Information classification helps you comply with data protection and information security regulations, which is important because of the prevalence of cyber threats. In 2022, 39% of businesses in the UK have identified cyber attacks1, with 83% of these attacks classified as phishing attempts and, although less likely, ransomware as a major threat.
This blog covers the importance of information classification in preventing security incidents, the process of classifying information, and the most commonly used levels of classification.
Why is classifying information important?
Proper classification reduces the likelihood of intellectual property violations and makes data easier to locate. Classifying information ensures employees within an organisation know the type and value of information they are responsible for.
If they know their responsibilities, they can stop data breaches and losses, helping protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. How do you classify information?
Information classification may not always be necessary, but there are six key steps to the process when it is deemed purposeful.
- Identify information, where it is stored, its value, who currently has access, and how many copies currently exist.
- Identify the regulations, standards, and other requirements required to protect this information.
- Decide on and create categories for the different types of information.
- Prioritise and assign information to the relevant categories, depending on their level of importance.
- “Budget” the storage space and security measures necessary for effective classification.
- Maintain the process, keep stakeholders informed, and adjust your classification plan with time.
What are the levels of information classification?
There are four ways to classify information. The type of classification dictates access permissions and retention times, among other factors. The four classification levels are:
Public information, such as first and last names and press releases, can be shared and accessed by anyone without any consequences.
Internal information, such as business plans and memorandums, must only be accessed by internal parties with specific permission.
Confidential information such as social security numbers and cardholder data, is usually protected by standards and laws, and you need special permission to access it.
Restricted information that is protected by law, such as proprietary research, could have dire consequences for an organisation if accessed without authorisation.Proper classification helps an organisation find and discard duplicate and redundant information, store data efficiently, and comply with data protection regulations.
The ISO 27001 framework is one standard that requires the classification, labeling, and handling of information to be compliant.
What does Annex A.8 of ISO 27001 say about information classification?
Annex A.8.2 of the ISO 27001 standard ensures information assets are safeguarded in line with stakeholder expectations and level of importance. These guidelines are covered in detail under Annex A.8 controls, specifically Annex A.8.2.1.
Annex A.8.2.1 - Classification of information
The rules for information sharing and the restriction must be simple enough to ensure classification guidelines are properly followed.
1. Annex A.8.2.2 - Labelling of information
Labeling must be made known to all staff, and procedures must be documented physically and electronically.
2. Annex A.8.2.3 - Handling of information
Procedures for handling must also cover how the information in question is processed, stored, and shared.
What are the benefits of classifying information?
Blue chip organisations across engineering, financial services and other highly regulated industries can benefit from classifying information. In addition to prioritising data protection efforts, here are a few benefits:
- Leads to information discovery - Information from all areas of the organisation is critically reviewed for effectiveness or redundancy.
- Raises awareness of cyber incidents - Stakeholders are provided with a direct line of communication to discuss cyber security concerns.
- Information protection is prioritised - Information is classified according to sensitivity and importance.
- Prevents fines and penalties - Sharing of information is limited to a need-to-know basis, reducing the risk of unauthorised disclosure and losses.
Organisations process large volumes of information, and proper classification helps to prevent its loss and unauthorised access.
At DataGuard, we offer expert support and guidance for certification on our InfoSec platform.
With InfoSec-as-a-Service, you can:
- Track your organisation’s progress and build, monitor, certify and re-certify your ISMS.
- Use process- driven frameworks to successfully build and update your ISMS.
- Train your team on information security to ensure that data is protected throughout your organisation.
We can guide you through each level of compliance starting with ISO 27001.
Schedule a free demo with our Infosec experts today to see DataGuard’s Infosec-as-a-Service solution in action.