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  • Security Compliance: How to Keep Your Business Safe & Meet Regulations
Security Compliance: How to Keep Your Business Safe & Meet Regulations

Security Compliance: How to Keep Your Business Safe & Meet Regulations

  • December 21, 2021

Your organization is about to complete an extensive compliance audit. While this is an accomplishment worth celebrating, you may be wondering, “Is checking the compliance box really enough?”

While getting certified in all the necessary security frameworks is an important milestone, becoming a secure organization requires you to go further.

After all, certification alone doesn’t make you secure. And every industry is prone to unique threats that evolve every day.

To put it plainly, security compliance encompasses everything an organization does to protect company assets and meet security standards and regulations.

Of course, all of this is no easy feat.

Every business is vulnerable to cyber attacks, and it can be difficult to know what constitutes “safe enough.” Data verifies this trend, showing an average of 270 cyber attacks per company over the year, an increase of 31% compared with 2020.

To help you improve your organization’s cybersecurity efforts, we break down security and compliance. We then walk through how these two efforts go hand-in-hand to create a robust security program.

What is IT security?

IT security refers to the efforts made to protect an organization’s assets and clients. It’s about safety and self-preservation, not obedience to meet a third party’s regulatory or contractual requirements. 

IT security programs aim to:

  • Prevent attacks against their organization’s infrastructure and data
  • Quickly respond to security incidents to limit the harm done

It’s important to note that security isn’t a one-and-done process.

Not only are improved security efforts being continuously developed, but hackers are getting better at poking holes in them. A commitment to security means regular monitoring and updating.

A few areas of IT security to focus your efforts on include:

  • Data loss prevention: This focuses on implementing malware prevention systems. It often handles user privacy and GDPR compliance as well.
  • Penetration testing: Pen testing refers to the use of third parties to launch attacks on an organization’s security systems to test their resilience.
  • Incident response and forensic analysis: This process scans for threats, probes software to locate malware, and deciphers hacker activity to defend against future threats. It also collects evidence to bring to trial.

What is IT compliance?

Compliance refers to the protective measures an organization puts in place to appease a third party, whether that be the government, industry, certification body, or clients. 

Common third-party requirements include:

  • Government policies 
  • Security frameworks
  • Industry regulations  
  • Client or customer contractual terms

If you fail to comply with mandated frameworks and regulations, you’ll be penalized. This often takes the form of hefty fines, which is why many organizations drop everything to prepare for audits.

Let’s take a look at an incident that reflects the danger of negligence toward compliance.

In 2018, a cyber attack on British Airways exposed the personal and financial details of over 400,000 customers.

After an investigation — which determined that the company should have identified and resolved security gaps — the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) slapped the company with a £20 million fine.

If the example above made you cringe, you’re not alone. Failing to comply with mandated security frameworks doesn’t look good, and it can be incredibly costly.

Unfortunately, compliance regulations are often written in a way that makes them feel inaccessible to a non-IT professional.

Compliance and GRC

While compliance is hugely important to any security program, it’s only one piece of an overarching GRC strategy.

GRC stands for governance, risk, and compliance. Often, security analysts will specialize in all three areas. Let’s break them down:

  • Governance: This is the operations stage. Establishing business goals and monitoring progress toward them are essential components of governance.
  • Risk: Not only must GRC experts identify potential security risks, but they also ought to control them wherever possible.
  • Compliance: In addition to managing business goals and asset protection, GRC experts must ensure that the organization adheres to regulatory guidelines and industry standards.

Security vs. compliance: What’s the difference?

Compliance does not equal security. An organization may comply with all governmental and industry-wide regulations yet still be vulnerable to cyber threats.

Let’s explore what sets security and compliance apart from one another.

IT security and IT compliance have common goals and overlap in many ways. 

Here are a few of their similarities: 

  • Both reduce risk: Compliance provides you with the base-level security measures demanded by your industry or by the government. Security-mindedness fills in remaining security gaps, further minimizing risk of being compromised.
  • Both improve reputation: Vendors and customers alike are drawn to organizations that will protect their data. Both compliance certifications and robust security measures signal that your organization will take good care of its stakeholders.
  • Both apply to third parties: Many security frameworks don’t just involve the organization itself — often, vendors are also expected to comply. Likewise, security measures aren’t just put in place to protect the organization itself. They also protect partners.

 That said, IT security and IT compliance are not one and the same. 

 Here are some of their key differences:

  • Enforcement: While a third-party regulator enforces compliance with a set of standards, security tends to be practiced by an organization for its own benefit.
  • Core motivation: The primary motivation for compliance efforts is penalty avoidance. Nobody wants to be slapped with a massive fine. Security measures are implemented to protect an organization’s precious assets — data, money, and intellectual property.
  • Evolution: Compliance is relatively static. While updates to frameworks do happen, they’re not being updated every day as new threats emerge. Security measures, on the other hand, change alongside the evolution of threats.

How security and compliance come together

Of course, there’s a key takeaway here: Security and compliance are two sides of the same coin.

Although compliance is mandated by a third party, it serves a practical security purpose — providing a standard to keep an organization safe from cyber threats.

Codifying cybersecurity practices can help identify and patch gaps in existing security measures. Becoming compliant also signals to stakeholders that you’re a reliable partner who will keep their data safe, making it a great business decision.

That said, compliance tends to only meet the base-level security demands of an industry.

True confidence in a cybersecurity program requires you to implement additional security measures. Every organization has different vulnerabilities and assets to protect, but there are some proven practices to consider as you develop your own program.

Why security compliance is necessary

Security compliance offers an organization several benefits. Let’s take a look at five of these benefits.

1. Fine and penalty avoidance

No matter your location or your industry, it’s critical to research which compliance laws apply to your organization.

It’s not just the U.S. that’s cracking down on compliance. Europe’s GDPR is notoriously one of the strictest regulations out there, with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) fining organizations up to €20 million for GDPR violations.

If you collect data on your customers — whether that be credit card information, website cookies, or personal identifying information — there are regulations you should adhere to.

By implementing a comprehensive security compliance program, fines and penalties will be the last thing troubling your organization.

2. Security breach prevention

Your data is precious. Strong security and compliance measures deter hackers from attacking your organization and compromising valuable information.

Of course, certain industries that hold particularly sensitive information, such as healthcare and finance, are more vulnerable than others.

In September 2020, 9.7 million healthcare records were compromised — 348.07% more than the month prior.

Of course, organizations in any industry can fall victim to a costly attack. As long as you have data stored in your systems, cyber criminals have an incentive to strike.

Robust security compliance provides the protection you need to keep them out.

3. Reputation enhancement

It’s no mystery what a massive security breach can do to a company’s reputation.

Perhaps the largest attack we know of — when hackers stole data from 3 billion Yahoo users’ accounts in 2013 — caused irreparable damage to the brand’s reputation. Not only did the company have to notify all of its users that their data was compromised, but the event made global news and is still viewed as a massive cybersecurity failure.

Security breaches imply that an organization is not committed to protecting its users’ data. Repairing trust is painstaking work and is not guaranteed.

When news can spread across the world in a matter of minutes, security compliance must be taken more seriously than ever to maintain the trust of vendors, clients, and customers.

4. Thorough data management practices

Under GDPR, your organization could be contacted by the ICO and told to provide the exact whereabouts of a user’s data. Failure to comply will subject you to massive fines or even more significant legal penalties.

While more of a “stick” than a “carrot” approach, this pressure encourages excellent data management practices.

To comply and avoid a penalty, you’ll want to keep tabs on all of your users’ data. This will likely require improved data organization methods and upgraded tools.

While it may feel like a hassle initially, improving these practices will help streamline your processes. Better organization of user data may even shed light on new marketing opportunities.

5. Positive internal and external relations

An organizational commitment to security is attractive to employees and third parties alike.

You’re communicating that you respect your customers and value integrity by going beyond legal compliance and making security a core part of your organizational identity.

This identity will open the door to partnerships with organizations that also value security, diminishing risk, and ultimately putting you in good company.

How to practice good security compliance

It’s clear why security compliance is key for success, but how do you do it correctly? Below, we discuss eight best practices to help you strengthen your IT security program.

1. Create a compliance plan that spans departments

While regulatory frameworks explain what protections organizations must have in place, they often don’t describe exactly how to implement them. This depends on an organization’s operations and resources.

Before implementing a security compliance program, make a plan with the help of HR, IT, compliance, and upper management to ensure everyone is on the same page. This plan should include which standards you’re expected to comply with and how you plan to achieve compliance.

Refer to our guides for SOC 2 and ISO 27001 compliance as you begin crafting a plan that’s right for your organization.

2. Monitor continuously

Sometimes, security threats can feel far-removed, tempting us to only monitor what’s dictated by compliance regulations. However, failing to monitor for real threats thoroughly makes an organization a prime target for cyber criminals.

After conducting a risk assessment, use any vulnerabilities as a map to guide your ongoing security efforts.

3. Use audit logs

While undergoing audits is often a compliance requirement for certain security frameworks, auditing is practically meaningless unless your organization uses audit logs.

As a refresher, audit logs are records of activity history within an IT system.

Apart from providing documentation to prove compliance with industry regulations, audit logs should also be monitored internally to identify suspicious activity and improve security.

4. Configure systems using least privilege and least functionality

The principles of least privilege and least functionality state that users and programs should only be granted essential privileges.

This standard should be applied across nearly every industry as a risk prevention measure.

As employees move into more senior roles, it’s important to strike a balance between granting more advanced permissions and still protecting the channels that hackers could infiltrate.

Admittedly, finding this balance isn’t always easy. Employees may need to pause their work and request additional system permissions every once in a while.

But these minor efficiency hiccups are worth it. Least privilege and least functionality will help keep hackers and malware out of critical files and processes.

5. Segregate duties and system functions

Teamwork is essential to accomplish most organizational processes, and this holds especially true for security management.

Segregation of duties and system functions involves splitting a core process into individual tasks, each of which must be completed by a different person.

For example, sending an announcement to all of a company’s shareholders should not be as simple as using widely accessible credentials.

To keep this process secure, a member of the IT department could hold the login credentials, the CEO could draft the message, and an administrator could proofread and approve it before the IT professional ultimately presses send.

By delegating each step of a key process to a different person, the chances of a cyber criminal infiltrating the system and wreaking havoc is significantly reduced.

6. Update all company software frequently

Cyber criminals notoriously target companies that use outdated software. New threats are always emerging, and they are most common in software that hasn’t been updated to the latest version.

Stay on top of patches so that you can remain compliant and keep your assets safe.

7. Implement a strong risk management plan

While a compliance plan is critical for meeting industry standards, how do you prepare your individual organization for an attack? You create a risk management plan.

This plan should include your organization’s existing vulnerabilities, how to identify risks, and a recovery process for when breaches do happen.

Despite the prevalence of cyber attacks, over 77% of organizations lack an incident response plan. If any of these organizations suffer a large-scale attack, they’re in big trouble.

Once your plan is in place, you should test it to determine its resilience — and learn from it. Be sure to take care of any vulnerabilities you identify.

8. Utilize intelligent and automated tools

Security compliance can be challenging, time-consuming work. With so many bases to cover, occasional mistakes and moments of negligence are difficult to avoid.

Rather than manually ensuring compliance, consider automating your compliance process with the right tools.

Is security compliance enough?

Compliance is an important part of any IT security program, but it’s only one part of the equation.

Internal security measures such as regular monitoring, software updates, automated tools, and duty segregation are paramount to crafting a robust and resilient security program.

A note from Verizon’s 2012 Data Breach Report sums it up: 

“While compliance definitely helps drive security, compliance does not equal security.” 

When in doubt, implement that extra layer of security.

How Secureframe can streamline your security compliance efforts

Without help from experts, practicing security compliance can be a long and taxing process.

Not only must significant time be put into implementing regulatory frameworks and other security measures, but those efforts need to be continuously monitored to ensure sustainable security.

Secureframe makes security compliance a breeze by automating the process from start to finish.

Of course, we don’t only handle implementation. We scan and monitor your tech stack for vulnerabilities so you can maintain continuous compliance.

Our software also covers your security bases as you enter new partnerships, providing detailed vendor risk reports. You’ll never enter another business relationship wondering whether your assets may be compromised.

To learn more about how Secureframe can play an integral part in developing a robust security compliance program, request a demo of our platform today.

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