Administrative security controls include any security measures focused on managing people. They encompass a wide range of approaches, including formal policies, procedural guidelines, risk mitigation strategies, and training activities. In contrast to technical controls, which focus on technology, and physical controls, which pertain to physical objects and spaces, administrative controls are all about human behavior.
Below, we’ll dig into the broad categories of administrative security controls, including policies, procedures, guidelines, testing, and training. Read on.
Company policies are written requirements that employees must follow. Typically, every company policy addresses a single key point of concern. That keeps the information within a policy cohesive, ensuring that necessary details are well-covered and limiting misunderstandings relating to the topic.
Security policies aim to ensure right-action among employees, keeping systems safe by promoting desired behavior or preventing undesirable actions. Below are a few examples of some of the administrative security policies in place at many companies.
A password policy sets requirements for the use of passwords, including complexity standards, change frequencies, and re-use timelines. It may also outline additional requirements, such as best practices about storing password information.
Access Control Policies
An access control policy outlines rules regarding who can access various resources within an organization. Usually, it begins with a document that defines access levels within the organization. Once the guidelines are in place, the policy is implemented, aligning employee access with the agreed-upon levels.
In most cases, a policy of least privilege is the best approach. It ensures that employees only have access to resources that are genuinely necessary for their role. Anything that isn’t directly relevant is subsequently restricted.
Data Collection Policies
Data collection policies outline where and how various kinds of information can reside within company systems. This can include rules about saving sensitive data on specific servers, computers, or mobile devices, as well as when encryption is mandatory.
Additionally, data collection policies usually describe what’s considered sensitive data by the organization. Some companies are bound by regulations that others aren’t. As a result, outlining industry-related requirements within data collection policies is common, ensuring employees are fully aware of what’s necessary based on their field.
Device Usage Policies
With many companies going fully or partially remote, devices can pose a substantial risk to an organization. Through policies concerning laptops and other mobile devices, companies can outline what kind of devices are allowed, and the activities that can occur through them.
Security Awareness and Training
Security education is another key element to maintaining administrative security controls. Through formal training programs, workers learn about risks present in the environment, making them more aware of potential attack vectors.
Additionally, sharing details about company policies and security-oriented best practices is typically part of the process. That ensures that employees know what’s expected of them, as well as what they should do when they encounter various situations.
Often, training activities need to occur regularly. Along with including formal security instruction during employee onboarding, it’s wise to require annual refresher courses. That way, you can make employees aware of new threats, policy adjustments, procedure changes, or anything else that may impact how they should act in various scenarios.
Security Assessments and Tests
Administrative security controls can involve a variety of detection-oriented activities. Often, these help determine whether various policies and procedures are being used correctly, as well as to identify potential holes that could be exploited.
Risk assessments and vulnerabilities assessments can both fall in this category. They involve active steps to examine policies and procedures to determine if shortcomings are present, creating opportunities to address them. Additionally, they help define the likelihood of a system becoming compromised, as well as the level of damage that would happen if an incident occurred.
Penetration testing can also qualify as an administrative security control. Again, it’s designed to explore the capabilities of existing policies, procedures, and practices, with the goal of determining if there is an issue that could be exploited.
Often, the use of assessments and tests is ongoing. Policies and procedures aren’t guaranteed to reflect best practices forever. New threats emerge consistently. As a result, continuous evaluation is essential, creating opportunities to update policies and processes when the need arises.
Contingency planning involves creating strategic approaches to various incidents. While the creation of the plan is proactive, the steps outlined are mainly reactive in nature. It gives the organization a framework for action after an issue arises, functioning as a roadmap that moves the company towards recovery.
In many cases, a contingency plan is closer to a collection of procedures instead of a single one. It can include business continuity and disaster recovery planning, cyberattack response procedures, and crisis management processes. When taken together, the various plans cover a broad range of incidents, ensuring that the organization is prepared to take right action regardless of the event that’s taking place.
When it comes to security, changes to a system, process, or resource can introduce unanticipated risk. Change management is a common defense against the unexpected, increasing the odds that assets will remain secure.
Change management qualifies as an administrative security control since its main focus is to ensure right-action among personnel. Like policies, it defines desirable behavior within a particular context.
With change management, the company sets policies and guidelines that dictate how changes to internal and external procedures and systems can or can’t move forward. The goal is to ensure that unapproved, unexamined alterations aren’t put into place. Instead, a thorough vetting becomes mandatory, reducing the chances of unintended consequences.
Are Administrative Security Controls Enough on Their Own?
Since administrative security controls are often incredibly robust, some may wonder if they can support security in a broad sense on their own. While they can be quite effective, administrative security controls are only one part of the comprehensive security equation.
Ideally, companies should couple administrative controls with technical and physical controls. A combined approach adds more layers. As a result, attackers have more to navigate in order to breach a system.
Are Administrative Security Controls Necessary?
To put it simply, yes, administrative security controls are necessary.
Without critical policies in place, employees may not know how to do their part to keep systems, assets, and data secure. Without well-defined procedures, there may be confusion about how to support prevention or address incidents. Finally, if you don’t provide critical training, you can’t guarantee exposure to vital information.
When it comes to security, taking advantage of every tool is essential. Otherwise, the risk of an incident is significantly greater, putting your company, employees, and customers at risk.