duties is a principle employed in many organizations to ensure that no single individual has the ability to conduct transactions alone. This means that the level of trust in any one individual is lessened, and the ability for any individual to cause catastrophic damage to the organization is also lessened. An example might be an organization in which one person has the ability to order equipment, but another individual makes the payment. An individual who wants to make an unauthorized purchase for his own personal gain would have to convince another person to go along with the transaction.

Need to Know and Least Privilege

Two other common security principles are that of need to know and least privilege. The guiding factor here is that each individual in the organization is supplied with only the absolute minimum amount of information and privileges she needs to perform her work tasks. To obtain access to any piece of information, the individual must have a justified need to know. In addition, she will be granted only the bare minimum number of privileges that are needed to perform her job.

A policy spelling out these two principles as guiding philosophies for the organization should be created. The policy should also address who in the organization can grant access to information or may assign privileges to employees.

Disposal and Destruction

Many potential intruders have learned the value of dumpster diving. Not only should an organization be concerned with paper trash and discarded objects, but it must also be concerned with the information stored on discarded objects such as computers. Several government organizations have been embarrassed when old computers sold to salvagers proved to contain sensitive documents on their hard drives. It is critical for every organization to have a strong disposal and destruction policy and related procedures.


Customers place an enormous amount of trust in organizations to which they provide personal information.

These customers expect their information to be kept secure so that unauthorized individuals will not gain access to it and so that authorized users will not use the information in unintended ways. Organizations should have a privacy policy that explains what their guiding principles will be in guarding personal data to which they are given access. In many locations, customers have a legal right to expect that their information is kept private, and organizations that violate this trust may find themselves involved in a lawsuit. In certain sectors, such as health care, federal regulations have been created that prescribe stringent security controls on private information.

Service Level Agreements

Service level agreements (SLAs) are contractual agreements between entities describing specified levels of service that the servicing entity agrees to guarantee for the customer. These agreements clearly lay out expectations in terms of the service provided and support expected, and they also generally include penalties should the described level of service or support not be provided. An organization contracting with a service provider should remember to include in the agreement a section describing the service provider's responsibility in terms of business continuity and disaster recovery. The provider's backup plans and processes for restoring lost data should also be clearly described.

Human Resources Policies

It has been said that the weakest links in the security chain are the humans. Consequently, it is important for organizations to have policies in place relative to its employees.

Policies that relate to the hiring of individuals are primarily important. The organization needs to make sure that it hires individuals that can be trusted with the organization's data and that of its clients. Once employees are hired, they should be kept from slipping into the category of "disgruntled employee." Finally, policies must be developed to address the inevitable point in the future when an employee leaves the organization- either on his own or with the "encouragement" of the organization itself. Security issues must be considered at each of these points.

Code of Ethics

Numerous professional organizations have established codes of ethics for their members. Each of these describes the expected behavior of their members from a high-level standpoint. Organizations can adopt this idea as well. For organizations, a code of ethics can set the tone for how employees will be expected to act and to conduct business. The code should demand honesty from employees and should require that they perform all activities in a professional manner. The code could also address principles of privacy and confidentiality and state how employees should treat client and organizational data. Conflicts of interest can often cause problems, so this could also be covered in the code of ethics.