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Chapter: Security in Computing : Administering Security

Organizational Security Policies

A key element of any organization's security planning is an effective security policy. A security policy must answer three questions: who can access which resources in what manner?

Organizational Security Policies


A key element of any organization's security planning is an effective security policy. A security policy must answer three questions: who can access which resources in what manner?


A security policy is a high-level management document to inform all users of the goals of and constraints on using a system. A policy document is written in broad enough terms that it does not change frequently. The information security policy is the foundation upon which all protection efforts are built. It should be a visible representation of priorities of the entire organization, definitively stating underlying assumptions that drive security activities. The policy should articulate senior management's decisions regarding security as well as asserting management's commitment to security. To be effective, the policy must be understood by everyone as the product of a directive from an authoritative and influential person at the top of the organization.


People sometimes issue other documents, called procedures or guidelines, to define how the policy translates into specific actions and controls. In this section, we examine how to write a useful and effective security policy.




Security policies are used for several purposes, including the following:


recognizing sensitive information assets


clarifying security responsibilities


promoting awareness for existing employees


guiding new employees




A security policy addresses several different audiences with different expectations. That is, each groupusers, owners, and beneficiariesuses the security policy in important but different ways.




Users legitimately expect a certain degree of confidentiality, integrity, and continuous availability in the computing resources provided to them. Although the degree varies with the situation, a security policy should reaffirm a commitment to this requirement for service.


Users also need to know and appreciate what is considered acceptable use of their computers, data, and programs. For users, a security policy should define acceptable use.




Each piece of computing equipment is owned by someone, and the owner may not be a system user. An owner provides the equipment to users for a purpose, such as to further education, support commerce, or enhance productivity. A security policy should also reflect the expectations and needs of owners.




A business has paying customers or clients; they are beneficiaries of the products and services offered by that business. At the same time, the general public may benefit in several ways: as a source of employment or by provision of infrastructure. For example, you may not be a client of BellSouth, but when you place a telephone call from London to Atlanta, you benefit from BellSouth's telecommunications infrastructure. In the same way, the government has customers: the citizens of its country, and "guests" who have visas enabling entry for various purposes and times. A university's customers include its students and faculty; other beneficiaries include the immediate community (which can take advantage of lectures and concerts on campus) and often the world population (enriched by the results of research and service).


To varying degrees, these beneficiaries depend, directly or indirectly, on the existence of or access to computers, their data and programs, and their computational power. For this set of beneficiaries, continuity and integrity of computing are very important. In addition, beneficiaries value confidentiality and correctness of the data involved. Thus, the interests of beneficiaries of a system must be reflected in the system's security policy.


Balance Among All Parties


A security policy must relate to the needs of users, owners, and beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the needs of these groups may conflict. A beneficiary might require immediate access to data, but owners or users might not want to bear the expense or inconvenience of providing access at all hours. Continuous availability may be a goal for users, but that goal is inconsistent with a need to perform preventive or emergency maintenance. Thus, the security policy must balance the priorities of all affected communities.




A security policy must identify its audiences: the beneficiaries, users, and owners. The policy should describe the nature of each audience and their security goals. Several other sections are required, including the purpose of the computing system, the resources needing protection, and the nature of the protection to be supplied. We discuss each one in turn.




The policy should state the purpose of the organization's security functions, reflecting the requirements of beneficiaries, users, and owners. For example, the policy may state that the system will "protect customers' confidentiality or preserve a trust relationship," "ensure continual usability," or "maintain profitability." There are typically three to five goals, such as:


Promote efficient business operation.


Facilitate sharing of information throughout the organization.


Safeguard business and personal information.


Ensure that accurate information is available to support business processes.


Ensure a safe and productive place to work.


Comply with applicable laws and regulations.


The security goals should be related to the overall goal or nature of the organization. It is important that the system's purpose be stated clearly and completely because subsequent sections of the policy will relate back to these goals, making the policy a goal-driven product.


Protected Resources


A risk analysis will have identified the assets that are to be protected. These assets should be listed in the policy, in the sense that the policy lays out which items it addresses. For example, will the policy apply to all computers or only to those on the network? Will it apply to all data or only to client or management data? Will security be provided to all programs or only the ones that interact with customers? If the degree of protection varies from one service, product, or data type to another, the policy should state the differences. For example, data that uniquely identify clients may be protected more carefully than the names of cities in which clients reside.


Nature of the Protection

The asset list tells us what should be protected. The policy should also indicate who should have access to the protected items. It may also indicate how that access will be ensured and how unauthorized people will be denied access. All the mechanisms described in this book are at your disposal in deciding which controls should protect which objects. In particular, the security policy should state what degree of protection should be provided to which kinds of resources.

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