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Monday, August 6, 2007

ISO 17799: Asset Management

By Gregory Yhan, CISSP, MCAD.Net

In a previous article, I outlined the scope and implementation guidelines for the ISO
17799 information security standard. The article also examined Security Policy, the f irst
of eleven security clauses mentioned in the standard. The ISO 17799 defines the term
asset as ‘anything that has value to an organization.’ In the realm of information
technology, assets can range from data f iles to physical assets, such as removable
media; how ever, the ISO definition allow s an organization to classify items as assets
from a broader spectrum. Intangibles, such as reputation of the organization, general
utilities, and the skill sets of a workforce can all be classified as assets. The following
article will examine the ‘Asset management’ security clause, including the tw o main
security categories listed under this clause.

Responsibility for assets
‘Responsibility for assets’ is the first of two main security categories listed under the
Asset management clause. According to the ISO, the overall objective of asset
responsibility is to achieve and maintain adequate protection of assets. To achieve this
objective, the 17799 standard has listed three controls. Inventory of Assets, Ow nership
of assets and acceptable use of assets, collectively or individually implemented w ill
enable an organization to maintain appropriate protection of assets.

Inventory of assets
As aforementioned, Inventory of Assets is one of three controls listed under the main
security category, Responsibility of assets. As the phrase implies, Inventory of Assets
requires assets to be clearly identif ied and an inventory of ‘important’ assets be created
for an organization. According to the implementation guidelines offered by the ISO, the
importance of each asset should also be documented. The importance of an asset can
be measured by its business value and security classification or label. The inventory
should include all necessary information required for an organization to recover from a
‘disaster.’ Depending on an organization, inventories of assets will not only allow for
effective protection of assets but also may be required for other business processes,
such as insurance or financial reasons. The ISO 17799 also highlights that an inventory
is an important prerequisite for risk management.

Ownership of assets
The second of three controls listed under the Responsibility for assets main security
category is Ownership of assets. According to the ISO, all information and assets
associated w ith ‘information processing facilities’ should be ‘ow ned’ by a designated part
of the organization. In the 17799 standard, information processing facilities is defined as
‘any information processing system, service or infrastructure, or the physical locations
housing them.’ The term ‘ow ner’ identifies an ‘individual or entity that has approved
management responsibility for controlling the production, development, maintenance,
use and security of the assets.’ Therefore, ownership can be allocated to an application,
a business process or a defined set of data. The standard further warns that the term
does not mean that the person has any property rights to the asset. The designated
ow ner of an asset should ensure that information and assets associated with processing
facilities are properly classified. In addition, the ow ner is responsible for defining and
review ing access classifications.

Acceptable use of assets
The last of three controls listed under the Responsibility of assets security category is
‘Acceptable use of assets.’ This control assists in maintaining protection of assets by
identifying, documenting and implementing rules for the acceptable use of information
and assets. The organization is expected to establish rules for the acceptable use of
information and assets. These include, but are not limited to, email and Internet usage.
The key to a successful ‘use of asset’ policy is one that is supported by management.
The goal is to make all employees and even contractors aware of the limits that exist
regarding the use of their organization’s information and assets.

Information classification

Information classification is the last of tw o main security categories listed under the
Asset management security clause. Instead of achieving and maintaining adequate
protection of assets, the objective of information classification is to ensure that
information receives the appropriate level of protection. Information should be classified
to indicate the expected degree of protection w hen handling the information. The ISO
17779 has listed tw o controls to meet this objective, Classification guidelines and
Information labeling and handling.

Classification guidelines

According to this control, information should be classified in terms of its ‘legal
requirements, sensitivity, and criticality’ to an organization. The implementation
guidance (do you mean guidelines?) sheds further light on these requirements. The
classif ication guidelines should consider the business needs for sharing or restricting
information. This evaluation will lead to a clearer understanding of what information
needs to be protected and the possible impact these measures w ill have on business
rules. The responsibility of classification falls w ithin the asset ow ner’s domain. It is the
ow ner’s responsibility to review and update classification levels. The need for continued
review stems from the fact that information ceases to be sensitive or critical after certain
periods of time. The ISO w arns that ‘over-classification’ can lead to implementing
unnecessary controls leading to additional expense.

Information labeling and handling

The second control under this security category involves developing procedures for
labeling and handling information according to the classification scheme adopted by an
organization. These procedures should consider labeling information in its electronic and
physical formats. For example, the output from certain systems classified as critical
should be labeled. These labeling rules should reflect the rules set out in the
classif ication guidelines mentioned above. Each classif ication level should define
procedures for processing, storage, transmission, declassification and destruction of
assets. As the sharing of information becomes more critical for the success of
businesses, labeling and secure handling of information is key for security.

Managing and securing an organization’s assets can be a daunting task. The ISO
17799 Asset management security clause has laid out a strong foundation from w hich
organizations can implement appropriate controls for protecting assets. Developing an
inventory of assets, defining owners of assets, establishing acceptable use policies, and
classifying and labeling information are all controls that can be implemented to ensure
information and assets receive appropriate protection.

1 comment:

Jannah Delfin said...

I appreciate all of the information that you have shared. Thank you for the hard work!
- asset management ma