Continuous compliance is a systematic approach to ensuring that an organization’s security measures and practices align with relevant industry regulations, standards, and best practices. It involves ongoing monitoring, assessments, and updates to maintain the security posture and protect against potential security threats. Continuous compliance aims to maintain a state of readiness for security audits and inspections and reduce the risk of security incidents.
Continuous compliance delivers benefits such as avoiding penalties, enhancing credibility, driving growth, improving operations, reducing risks, securing data, and staying ahead of the competition. A well-run compliance program ensures that an organization meets its obligations, operates with integrity, and benefits from a competitive edge. Ensuring compliance with regulations and standards is crucial to running a successful organization.
Summary of key compliance standards
Before we dive deeper into how continuous compliance benefits organizations, let’s briefly look at the kinds of standards for which companies often use continuous compliance.
|Industry standard or regulation||Description|
|Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)||PCI DSS is a set of security standards designed to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.|
|General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)||GDPR is a regulation by the European Union (EU) that governs the collection, use, and storage of the personal data of EU citizens.|
|NIST Special Publication 800-53||NIST SP 800-53 provides comprehensive guidelines for safeguarding US federal information systems and organizations. It outlines a catalog of security controls and related guidelines that are grouped into 18 families, including access control, audit and accountability, and system and communications protection. These security controls are designed to effectively mitigate risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of federal information and information systems. Adherence to the guidelines in NIST SP 800-53 is mandatory for federal agencies and serves as a foundation for many non-federal organizations’ security programs.|
|System and Organization Controls 2 (SOC 2)||SOC 2 is a set of standards and criteria set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to ensure that organizations provide secure, confidential, and reliable services to their clients.|
|Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)||FedRAMP is a US-government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.|
|CIS Benchmarks||CIS Benchmarks are the industry standard for securing IT infrastructure, providing detailed instructions for configuring and securing operating systems, databases, and cloud environments.
CIS compliance can map to other standards like HIPAA, demonstrating a robust security program aligned with industry best practices. CIS Controls, a subset of CIS Benchmarks, offer a prioritized set of actions for protection against cyberattacks, aligning with frameworks such as NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISO 27001, and PCI DSS. Implementing CIS Controls enables organizations to achieve compliance with multiple security standards, simplifying regulatory compliance while enhancing overall security posture.
Continuous compliance stakeholders and roles
A number of stakeholders are critical players in ensuring the success of continuous compliance. The table below shows essential stakeholders and their key functions.
|Stakeholder||Roles and responsibilities|
|Management||Ensuring that the company’s security practices align with industry regulations and standards to protect the company’s reputation and assets.|
|IT and DevOps Teams||Implementing and maintaining security measures to meet continuous compliance requirements, conducting regular security assessments, and monitoring the security posture to identify and address vulnerabilities.|
|Employees||Following established security policies and procedures and reporting any suspicious activity or security incidents to contribute to compliance.|
|Regulators||Verifying that companies follow relevant security regulations and standards and that sensitive information is protected.|
|Insurance providers||Encouraging organizations to prioritize security and continuous compliance by offering cyber-insurance policies that require meeting industry-standard security controls and that incentivize a proactive approach to security.|
Implementing continuous compliance
Building a successful continuous compliance program requires a multifaceted approach to ensure ongoing compliance with laws and regulations. Here are ten essential components that can help keep your organization on the right track.
Proactive risk assessment
To implement proactive risk assessment in your company, establish a dedicated risk assessment team. The team should conduct regular compliance assessments, keep abreast of relevant regulations, conduct periodic reviews of regulatory websites, and attend industry conferences and events.
Compliance technology can automate compliance processes, such as monitoring compliance activities, identifying potential risks, prioritizing risks, and setting up automated alerts. Periodic internal audits should also be conducted, including reviews of policies and procedures, testing of internal controls, and employee interviews, if necessary. Additionally, the team should consider engaging a third-party auditor to objectively assess risk.
Clear policy development
Clear policy development is crucial for achieving continuous compliance. Organizations should follow specific implementation details to ensure that policies are effective and easy to understand.
First of all, the policy’s purpose should be clearly defined, outlining what it aims to achieve and to whom it applies. Relevant stakeholders should be involved in the policy development process, and a policy gap analysis should be conducted to identify any existing policies addressing similar risks.
Policies should be written in clear and concise language, avoiding overly complex terminology, with examples provided to illustrate key points. Policies should be easily accessible to all employees and reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain up-to-date and relevant. By following these best practices, organizations can promote clear policy development, supporting continuous compliance efforts.
Investing in training and awareness programs to foster a culture of ethical behavior and compliance is crucial for maintaining continuous compliance. To implement this, start by identifying the areas where your employees need training and develop engaging and interactive training materials that cover key concepts and rules.
Use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver training and track employee progress. Communicate your company’s policies and procedures regarding compliance clearly and concisely, and encourage and reward ethical behavior while making it clear that ethical lapses will not be tolerated. Continuously evaluate and improve your program to keep it current and effective.
Regular monitoring and auditing
To implement effective monitoring and auditing for continuous compliance, organizations must first identify the compliance requirements for each system and application. This involves mapping relevant regulations and standards to each system and application. Next, the organization can develop a monitoring and auditing plan that includes specific procedures and tools to monitor and collect data for each requirement, such as implementing SIEM systems, IDS, or other monitoring tools. Regular data analysis is necessary to identify security events that require further investigation.
Organizations must conduct regular audits to assess compliance with regulations and standards based on the monitoring and auditing plan, including reviewing policies, procedures, and controls as well as testing specific security controls. The results should be documented and shared with IT personnel and management. Finally, organizations should use the results of monitoring and auditing to continuously improve their security posture by promptly addressing any deficiencies and updating procedures and controls as needed. Implementing effective monitoring and auditing procedures is crucial for maintaining compliance and a strong cybersecurity posture.
Swift incident management
Quick incident management as part of continuous compliance requires the organization to have a documented incident response plan that defines the steps for identifying, containing, eradicating, and recovering from security incidents. The plan must also specify the roles and responsibilities of incident response team members from different areas of the organization. Regular training and testing of the incident response team are essential to keeping them prepared to respond to security incidents; incident response tools such as SIEM systems, IDS, and EDR systems should be implemented to aid in swift incident management.
All incident response activities should be documented for future reference, and regular reviews should be conducted to ensure the effectiveness of the incident response plan and to identify areas for improvement. Organizations can implement these measures to ensure swift incident management and maintain continuous compliance with cybersecurity regulations and standards.
Organizations need to establish clear communication channels among all relevant parties. This includes regularly communicating compliance requirements to all employees and establishing clear communication among the compliance team, management, and IT personnel. This can be achieved by creating a compliance management plan that outlines each party’s communication channels and responsibilities.
The plan should also include regular reporting procedures to inform management and other relevant parties of the organization’s compliance status. Additionally, organizations should consider implementing compliance management software to streamline communication and facilitate reporting. Clear communication ensures that compliance remains a top priority and that all parties work together to achieve and maintain continuous compliance.
Recordkeeping and reporting
Effective recordkeeping and reporting are crucial for continuous compliance. Organizations should establish a system for capturing and storing records related to compliance, including policies, procedures, and evidence of adherence to regulations and standards. This system should also include a process for generating compliance reports, metrics, and KPIs to be reviewed by relevant stakeholders, including IT personnel and management.
Key metrics that can be included in compliance reports may include the number and severity of security incidents, the status of remediation efforts, and the percentage of systems and applications that are fully compliant. By maintaining accurate records and regularly generating compliance reports, organizations can identify areas for improvement and maintain continuous compliance with regulations and standards.
Organizations should conduct regular third-party audits to evaluate compliance posture.
The first step is to identify and select an appropriate auditor that has experience in the relevant compliance requirements. The auditor should thoroughly review the organization’s policies, procedures, and controls to ensure that they meet the applicable regulations and standards.
The organization should provide the auditor with all necessary documentation to facilitate the audit process, including reports from internal audits and risk assessments. After the audit, the auditor should provide the organization with a detailed report that identifies any compliance deficiencies and recommendations for remediation. The organization should then prioritize and address these deficiencies promptly to ensure continuous compliance.
Regular third-party audits help organizations identify areas for improvement and ensure that they maintain compliance with regulations and standards. These audits can also provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of the organization’s compliance program, which can inform future improvements.
Organizations must incorporate threat intelligence into their security programs to effectively implement continuous compliance. This involves regularly collecting and analyzing information about potential threats, including known and emerging cyber-threats as well as relevant threat actors and their tactics, techniques, and procedures. The organization should establish a threat intelligence team responsible for gathering and analyzing this information and communicating threat intelligence to other security team members.
The team should use various tools and sources to collect and analyze threat intelligence, including open-source intelligence (OSINT), commercial threat intelligence feeds, and information-sharing platforms. Based on this information, the organization can take proactive measures to protect its assets and mitigate the risk of a security breach. This may include implementing additional security controls, such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and endpoint protection solutions. It may also involve conducting targeted vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify and remediate potential security gaps. Regular review and updating of the threat intelligence program can ensure that it effectively identifies and mitigates security risks.
Integration with business processes
To integrate compliance into business processes, organizations can implement regular security assessments and testing, such as vulnerability scans and penetration testing. This involves identifying all systems and applications that require review and scheduling regular testing based on the risk level of each system. The security team should analyze the results of these assessments and prioritize remediation efforts. The outcomes should also be communicated to relevant stakeholders, including IT personnel and management. By integrating security assessments and testing into business processes, organizations can identify and address vulnerabilities and maintain continuous compliance.
Another way to integrate compliance into business processes is by implementing a formal change management process. This requires a change request form for all system and application updates or changes, which the security team reviews before implementation. This process ensures that compliance is considered in all changes, minimizing the risk of non-compliance, potential security breaches, or penalties.
Challenges when implementing continuous compliance
Implementing continuous compliance can be a complex and challenging process for organizations. One major challenge is ensuring that all employees and stakeholders are fully on board with the new compliance measures and understand their role in maintaining compliance.
Resistance to change is a common issue and can hinder the success of a continuous compliance program. Organizations may also face difficulty in allocating the necessary resources, such as personnel, time, and finances, to effectively implement and maintain continuous compliance.
Keeping up with ever-changing regulations and standards can be a challenge, and prioritizing compliance initiatives amid competing operational or financial goals can also prove difficult. Integrating the compliance process with existing systems and managing data privacy can also present challenges in the implementation of continuous compliance. However, with proper planning and a commitment to compliance, organizations can overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of a successful continuous compliance program.
Essential components for cloud-based continuous compliance
Optimize your cloud security posture with these essential components for a successful continuous compliance program in a cloud-based organization:
- Conduct cloud provider assessment: Evaluate your cloud provider’s security measures and policies to meet compliance requirements.
- Implement cloud security configuration management: Ensure up-to-date security configurations that follow industry standards. You can accomplish this with a cloud security platform like Paladin Cloud that provides continuous compliance over your cloud assets to enhance an organization’s security posture. The platform provides a full asset inventory, while verifying security controls are providing intended protection.
Additionally, prebuilt and custom security policies provide automated compliance checks to identify vulnerabilities and misconfigurations of cloud resources.
- Encrypt data at rest and in transit: Protect sensitive data with encryption techniques in storage and in transit.
- Implement access control and identity management: Put in place access control and identity management protocols for authorized users.
- Monitor cloud activity logs: Detect unauthorized access attempts and respond to security incidents with cloud activity log monitoring.
- Implement incident response planning for cloud environments: Develop a comprehensive incident response plan for potential security incidents.
- Conduct regular security assessments and penetration testing: These processes are critical to identifying vulnerabilities.
- Ensure compliance with cloud-specific regulations: Meet specific regulations, such as GDPR or FedRAMP.
Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM)
Define your cyber attack surface & identify/visualize your multi-cloud asset inventory
Verify your security controls are protecting your cyber assets, identify coverage gaps
Extend your security posture by monitoring for vulnerabilities & misconfigurations
The future of continuous compliance in cybersecurity includes several exciting trends. Automation and artificial intelligence are set to increase while compliance frameworks become more standardized. The integration of compliance activities into the overall business strategy is also growing in popularity.
Ultimately, continuous compliance is essential for businesses in today’s climate, enabling them to meet regulatory requirements and minimize risks. By adopting continuous compliance practices and harnessing technology, businesses can outperform their competitors and gain an edge in their respective industries.