Information Classification Policy

by Nick T

Information classification policy is a system to categorize information into groups based on its importance and sensitivity. Organizations often implement an information classification policy to protect sensitive data from being shared with unauthorized personnel, published on the internet, and so on. An information classification policy will usually identify three things: what can be classified as sensitive data, who has access to this type of data, and how it should be handled once it's been identified as sensitive. It's important to have an up-to-date information classification policy that protects your company from legal risk as well as the loss of confidential data. There are three different policies:

Types of data, Information classification
  • Public data- Public (i.e., employees/customers) can easily access this type of data such as general bulletins, published press releases. Such information comes from public sources or is provided by the organization to the public.
  • Internal data- Such information is the property of the organization which has the sole rights to it. This type of information must be used within the company or internal employees who are granted access and not shared with third parties. Examples include staff memos, company newsletters, staff awareness program documentation or bulletins, etc.
  • Confidential data- This information is distributed on a "Need to Know" basis only. Information classified as sensitive and disclosure or usage would have a definite impact on Company’s business and future shall be classified as confidential with the implementation of highly restrictive controls (e.g., minimal audience). Examples include employee personal information, plans, unpublished financial statements, etc.
  • Restricted data- The idea behind restricted information is to protect it from being accessed by unauthorized parties who do not need to know. Several laws govern the rules and regulations around this type of data. There are many different government restrictions, including restrictions on the use or release of classified information and limitation on the disclosure or publication of certain sensitive or diplomatic information. Examples may include data protected by government organizations or military data.

Why do you need this policy?

Improper classification can give rise to organizational problems. With the rise in data breaches and hacking, it has become more critical than ever to take measures that will keep your company's sensitive information safe. This is because unclassified data is not organized correctly, the company is not following a proper way to safeguard the data. The outcome is sometimes highly sensitive data becomes insecure and low sensitive data becomes too secure. This can create simple tasks complicated where it becomes more challenging to search, share amongst different applications, databases and draw information. For all these reasons, every organization, regardless of its size, should use this policy. Data classification is rapidly becoming a new standard in information security, and it would be helpful for every organization that needs data security. Data-centric organizations are more likely to succeed than those who do not proactively protect their most valuable assets. It provides an easy way to know what data should be shared with different departments, and it also gives you the ability to change permissions for users on your system.

Benefits

The benefits of information classification policy are significant and should not be ignored.

  • A successful information classification policy protects unauthorized access to confidential or proprietary information that may lead to financial loss or other harm if disclosed inappropriately.
  • It can help you identify which data needs to be protected and how long it should be retained. Organizations can use this policy to control access by defining who may have access to specific information, where that information may be stored, and how it should be handled while in storage. It can also help comply with regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).
  • Non- sensitive data will be easily accessible, reducing the hassle of steps required to access it for organizational purposes. Ultimately your employees can do their job efficiently, which leads to an increase in productivity.
  • By categorizing the data into different categories, the organization will know how much protection is required for each set of data, improving the data protection. It helps properly allocate resources where the company is not over-protecting non-sensitive data nor risking confidential data.
  • Because of adopting information classification policy, you will be aware of various levels of data sensitivity and manage them effectively.

    Information classification, Information classification policy

    Steps create an Information classification policy

    • Objectives- You need to know what you are trying to accomplish. This goal must be clear and concise to be used as an anchor point throughout the rest of the process. Once you have determined what you want out of your document, then it will become easier to decide who should use it and how they should use it. Discuss your objectives with stakeholders, including legal and other business leaders.
    • Responsibilities- You need to determine certain personnel responsible for handling different levels of sensitive data and what roles they and the department will play.
    • Levels- Divide the data into different groups depending upon the risk and confidentiality. Restricted information poses the greatest threat, followed by high, medium, and low risk. Ensure you have a specific reason for classifying the data in each level.
    • Review- The information classification policy needs to be reviewed regularly to comply with regulations and adapt to the changing business environment.
    • Training- Use simple words to explain the policy to your employees to make it easy for them to grasp the meaning of your policy. Train them to understand the importance of your policy for successful implementation.
    • Implementation- This is one of the most crucial steps involved. The effort involved in framing the policy goes in vain if not correctly implemented. Many organizations deploy third-party information classification software to automate the process to ensure the policy is implemented at the ground level.
    • Security- Build advanced and robust security measures for high-risk or restricted data and lower the protection level for low-risk data. By understanding the value and risk of the information, you can implement security controls. Determine what information is sensitive and how it needs to be protected to save unnecessary costs on security.

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