The Road to Continuous CompliancePublished August 8, 2018 by Karen Walsh • 4 min read
Governance over your information security controls implies continuous compliance. While compliance itself often feels like a single-moment-in-time activity, new technologies enabling continuous information transmission can no longer rely on once-per-year audits to ensure ongoing security.
What does continuous compliance mean?
Continuous compliance means creating a proactive culture and strategy within your organization to review the controls attempting to protect your data environment. While traditional compliance focused on regularly scheduled audits, continuous compliance needs you to gather insights into your controls’ effectiveness twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Why do companies need continuous compliance?
Threats against your IT environment evolve continuously. Your risk assessments focus on controls that protect data at a particular moment in time. However, malicious actors find new vulnerabilities to exploit, and you need to keep up with them. Continuous compliance provides a way to document how you manage emerging threats to your environment.
6 Steps to Ensure Continuous Compliance
Step One: Start with the right people
Creating a robust compliance program means establishing a corporate culture that respects and promotes information security. The cornerstone of any culture, however, lies in the people. While senior management needs to engage in appropriate oversight, all employees need to buy into the importance of compliance.
Many employees logically understand the value of information security but trail behind on follow-through. In this case, continuous compliance starts as early as the hiring process and filters through the rest of the company organically.
Step Two: Identify the critical assets
Cybersecurity compliance relies on identification. Identify, catalog, risk rate. Wash, rinse, repeat. However, the rise of cloud computing changed the way people stored information. You need to understand not just the physical locations but also the cloud locations storing your data.
PCI compliance offers a perfect example. Retailers need to know where all their point-of-sale systems are located. However, they also need to know where those PoS systems store and transmit data.
If you’re using a hybrid cloud solution, you need to be able to identify your physical location, private cloud, and third-party public cloud assets. If you’re using AWS hybrid cloud to enable your organization, you need to be able to ensure security over all the assets in each location.
Step Three: Establish and Enable Controls
Asset identification lets you know where your data lives. Now you need to protect it. Increasingly, organizations now adopt the Zero Trust compliance model which requires you to assume that all information is continuously at risk. Rather than start with risk assessments, therefore, the Zero Trust model means you start with securing your environments both inside and out.
Establishing controls often means following compliance frameworks like NIST, PCI DSS, COSO, HIPAA, and ISO, but enacting those protections proves more difficult. While many controls such as adopting firewall protections or encryption are the same, they also incorporate differences regarding specifics.
Step Four: Enable continuous insights into the data environment
You need a way to monitor the threats to your environment continuously. Hackers are increasingly sophisticated, using multiple attack vectors to try to obtain unauthorized access to your information.
Assuming that your current controls will always work is a modern data fallacy. Data security professionals know that you know longer use the word “if” when discussing a breach but “when.” You need to efficiently manage alerts to respond rapidly and efficiently to mitigate intrusions.
Step Five: Maintain Documentation
Compliance functions much like major social media announcements, “pics or it didn’t happen.” You need to map and organize your compliance to prove to others that your controls not only exist but work. Continuous compliance requires you to outline the documentation.
Some examples of the documentation that proves continuous compliance are:
- Security policies, procedures, and protocols
- System logs
- Software configurations
- System architecture maps
- Vendor reviews and questionnaires
- User access and identity management reviews
- Business continuity procedures and event response procedures
Step Six: Communicate within the enterprise
Continuous compliance requires multiple stakeholders within your organization to communicate. Creating a successful culture of compliance starts and ends with people. Even if you choose the right people to oversee IT compliance functions, you cannot ensure a successful program without communication between these people.
For example, your IT department needs to be able to communicate appropriately with your HR department. To secure your data environment, your human resources department needs to maintain and share updated job descriptions. Your IT department then uses these job descriptions to create role-based authorizations for your systems.
Often, organizations find communicating across the enterprise difficult. Various stakeholders often forget or do not realize that their business integrates with other departments. Additionally, if departments use different vendors, then they may not be consistently managing their vendor oversight. Finally, if different departments align to different frameworks then they may not be efficiently managing the compliance or inconsistencies that may arise.
How ZenGRC Enables Continuous Compliance
With our role-based authorization capabilities, you can provide all employees access to the information they need to enact your risk-based corporate strategies. Empowering employees with the required information allows them to maintain the corporate culture you set and reinforces the environment management defined.
Compliance requires communication with the Board of Directors to ensure appropriate oversight. However, your Board of Directors does not want overly detailed reports. Creating annual presentations is time-consuming. ZenGRC’s reporting tools provide easy-to-digest reports with graphics that clearly explain your risk profile. These reports give your Board the information they need while saving you creation time.
This ease of communication applies to work with your internal auditor as well. Auditors need documentation to prove that implementation matches policy. When they spend time on the administrative information-gathering tasks, audits take longer and information may end up incomplete. ZenGRC provides a single source of truth by aggregating all records, reports, policies, procedures, and control listing in one place. Streamlining the audit process not only saves time and money but also leads to stronger audit outcomes.
For more information on how ZenGRC enables continuous compliance, contact us.