What is a Compliance Framework?

Published January 11, 2020 • 2 min read

A compliance framework, also known as a compliance program, is a structured set of guidelines and best practices that details a company’s processes for meeting regulatory requirements. A cybersecurity compliance framework typically centers around risk management and data security. 

In addition to meeting regulatory compliance requirements, an organization uses its compliance framework(s) to enhance security, improve business processes, and realize other business objectives, such as selling cloud products and services to government agencies. 

A cybersecurity framework generally offers recommendations for implementing and managing the various features of a company’s cybersecurity program, including access control, encryption, authentication, monitoring, incident response, perimeter defense, and risk management.

A compliance framework and a cybersecurity framework provide a common language that individuals in all areas of an organization can use to encourage more secure and efficient business practices. 

A company’s internal auditors and other internal stakeholders use the compliance framework to evaluate the organization’s internal controls. External auditors can also use the compliance framework to evaluate and verify a company’s internal controls.

Additionally, investors and prospective customers, for example, can use regulatory compliance frameworks to evaluate the risk they might face if they partner with certain companies and also determine the profitability of those organizations.

Meeting regulatory compliance requirements is an ongoing process. That’s because a company’s business environment is constantly changing. As such, one or more of its internal controls may not operate as effectively as in the past.

Consequently, an organization needs to monitor its compliance framework(s) regularly and report on its findings. Each framework contains guidance on the exact meaning of “regular monitoring.”

There are a number of compliance frameworks that a company’s information security team can adopt to meet regulatory requirements. One such compliance framework is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).  The PCI DSS applies to all entities involved in payment card processing, including merchants, processors, acquirers, issuers, and service providers. 

The PCI DSS is designed to protect the security of cardholder data. The PCI DSS offers guidance on securing payment card data and includes a compliance framework of specifications, measurements, tools, and support resources to enable companies to safely handle cardholder information. 

The PCI DSS compliance framework also helps organizations develop robust payment card data security processes, such as prevention and detection. In addition, the PCI DSS compliance framework also helps companies develop appropriate responses to cybersecurity incidents.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also provides a regulatory compliance framework. ISO is an extensive set of international standards designed for improving and reporting on security and quality management across a number of industries. 

There are a variety of sub-frameworks within the main ISO framework that apply to certain industries and disciplines. 

For example, a manufacturing company would likely use the sub-framework ISO 9000 since the controls in this framework focus on quality management. However, a company that wants to improve its information security management systems would likely find the controls outlined in the ISO 27000 cybersecurity sub-framework more helpful.

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