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10 steps to a successful security policy

By Adrian Duigan, NetIQ
October 8, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - There are two parts to any security policy. One deals with preventing external threats to maintain the integrity of the network. The second deals with reducing internal risks by defining appropriate use of network resources.

Addressing external threats is technology-oriented. While there are plenty of technologies available to reduce external network threats -- firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion-detection systems, e-mail filters and others -- these resources are mostly implemented by IT staff and are undetected by the user.

However, appropriate use of the network inside a company is a management issue. Implementing an acceptable use policy (AUP), which by definition regulates employee behavior, requires tact and diplomacy.

At the very least, having such a policy can protect you and your company from liability if you can show that any inappropriate activities were undertaken in violation of that policy. More likely, however, a logical and well-defined policy will reduce bandwidth consumption, maximize staff productivity and reduce the prospect of any legal issues in the future.

These 10 points, while certainly not comprehensive, provide a common-sense approach to developing and implementing an AUP that will be fair, clear and enforceable.

1. Identify your risks

What are your risks from inappropriate use? Do you have information that should be restricted? Do you send or receive a lot of large attachments and files? Are potentially offensive attachments making the rounds? It might be a nonissue. Or it could be costing you thousands of dollars per month in lost employee productivity or computer downtime.

A good way to identify your risks can be through the use of monitoring or reporting tools. Many vendors of firewalls and Internet security products allow evaluation periods for their products. If those products provide reporting information, it can be helpful to use these evaluation periods to assess your risks. However, it's important to ensure that your employees are aware that you will be recording their activity for the purposes of risk assessment, if this is something you choose to try. Many employees may view this as an invasion of their privacy if it's attempted without their knowledge.

2. Learn from others

There are many types of security policies, so it's important to see what other organizations like yours are doing. You can spend a couple of hours browsing online, or you can buy a book such as Information Security Policies Made Easy by Charles Cresson Wood, which has more than 1,200 policies ready to customize. Also, talk to the sales reps from various security software vendors. They are always happy to give out information.

3. Make sure the policy conforms to legal requirements

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