Guide: Data Security

Data Security Policy: Why It’s Important and How to Make It Great

What Is a Data Security Policy?

A data security policy regulates the usage, management, and monitoring of data in an organization. Its primary goal is to protect all data used, managed, and stored by a company. Data security policies are typically not required by law, but can help organizations comply with data protection standards and regulations.

Data security policies should cover all data stored by an organization—including on-premises storage devices, off-site locations, cloud services, and endpoints such as laptops or mobile devices. A comprehensive security policy can be instrumental in ensuring the security and integrity of data at rest and data in transit.

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Why Is a Data Security Policy Important?

An effective data security policy is an important instrument organizations can use to meet their compliance requirements, prevent data breaches and security incidents. In many countries and industries, certain data is protected by regulations or industry standards. Confidential data, personally identifiable information (PII) and intellectual property must be protected to a higher level than other data.

 

Related content: Read our guide to data security management

Key Elements of a Data Security Policy

When creating a data security policy for an organization, it is important to determine the following:

 

  • Inventory of data stored by the organization.
  • The goals of the security policy.
  • Which background events and authority have led to the creation of the policy.
  • The planned scope of the policy.
  • The stakeholders impacted by the security policy.
  • Organizational roles responsible for implementing the policy.
  • Means and methods for implementing and enforcing the policy, including security tools and storage equipment.

Technology Aspects of a Data Security Policy

A data security policy needs to address the following elements in an organization’s IT environment.

System Security

Physical and logical protection of servers, routers, firewalls and other IT assets is a requirement of most data security policies. Organizations should ensure they can back up and restore servers and critical systems and the data they store.

Data Encryption

Best practices require data security policies that require encryption of data at rest and in motion. This means third parties who illicitly obtain the data cannot make use of it. Data classification processes can be used to identify sensitive data that requires encryption for compliance or other reasons—such as personally identifiable data (PII) or protected health information (PHI).

Mobile Device Management

The proliferation of mobile device use in enterprise environments has been a challenge for many businesses. Mobile devices often store sensitive business data. One option is to use mobile device management solutions that can ensure mobile endpoints are secure. Another option is to isolate mobile devices on networks that have little or no access to the corporate intranet, especially for employee- and guest-owned mobile devices.

Backup, Recovery and Disaster Recovery (DR)

Organizations must ensure that all data is backed up and that backups are protected as carefully as production data. Backups should provide both logical and physical security—for example, they should be encrypted and some backups should be stored offsite. 

 

Organizations should regularly test backups and ensure they can quickly restore the data. Having a dedicated DR environment is important to ensure business continuity in case of a large-scale disaster. Today DR sites are commonly set up using cloud services.

Data Security Policy Template Example

Here is a sample structure showing the six main sections of a data security policy:

 

  1. Purpose—this section explains why the organization is maintaining the policy.
  2. Scope—this section lists all areas that apply to the policy, such as data sources and data types.
  3. Policy requirements—this section lists principles, access control requirements, network access, application access, user responsibilities, definitions and criteria for sensitive data.
  4. Reporting requirements—this section describes the requirements for reporting data incidents if they occur.
  5. Responsibilities—this section states who in the organization is responsible for implementing and applying the policy and what their responsibilities include.
  6. Enforcement—this section details penalties for policy violations.

Data Security Policy: Best Practices for Success

Data security policies can vary in structure and content, but a policy’s main purpose is to ensure that everyone understands the organization’s data security requirements. Policies must be clear and easy to understand, accessible to all (including employees and stakeholders without security expertise), and contain the relevant details for each audience. 

 

Every relevant stakeholder should participate in creating a data security policy, which is the first line of defense against security risks. The input of business partners, users, suppliers, and other third parties is essential to enable proper enforcement, which is not the sole responsibility of the IT or security team. Implementing the policy and ensuring compliance may be difficult without enterprise-wide support. 

 

Here are some best practices to help build and enforce an effective data security policy:

 

  • Confirming executive approval—it is easier to implement a policy that has the buy-in of business leaders.
  • Addressing all relevant regulations—involves listing any applicable data security regulations in the industry and location of the organization. These regulatory requirements inform the content of the policy.
  • Evaluating the existing business ecosystem—management must clearly understand the organization’s existing data, processes, and systems. This requires close collaboration with the business team. 
  • Customizing the policy—an effective policy addresses the organization’s specific needs. It is important to clarify the policy’s scope and objectives.
  • Identifying business and security risks—proper risk assessments are crucial for defining and implementing effective responses. The data security policy should address various risks and include risk management and response procedures. Using a risk-based approach helps ensure data security.
  • Adopting new security measures—the risks identified should inform which additional measures can help strengthen the organization’s security profile. At this stage, the organization is likely to adopt additional security controls
  • Regularly updating the policy—the above practices should occur on an ongoing basis, with management identifying risks and implementing new security practices and controls to keep up with the changing environment.
  • Documenting all security procedures—the success of a data security policy relies on properly described procedures. It is important to keep track of whether employees correctly apply these procedures, maintaining thorough records of security workflows. Documentation is important for providing evidence of compliance and allowing testers to examine the efficacy of the procedures.
  • Assessing compliance—management should measure compliance with the data security policy to determine its effectiveness. This assessment may also be required for legal purposes.
  • Ensuring awareness—all employees and stakeholders must be familiar with the policy to ensure active implementation. Simply writing down a list of rules and procedures cannot guarantee data security without the knowledge and participation of the workforce. Organizations should provide adequate training to ensure each employee knows the policy’s up-to-date content and compliance procedures. Awareness training may include an onboarding process for new users and regular security training for existing users.

Managing Data Security Policies with Satori

Satori, The DataSecOps platform, gives companies the ability to enforce security policies from a single location, across all databases, data warehouses and data lakes. Such security policies can be data masking, data localization, row-level security and more.

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