Supporting Information Security Management : Developing a Method for Information Classification

Abstract: In the highly digitalised world in which we live today, information and information systems have become critical assets to organisations, and hence need to be safeguarded accordingly. In order to implement and work with information security in a structured way, an Information Security Management System (ISMS) can be implemented. Asset management is a central activity in ISMS that aims at identifying, assigning ownership and adding protection to information assets. One activity within asset management is information classification that has the objective to ensure that the information receives an appropriate level of protection in accordance with its importance to the organisation. Information classification is a well-known practice for all kinds of organisations, both in the private and public sector, and is included in different variants in standards such as ISO/IEC 27002, COBIT and NIST-SP800.However, information classification has received little attention from academia, and many organisations are struggling with the implementation. The reasons behind why it is problematic, and how to address such issues, are largely unknown. Furthermore, existing approaches, described in, for example, standards and national recommendations, do not provide a coherent and systematic approach to information classification. The short descriptions in standards, and literature alike, leave out essential aspects needed for many organisations to adopt and implement information classification. There is, for instance, a lack of detailed descriptions regarding (1) procedures and concepts, (2) how to tailor the approach for different situations, (3) a framework that structures and guides the classification, (4) what roles should be involved in the classification, and (5) how information with different granularity is handled.This thesis aims to increase the applicability of information classification by developing a method for information classification in ISMS that draws from established standards and practice. In order to address this aim, a Design Science Research (DSR) study was performed in three cycles. A wide range of data was collected, including a series of interviews with experts and novices on information classification, a survey, most of the Swedish public sector information classification policies, and observations. There are three main contributions made by this thesis (1) the identification of issues and enablers for information classification, (2) the design principles underpinning the development of a method for information classification, and (3) the method for information classification itself. Contributions have also been made to the context around information classification, such as, for example, 20 practical suggestions for how to meet documented challenges in practice.