Modern day IT ecosystems are complex. Vast swaths of data need to seamlessly move throughout the networks’ applications, databases, and servers in a fast and secure manner. That data—especially the sensitive data—must be protected at all costs. This is what information security program plans are designed to accomplish.
When done correctly, these plans can help you ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your client and customer information. Here’s everything you need to know about security programs and how to build your own.
What’s a Cybersecurity Program Plan?
An information security program plan is a documented set of organizational IT security policies, guidelines, procedures, standards, and controls. It’s primary charter is to ensure the CIA triad of information security:
Information security programs help organizations take a holistic approach to protecting their valuable infrastructure, particularly if they operate in a regulated industry. For a security plan to be effective and considered complete, it must satisfy the three pillars of information security.
The vast majority of information systems store, process, or transmit sensitive data—whether it’s proprietary information or client payment data.
Because this information is valuable, it’s often threatened by malicious attacks like social engineering, phishing, or network traffic capture. In addition to direct attacks, there are also accidental breaches caused by employees.
Keeping private information confidential isn’t only a good business practice, it’s legally required in many cases. Laws like HIPAA and PCI regulate how organizations manage their security; failure to comply can result in significant penalties.
There are dozens of countermeasures organizations will enact within their IT security program plan to ensure confidentiality, such as:
- Authentication procedures
- Access control lists
- Software controls
- IT policies
- Employee training
Confidentiality is all about making sure your data, objects, and resources are secured in such a way that only authorized users can view them and gain access.
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Data needs to not only be protected from prying eyes, it must also be safe from being altered without authorization. To maintain the data’s integrity it becomes necessary to control both access to the system as well as user ability to alter information (unless authorized).
Like confidentiality, protecting data integrity doesn’t simply stop at fending off malicious attacks. Unintentional alterations—whether error or data loss—represent significant concerns as well. According to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST):
Data integrity attacks caused by unauthorized insertion, deletion, or modification of data have compromised corporate information including emails, employee records, financial records, and customer data. Some organizations have experienced systemic attacks that caused a temporary cessation of operations.
Security programs employ a variety of countermeasures to uphold data integrity, including:
- Access controls
- Rigorous authentication
- Digital signatures
- Hash verifications
- Administrative controls
- Employee training
When your data’s integrity is protected, you can be confident that all of your information is accurate.
If you want your information systems to be useful, then they need to be readily available for the authorized users.
Availability measures ensure that the right users are able to access a system in a timely and uninterrupted manner. The vast majority of availability issues aren’t malicious; rather, they revolve around infrastructure problems like hardware failures, bandwidth issues, and software downtime.
That said, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks by hackers aren’t an uncommon occurrence.
For businesses, few things are more important than the availability and responsiveness of their website—their virtual office. Even if downtime is minimal, it can still have a significant impact on your reputation and bottom line.
- Hardware redundancy
- Backup servers
- Additional data storage
- System performance monitors
- Network traffic monitors
To maintain availability, authorized users must be able to access the systems and resources they require.
The Information Security Program Plan Framework
Ensuring that your organization’s sensitive information is protected and IT infrastructure and systems are secure and compliant doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. Every business must take a customized approach to managing their IT environment. However, there is a general NIST framework that most cyber security program plans follow.
It can cover a lot of ground, but critical sections include:
All information security program plans begin with system identification. This includes:
- System name and title – Lists the name and title of the system or application. Each one needs a unique identifier. This helps ensure that each unique system or app is treated on an individual basis.
- Assignment of security responsibility – Designates an individual to uphold the support and security of the system. Ideally, the person is knowledgeable about the various operational, managerial, and technical controls necessary to safeguard it.
- System’s operational status – Gives the system at least one status:
- Operational – System is operating
- Under development – System is either being designed, developed, or implemented
- Undergoing a significant modification – The system is currently being altered in a major way
- System environment – Describes the technical system and the factors—whether environmental or technical—that increase security concerns. It includes a general description and details its components, such as:
- Communication resources
- System interconnection – Information is constantly shared between various systems, if the interconnection between them isn’t protected, all it takes is one system to be compromised for the entire network to be imperiled. Therefore, all interconnected systems need to be listed.
- Information sensitivity – Some systems handle more sensitive information than others. The companies that do require further protective measures. Ranking the protection requirements according to CIA helps mitigate risk:
- High – Critical concern to the system
- Medium – Merits concern, but isn’t priority
- Low – Requires some security action, but isn’t a significant worry
This section details the current management control measures—whether currently in place or in the works—that are meant to safeguard the general system or major application. Management control emphasizes two things:
- The management of a security system
- The management of risk for the system
This includes the following actions:
- Risk assessment and management – Details the risk assessment practices used to identify system threats and vulnerabilities. This is not a one time action. Instead, it’s a continuous activity to make sure that new threats or vulnerabilities are discovered and properly responded to.
- Review of security controls – Most every company is legally required to have an independent auditor review security controls for every major application or significant change to an application. This section describes the type of security control review that was recently performed and its findings. It should include:
- The type of security evaluation conducted
- The auditor
- The purpose of the review
- The findings
- Mitigating actions taken
- Rules of behavior – Establishes a set of rules of behavior that clearly denote responsibilities and expected behaviors for any user with access to the system. It will include the consequences for noncompliance.
- Planning for security in lifecycle – Determines which phase(s) of a life cycle the system or various parts of the system are in. This includes:
- Initiation phase – The need for a system is given and the purpose documented
- Development phase – The system is either designed, purchased, programmed or developed.
- Implementation phase – The system’s security features are configured, enabled, and tested.
- Operation phase – The system does it’s job while being continuously modified.
- Disposal phase – Information reaches the end of its life cycle and must either be moved archived, or destroyed.
Operational controls cover the various controls enacted to improve the security of a system or group of systems. This segment of the information security program details the operational control measures currently in place as well as those that will be added in order to protect a major application. They cover:
- Personnel security – One of the most significant threats to any system are the people within the organization. Whether they intend harm or not, disruption, damage and loss can occur when they use the system. This section details the personnel security measures your organization has instituted, from background screening to access restriction.
- Physical and environmental protections – Discusses the access controls, i.e. physical protections for the system, including locks, physical barriers, alarms, and gates.
- Application software maintenance controls – Details the controls used to monitor the installation of software as well as the update of software.
- Data integrity controls – Covers the protections for data that prevent it from being maliciously or accidentally altered or destroyed.
- Documentation – Describes hardware and software policies, standards, procedures, and approvals used in the automated information systems.
How Do You Build a Security Program Plan?
So, what do you need to do to implement a security program? Follow these steps:
- Build information security teams – Creating a security program plan isn’t a one person job. It takes an entire team of people working together. In this case you’ll need two teams:
- The executive team – The senior-level execs in the business responsible for setting the mission, objectives, and goals for the program. They are tasked with building the policy and pushing it throughout the organization.
- The security team – The IT professionals responsible for managing daily IT security operations, threat and vulnerability assessment, and IT controls.
- Take inventory of your information assets – Your teams will conduct a total inventory of hardware, applications, databases, networks and systems. After that is done, every IT asset must be given an owner and custodian who’s responsible for the asset and its data.
- Determine your regulatory compliance and standards – Your organization may be legally required to follow one or more cybersecurity compliance practices. This could be anything from HIPAA, HITECH, or PCI. Once the executive team has determined which regulatory standards you have to follow, you can get to work.
- Identify threats, vulnerabilities, and risks – What are the threats to your information assets? It’s vital that every significant threat is identified, categorized, and ranked by priority. Similarly, vulnerabilities—flaws in the system—also must be listed and ranked. Finally, risks that could jeopardize the organization’s ability to operate because of threats and vulnerabilities have to be considered.
- Mitigate risks – The goal of this stage is to either minimize or eliminate a risk, starting with those that pose the gravest danger to your organization and are the most likely to occur. Regardless of likelihood or threat, some risks may be harder to address than others.
- Build an incident management and disaster recovery plan – Incidents could encompass a wide range of circumstances that cause the loss, interruption, or deletion of assets or data. A smart incident plan details every possibility. It then outlines the steps needed to minimize the damages and get your operations back up and running in as little time as possible.
- Add security controls – As discussed above, there are hundreds of security controls that you can put in place in order to reduce or eliminate the various risks you face. This touches a wide range of topics, including access controls, hardware and software safeguards, security policies, operational procedures, and personnel training.
- Train your employees – Once you’ve built your information security program plan, you’ll have to enforce it. The safeguards don’t mean a thing if the employees aren’t following your best practices. All it takes is one weak link to threaten your entire organization, so this step can’t be taken lightly.
- Periodically conduct audits – The only way to know the efficacy of your plan is to test it frequently. Internal audits or external audits are among the best ways that you can ensure that the policies and procedures in place are working, comply with regulations, and are being updated regularly.
RSI Security: Your Security Program Advisory
Information security program plan management isn’t easy. It requires a ceaseless team effort. This is a challenge since each new piece of technology potentially exposes a new gap in your cybersecurity defenses. But ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability is paramount.
What do you do if you lack the knowledge or resources to create and implement an information security program plan on your own?
RSI Security is ready to be your security program advisory.
We can help you make sure that your organization is always improving its security and limiting exposure to threats. Whether you need us to lead the charge or become an extension of your existing team, we’re confident we can achieve your security program goals. Reach out to us today to get started!