How Do I Become Compliant?

For many of us, our first glimpse into playing by the rules was guided by classic board games, such as Monopoly, Life, and Operation. If you cheated, your parents and friends likely decided not to play with you. However, if you followed the rules, developing a strategy helped you win.

As adults, board games have turned in to board meetings, and the rules you’re playing by are driven by a multitude of compliance regulations and standards that are significantly more difficult to navigate and heavily assessed through audits. The same concepts apply, but if you don’t abide by the rules of business, you’ll be facing much worse than a timeout.

So, how do you remain in the game, or better yet, win?

Security & Compliance

As you’re aware, compliance standards are determined by government, non-profit, or industry groups to help protect sensitive customer, patient, and organizational data, and they are a solid way to start addressing data risks. It cannot be understated that the ramifications of failing to maintain compliance are not only costly but can be detrimental to the life of a company. However, meeting these requirements and passing an audit does not absolve a company of its obligation to further identify risks within their organization and secure the critical data it’s storing, processing, or transmitting daily.

One of the most common misconceptions, and at times an operational oversight, is that security and compliance are one and the same. Although compliance standards set a baseline for an organization’s security standards, it’s crucial to understand the two are not equivalent.

Compliance requirements define the rules you must abide by to continue effective and efficient business operations. A solid security strategy defines the people, processes, and technologies a business should implement to protect those operations from internal and external threats, setting the stage for continued success and growth. Typically, those who simply meet the bare minimum with external compliance standards to “check off a box” are at a much higher risk of a data breach than those who use these regulations as the starting point of a strong, robust security program.

A Compliance Balancing Act

As technology continues to rapidly evolve, business owners and executives are challenged with navigating the perfect balance of implementing the appropriate technology for operations and maintaining compliance standards, all while not compromising security. Since every organization and their needs are unique, it’s nearly impossible to find a one-size-fits-all approach to this balancing act, but there are a few factors to consider when doing so:

  • Do You Know Your Data? If you aren’t sure what type of data you store, process, or transmit, you will be unable to deploy effective cybersecurity measures, much less comply with regulations. Do you manage health records? What about credit card numbers? Personal Identifiable Information (PII), such as dates of birth, social security numbers and phone numbers? Once you’re able to classify the information, determine what data is considered restricted, private and public so you are able to allocate security controls accordingly.
  • Is Compliance Your Baseline, or Objective? As previously mentioned, compliance is a foundation to security, but it’s just that – the ground work. It cannot be the sole objective of a security program. The wise approach is to build a comprehensive security strategy and environment that will go above and beyond basic compliance requirements. The investment in a robust security strategy will pay off in the long run, and you can rest easy knowing you’re better protecting data, customers, and your business.
  • Do You Understand the Compliance Requirements? Despite having the same overarching purpose, each regulation is different, and some are more prescriptive than others (e.g., HITRUST). Begin your journey by first familiarizing yourself with any regulations or standards that affect your data. If needed, enlist the assistance of cloud compliance experts or certified auditors to gain a deeper understanding of the process. It’s difficult to abide by rules when you don’t fully understand them.
  • Have You Mapped Internal Controls to External Requirements? This is where all the steps above come together, especially if you need to comply with multiple regulations. Build an internal control framework that allows you to address the security of your data and environment while also meeting relevant compliance standards. This will help you ensure both a security and compliance without overlapping effort. As mentioned, some regulations are more prescriptive than others, so there may a handful of judgment calls. Your trusted provider can and will share this burden with you to minimize the work on your end.
  • Are You Following Audit Best Practices? Nothing ever works when you need it to – or so it seems. To ensure you’re passing audits, document everything for your auditor – environment, data, workloads, internal tests, policies, technology, controls, third-party access, etc. Not only will this make their job easier, but it will prove that you take your responsibility seriously. You’ll show your assessor that you’re organized, proactive, and detailed-oriented which drives up the confidence factor. It’s also advisable to collect clear and comprehensive evidence samples that shows you’ve met each control.
  • Have You Chosen an Expert Partner? Joining forces with a proven and trusted security expert to protect your data in a compliant hosting environment will make this process feel like a cake walk. But how do you know if a service provider is compliant? Do your homework. Review their industry standard compliance reports, such as the SOC2, as well as their security assessments. If a provider is unable to produce these reports, or does not conduct such assessments, it’s a red flag.

A Culture of Compliance

There’s no end in sight to the expansion of today’s digital landscape. Technology will continue to make our lives easier, and compliance regulations will also keep changing. One of the best ways to stay ahead is by fostering a culture of compliance within your organization by consolidating controls across multiple regulations, as well as optimizing and automating control execution wherever possible.

As outlined in my Farewell to Audit Season whitepaper, companies trapped by surge compliance, which often results in lost productivity and diminished company morale, are constantly burdened with trying to become or remain compliant. However, those that enact continuous compliance as a proactive measure are prepared for the challenges they may face. Fostering this type of culture has its challenges, but it’s well worth the time and resources necessary to implement.

Cyber threats are keeping up with the sophistication of technology, so it only makes sense that compliance standards do the same. It might not always be an easy journey toward compliance and can be even more difficult to employ additional security measures, but it is critical to the success of your organization.

Compliance requirements may set the game rules for staying in business, but a solid security strategy is the key to winning in the end.

Resource Center

More security resources at your fingertips.

Practical Content for Security, DevOps, & IT Professionals