Tracking physical assets; an often forgotten step.

We often put the emphasis on our staff being our most valuable assets and while that is true, we should not ignore our physical assets. Physical hardware needs to be kept track of. There are many cases where organizations, who do not keep an inventory of assets, that have had those assets lost, or stolen, and not known about it for a protracted period of time. Organizations need to ensure all assets have an owner, or custodian, for assets purchased and those assets have an acceptable use policy to prevent abuse. After all nobody wants to find out their data centers are used for bitcoin mining as we have seen happen in the past.

Part of this category also connects with our termination of employees blog post; Ensuring there are procedures in place to recover company assets held by employees.

8.1.1. Inventory of assets.

This control is one that is all too often overlooked. How many companies and organizations have a complete list of all their IT assets and those assets owners? Often our inventories grow too large to be managed without additional resources and then become neglected and out of date. This can lead to security risks of lost assets (unowned) sitting on our network waiting to be compromised, new rogue devices getting added to our network and us being unable to distinguish them from our legitimate assets, even from a patch management perspective knowing what you own is essential for security. Any device that is associated with information or information processing should be recorded. We should keep a record of all these assets including documentation for them, license information and contracts/SLAs (for utilities). There are tools that make this task easier and while it is something that can require a dedicated and substantial effort to develop and maintain, it is something that is one of the more essential building blocks to implementing your ISMS.

8.1.2. Ownership of assets.

All assets in your organization need to how owners assigned to them. This gives us a point of contact should any issues arise that require further investigation or remediation. These asset owners can log in and take care of the regular maintenance of a system, such as hardening and patching. This record of owners should be included in our inventory list described in the previous step. Knowing who to contact can be vital in timely remediation and damage mitigation during a breach when every second counts. Knowing the owner also lets us know who is responsible for protecting those systems, adding/removing them from our inventory and abiding by the asset lifecycle policies, including correct disposal of the hardware and data when that asset is end of life.

8.1.3. Acceptable use of assets.

No user should have complete, unfettered use of company assets. Having the acceptable use of assets documented in an Acceptable Use Policy and then distributing that to all your employees can help you ensure assets and resources are used in a responsible way. Part of this policy is to ensure assets have an appropriate level of security for the data and function it is used for, this means you can have multiple Acceptable Use Policies, one for each classification level of data housed in the various assets. By reducing misuse of assets by employees, making them aware of and having them agree to this policy we reduce risks being introduced by assets being used for non-business purposes.

8.1.4. Return of assets.

If we don’t ensure company owned assets are returned to the company during termination we run the risk of losing control of those assets and, more importantly the data contained within. We also run risks that the assets may be misused or damaged. Human resources and your IT team should liaise prior to termination of employment to ensure any company assets in the control of the leaving staff member are promptly returned to the company. There should also be technical controls in place to ensure that data residing on any personally owned devices of the employee is transferred to the organization.

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