A person signing a document with the words, "What Makes a Successful Acceptable Use Policy?" By Sunny Lowe on September 14th, 2020 in Resources

When it comes to defending your company against threats to your data and systems, you may think it is up to your technology to put in the footwork. However, ensuring that your company is built around IT risk management goes a long way in reinforcing your technology and safeguards against threats. When your employees are making smarter decisions, understanding the signs of a potential threat, and knowing which behaviors are acceptable with their technology, you will find your company is better guarded against a network attack. This helps build a solid reputation with your company’s employees, more trust between your business and its customers, and gives you peace of mind. One of the ways you can establish a culture of IT risk management in your business is to create a solid acceptable use policy.

What Is an Acceptable Use Policy?

An acceptable use policy is a series of rules which define what users may or may not do with their technology. This policy should always be reviewed with your employees yearly. All employees should give some kind of acknowledgment, such as signing off on an official document, that they understand the policy and any consequences of breaking the rules outlined within the policy. For new employees, the acceptable use policy should be reviewed thoroughly and then signed off on before allowing them access or log-in credentials to your business’s systems and network.

What Makes a Successful Acceptable Use Policy?

One of the greatest things about the human race is that we are cause and effect creatures. If we know what kind of impact our actions will have, we often make decisions to avoid unfavorable outcomes. A successful acceptable use policy doesn’t just outline the rules but also the reasoning behind the rules. This gives users the ability to understand why these rules have been established, giving them more confidence in following them.

Here are other considerations that will help strengthen your acceptable use policy:

Enforce Rules – Don’t Be Overly Restrictive

We make better decisions when we understand why a rule is established and the consequences for not following the rule. These considerations should be clearly outlined in your acceptable use policy, ensuring that all employees know the depth of the rules and why they must follow them. For example, a doctor’s office dealing with sensitive client health information may include how to handle that data in their policy. The policy would not only explain how the data should be handled, but why it would be harmful if that information was leaked, and consequences for users not handling the data in a specified manner.

All acceptable use policies need to give employees room to do their job. For example, while it may be tempting to restrict browser usage on company computers to only a few websites, this can often feel constricting to individuals working in that environment. You need to give your employees the freedom to work with their technology in a flexible way. This will allow them to make decisions that will 1) promote more efficiency in their work, and 2) give them a feeling of trust between the business and themselves.

For example, let’s go back to the doctor’s office. If an individual who uses their work computer to put in data entry is on their lunch break, they may want to listen to music. If the acceptable use policy has harsh restrictions on the web-browser, this harmless act may be blocked. While this wasn’t the intended purpose of the work computer, it wouldn’t do the employee or the doctor’s office any harm for the employee to listen to music. Restricting the employee in this manner might make them feel restricted and not trusted, leading them to seek other employment or look for other means to get around this safeguard because they feel like the policy is unreasonable.

Instead, it would be better to help your employees understand potential risks and know what actions to take to minimize those risks.

Make It Clear What Data Matters

Your acceptable use policy should clearly define which data needs to be backed up, encrypted before transmission, and stored for legal purposes. This helps give the staff a thorough understanding of what is expected of them and how they should handle data.

If your company is under any legal obligation to follow government or compliance standards set by HIPAAPCI, or SOX, then your acceptable use policy needs to reflect these standards. Your policy should highlight best practices to ensure these standards are being met and the consequences of not meeting these standards. This helps protect your company legally and ensure that your employees thoroughly understand what is expected of them at all times.

Your Acceptable Use Policy Needs to be Flexible

It is no surprise that the world of technology is constantly changing. As new advancements come out, so does the possibility of new regulations and standards. To ensure that your company continues to have a strong culture in risk management, your policy should be flexible enough to change to meet these new standards. On top of that, your policy should be looked over by company officials at least once every other year, and refresher courses should be given to employees every year. This ensures that employees always know what behaviors are acceptable concerning their technology, and this helps bring new staff onboard faster. Ensuring that your acceptable use policy is up to date will allow you to have a better-equipped team to handle the potential risks concerning your company’s sensitive information.

Ensure That Your Policy Includes BYOD

In today’s time, more and more companies are allowing employees to use their personal devices for work-related tasks. While this gives more flexibility for your employees, it can also put your company’s data at greater risk. Your acceptable use policy should be created alongside your BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy so that employees know how to better control, manage, and secure sensitive data on their personal devices. 

Clear rules should be outlined as to how to handle sensitive company data on your employee’s personal devices. This includes, but is not limited to, the following considerations:

  • On-loading and off-loading employees
  • How data should be accessed and stored
  • Clearly defined rules of how the data should be used, transmitted, and whether or not special encryption or antivirus software should be installed to protect data

Your Policy Should Address Social Media Usage

While social media may be a fantastic way to stay connected and to reach new customers, it can also put your company at risk of scams, including phishing scams, and the loss of sensitive information. Make sure that your acceptable use policy clearly outlines what can and can’t be done with your company’s social media outlets.

Need Help Ensuring That Your Company’s IT Is Secured?

When it comes to your company’s IT infrastructure, you want it to be protected and supported. This often involves hiring and creating an expensive IT team within your very own company. However, this option may not be feasible for many small businesses. That’s where the talented IT specialists at Blue Jean Networks can help! Our team is dedicated to helping small businesses flourish in today’s market by monitoring and helping to improve your company’s IT infrastructure around the clock. Blue Jean networks offer comprehensive IT support, outsourced IT, and network security solutions for businesses. Your success is our success, which is why we will work hard to ensure that your company is running strong. Contact Blue Jean Networks today for more information on our services or for more help on creating a successful acceptable use policy.