How To Start Writing An IT Policy?
We know that policies aren’t fun to read, let alone write. But they are an important foundation for building your IT operations and management. Your Information Technology (IT) Policy document doesn’t have to be complicated, overly technical, or pedantic. In fact, if you want your employees to actually read the policy, you should make it easy to read and understand.
Your policy document isn’t sacrosanct and will change as your business needs and technology landscape change. Therefore, keep your policy document current by including only what is necessary right now or in the near future. The rest of the things can be added as and when necessary.
Another thing to keep in mind is to not create a generic document from a template. Even if you start off with a template, it is highly recommended to customize the document to suit your specific business needs. Each business is unique in its culture, technology adoption, compliance requirements, and business goals. Therefore, their policy and security requirements will also vary.
Implementation of an IT policy should not be taken lightly because it has far-reaching implications on not just your IT operations and management but also on your business operations in general. A well-thought-out IT policy document will assist you in running your IT operations efficiently.
Steps for Writing An IT Policy
Here are the steps for drafting an IT policy for your small business:
- Specify the purpose
- Define the scope of the policy
- Define The Components Of The IT Policy:
In the following sections, we will dive deeper into each of the above components of an IT Policy.
1. Specify The Purpose
The very first thing you need to do when writing your IT policy is to specify the purpose of the document. Think of the answers to the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the IT policy?
- Why is it necessary?
- How is it going to be used?
The IT policy of a company defines the rules, regulations, and guidelines for the proper usage, security, and maintenance of the company’s technological assets including the computers, mobile devices, servers, internet, applications, etc. It establishes guidelines for the acceptable and ethical use of the company’s IT infrastructure to ensure the safety, security, and integrity of the data, products, and/or services used by the company as well as of those offered to its customers.
2. Define The Scope Of The Policy
The scope of the document tells you exactly what is included and what isn’t. Don’t leave any ambiguity in your policies. Correctly defining the scope allows the IT managers to calculate the resources required for implementation as well as to establish controls and monitoring systems. In addition, the scope gives a tangible objective for the IT managers as well as the organization.
Think of the following questions:
- Who has to comply with this IT policy- employees, contractors, vendors, etc?
- Which devices are covered- company issued, personal devices?
- Which applications and tools are covered- installed on company devices, installed on personal devices?
3. Components Of The IT Policy
Here’s the list of components you need to include in your IT policy document:
1. Purchase and Installation Policy
The purpose of purchase and installation guidelines for the organization is to ensure that all hardware and software used are appropriate, provide value for money, and integrate with other technologies used within the organization. Another important objective of the purchase policy is to ensure that there is minimum diversity of hardware as well as software within the organization. Uniformity in the devices and software ensures ease of maintenance and IT support.
Consider the following questions:
- Is there an approval process?
- Who is responsible for the purchasing- procurement team, office manager, or IT team?
- Where will they buy from- authorized resellers, pre-identified vendors?
- Are there any standardized configurations for devices?
- Who can install software on devices?
- Is a whitelist of approved software applications maintained by the organization?
If required, consider writing specific subsections for each of the following:
- Software including applications and web tools
- Installation Guidelines
Also, think about inventory management. For small businesses, it is important to not tie up capital in the form of unused devices and equipment. Maintaining an accurate inventory of all the technological assets owned by the organization is an essential part of IT management. For very small businesses this may be done using a spreadsheet that is updated manually. However, software solutions for inventory management are always a better option because they have features that make management, security, and audits much easier.
2. Usage Policy
The usage policy sets the guidelines for the allocation, usage, and maintenance of all company-owned equipment, data, and technology. It defines the guidelines that are important for every employee to understand to be able to use the company’s technological resources responsibly, safely, and legally.
- Device Usage Policy
Consider the following points:
- What devices and peripherals are allocated to employees? Clearly define if there are differences based on the departments, seniority, etc.
- Are there preconditions for the allocation of mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones?
- Is personal use of the devices allowed? If yes, clearly define the stipulations, for example, when is such use allowed, what are their responsibilities with regards to maintenance and security of the devices.
- In case of loss or theft of the device, what procedure must be followed by the employee?
- What’s the procedure for the replacement of the devices?
- What’s the procedure for the return of the devices, for example, when leaving the organization.
- Email Usage Policy
A clearly defined email usage policy reduces the security and business risks faced by the organization. It describes the rules for the use of the company provided email and helps satisfy the legal obligations as well as protects the organization from liabilities.
For drafting your email usage policy, consider the following questions:
- Define the scope of the policy. Is it applicable when the email exchange is done:
- Using a personal device or company-issued device,
- On-premises, off-premises, on business trips, vacations, etc.
- Is personal use of company email allowed? If yes, clearly describe the stipulations.
- Clearly define the data confidentiality and privacy obligations of the email users.
- Is there a standard email signature format? Is it required to get approval for customized email signatures?
- In the case of an email security breach, who should be notified and how?
- Clearly define the ownership of the contents within the company emails. For example, does the organization have the right to intercept, monitor, read, or disclose emails.
- Define the email security obligations, for example-
- Not disabling the email scanning software,
- Not using the company email address on shady websites,
- Not forwarding copyrighted material or media using company email,
- Using spam filters, etc.
- Internet Usage Policy
The internet usage policy describes the rules governing internet use at your organization. It is necessary to ensure that all employees understand how to use the internet responsibly, safely, and legally. A clearly defined internet usage policy reduces cybersecurity risks and satisfies the legal obligations regarding internet use.
For drafting your internet usage policy, consider the following:
- Define the scope- locations and devices covered.
- Is personal use of the internet allowed? If yes, then clearly describe the stipulations.
- Employees must not attempt to disable or circumvent the firewall.
- Is there any restriction on visiting websites or downloading content? If yes, clearly describe those restrictions.
- Clearly define appropriate use and any prohibited activities such as:
- Playing online games
- Downloading pirated media
- Accessing or sharing pornographic or explicit material, etc.
- Define the privacy and security obligations the employees must adhere to while using the internet.
- Social Media Policy
Social media can bring significant benefits to your business branding and marketing. However, it is very easy to become unpopular on social media. A poorly chosen sentence posted online can make you go viral and may lead to loss of business and reputation. Therefore, the use of social media must be regulated using a clearly defined social media policy.
Firstly, define what is social media according to the organization. It isn’t limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but can also include personal blogs, vlogs, and podcasts as well as posting or commenting on websites. Clearly state, who is authorized to speak, post, and create new accounts on behalf of the organization and who isn’t. If you use company social media accounts, the access to those accounts must be documented and pre-approved.
The use of personal social media accounts at work is a sensitive and polarizing topic. Whether you decide to allow it or not, clearly define it in the social media policy and include the stipulations of acceptable usage. It is also a good practice to issue guidelines on how the employees ought to conduct themselves on social media while they are employed with the company.
- Account Management
Define the policies governing the creation and management of accounts and usernames. State who is responsible for these activities. Set guidelines for remote access methods and access privileges based on roles and needs. Documenting the privileges of the different users is necessary for effective user management as well as for security audits.
Consider adding a clause regarding user classification as it will help the organization in the creation of user groups for access control, monitoring, and security. Explicitly define the privileges of different types of users within the organization. Also, define the process for adding users to or changing users from one group to another.
Here’s an example of how you can classify users:
- General Users
- Users With Special Access
- IT Support
3. IT Security Policy
IT security is a vast topic and it is easily possible to draft a separate IT Security Policy document. However, for most small companies, it is sufficient to cover the basic IT security components within your larger IT policy document.
- Physical Security
Physical security is an important part of IT security because it offers a simple way of mitigating many security risks. For example, simple access restrictions and sign-in logs can prevent threat actors from physically accessing your servers, routers, switches, etc.
- Network Security
Network security requires special attention as it is a common target for cyber-attacks. Describe the tools, processes, and procedures in place for ensuring the security of the organization’s computer network.
For a better understanding of network security requirements, refer to the blog The Ultimate Network Security Checklist It will help you draft the necessary clauses for network security. You can also attach the network security checklist as an appendix to your IT policy.
Consider how the organization will mitigate cybersecurity risks and enumerate those provisions here. Draft clauses around the following points:
- Use of software, application, and browser extensions.
- Use of USBs and external hard drives.
- Data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity.
- Who to contact and what to do in case of a cybersecurity incident.
- Conducting training on IT and Security policies and their frequency.
- Password policy and use of a password manager.
- Use of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
- Use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools.
An IT security audit assesses the security of your organization’s IT systems. It covers the entire IT infrastructure including personal computers, servers, network routers, switches, etc. Audits are an iterative process and need to be reviewed and updated regularly.
For a deeper dive into audits, check out our blog: The Best IT security Audit Checklist For Small Business. In fact, you can use the step-by-step described in that blog to conduct audits and add that process as an appendix to your IT policy document.
4. Data Security Policy
Running a business requires you to gather certain information about individuals including employees, clients, business partners, vendors, etc. Therefore, you will need a policy that provides guidelines on how this data must be collected, stored, and handled to ensure that all involved parties are protected from risks of data breaches. If your business is data-intensive, the topic of data confidentiality and security can be a standalone policy. However, for most small businesses covering the basics of data use, access, and security should be sufficient.
For drafting your data security policy, consider the following:
- Define the scope- who does this policy apply to and what data is included?
- Set guidelines regarding the storage, access, usage, modification, sharing as well as how to ensure data accuracy, integrity, and security.
- Describe the methods in place for ensuring data security such as access control, authentication, monitoring, etc.
For a deeper understanding of data security, check out our blog: How To Secure Company Data. It will also help you draft relevant clauses for your data security policy document.
5. Policy Enforcement And Sanctions For Violation
The IT policy isn’t just a document that employees read once during onboarding and then forget about it. The IT policy is a document that should be referred to whenever there is any doubt or ambiguity about the usage, maintenance, and security of the information technology infrastructure of the organization.
The policy will be of little use if it isn’t enforced. So you need to describe how the organization intends to enforce the policies laid out in this document. List the tools, processes, and procedures that will be used to ensure compliance with the IT policy.
Also, clearly define what the organization may do in case anyone is found to have willfully breached any part of the policy. You may define different levels of the breaches based on risk, for example, low risk, medium risk, and high risk. Commensurate sanctions should be laid out for each category of breaches.
Putting Your IT Policy Document Together
The writing style of your policy document doesn’t have to be formal or long-winded. Remember who you are writing it for and keep the language consistent with that of the end-users. Keep the language simple so that it is easy to understand and there is no ambiguity. When sharing the policy document within your organization, make sure that everyone understands the intent of the policy.
Another thing you should keep in mind is to discourage the use of printed copies of the policy. Once the document is printed it is no longer a controlled copy and it could easily have been edited or it could be an older version of the document. This can cause unnecessary confusion and can even lead to security breaches. Always keep the latest copy of the document, ideally a PDF file, in a shared folder with read-only access. This ensures that the document isn’t tampered with in any way and the version is always current.
The most important feature of an IT policy is that it is a living document. So you need to take it upon yourself to ensure that the IT Policy document doesn’t turn into a one-time project collecting dust or hidden away in a remote folder. Make training sessions and refresher courses part of your policy document and engage the whole organization on how to improve it and review it frequently, at least once every 6 months. After every IT policy training or workshop, get all the participants to sign a copy of the policy as an acknowledgment of their acceptance of the policy.
Whether you are just starting to think about writing an IT policy or looking to improve an existing one, following industry best practices will provide valuable insights and guidance as well as avoid common pitfalls. To help you get started, we have written a guide sharing our top 8 best practices for writing an IT policy for an organization. You can access the guide here: Best Practices For Writing An IT Policy For Your Organization
Source : https://www.itjones.com