Compliance continues to be a weighted topic in the cybersecurity space. Particularly, the importance that it plays when ensuring that organizations adhere to requirements stemming from regulatory governance. In fact, highly regulated industries, like finance and education, impose some of the strictest laws to protect users of these services and their data from threats. Failure to comply with any applicable governance can severely impact businesses in many ways, up to and including business continuity.
With the stakes being so high, it’s in the best interest of regulated organizations to implement standards and procedures that are aligned with industry best practices to minimize the risk of falling out of compliance while remediating incidents through quick and effective workflows. However, between being in compliance and falling out of scope, the gamut is potentially wide, hence the very real need for cybersecurity compliance monitoring.
What is cybersecurity compliance monitoring?
Cybersecurity compliance monitoring is the act of maintaining visibility into the endpoints, users and organizational resources used by a business at any given time. It speaks to a level of vigilance that IT and Security teams must have, combined with procedures and processes that are put in place that allow them to know:
- What is the health status of all devices used to access protected resources?
- Which users are accessing, handling, storing, disseminating and disposing of protected data?
- How is protected data being processed and using which applications?
- Do processes implemented align business operations with standards?
- Is compliance being enforced through automatic policies or manually?
The purpose of cybersecurity compliance monitoring is two-fold:
- Provides a “finger on the pulse” of the organization’s security posture at all times.
- IT/Security teams have time-stamped evidence that compliance goals are being met in the event of an audit.
What are cybersecurity compliance monitoring best practices?
“If it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” — Unknown
The quote above underscores a fundamental principle of regulators and auditors. If you don’t document actions or findings through written procedures (or in the case of cybersecurity compliance monitoring, reporting telemetry data or recording actions taken through device logs) then how can you prove that the endpoint was compliant at any given time?
The short answer is: you can’t.
The longer answer is that some form of documentation is necessary to verify compliance. A driver’s license is adequate documentation that proves a person is legally capable of operating a motor vehicle. However, if you get stopped by law enforcement and forget your license, they will issue you a citation. The citation is contingent upon providing proof of a valid license, else you’ll be required to face further consequences in court.
This is similar to regulatory requirements where verifying compliance with endpoints, processes and/or data security is a steadfast requirement. The burden of proof falls on the organization and they will be subject to the consequences of violating regulations unless adequate proof of compliance is provided during the investigative process.
Documentation isn’t the only best practice, however. The list below touches upon other critical practices that aid organizations in establishing and maintaining a comprehensive cybersecurity compliance monitoring program.
Determine regulations that apply
Just to clarify, as an organization you do not get to cherry-pick which regulatory laws to abide by. If it’s applicable to you, you must contend with all of them. This sometimes means being subject to laws at different levels of government — even in other countries. Because of this, some laws may be stricter than others. These variables make it more difficult to remain compliant, so a good rule of thumb when subject to similar laws with differing levels of compliance is to design your monitoring program around the strictest law. This ensures that your program is designed to comply with the most demanding requirement while meeting other, less strict requirements in the process.
Assessing risk is a tentpole for the success of any cybersecurity compliance monitoring program. After all, what good is knowing what needs protection if you don’t understand what’s necessary to enable the desired level of protection? Is an endpoint already in a state of compliance or does IT need to deploy hardening configurations before the device can be brought into compliance? Risk assessments permit organizations to perform a full inventory of the resources they have and determine where they currently stand in comparison to where they need to be. That middle ground signifies the path necessary to mitigate risk.
Risk assessment data must be compared to regulatory requirements. This process allows the organization not only to review what regulations apply to them but allows them to make data-driven determinations moving forward. By combining information on risk vectors, regulatory requirements and tolerance levels — and comparing it to the applicability of regulations — organizations will be able to determine what a compliance program that meets their unique needs looks like as they move toward the next step.
Standards and Frameworks
Regulations require a minimum level of protection relating to the use of services and security for the data handled by regulated companies. Similarly, standards and frameworks provide IT and Security teams with a set of configurations commensurate with the level of protection required by regulations. Administrators rely on these as a structured, logical way of weaving cybersecurity controls and industry best practices as part of the organization’s compliance program and measure its success using compliance monitoring tools, which we discuss in the next section.
The actual process of monitoring for compliance is carried out using endpoint security software that relays rich telemetry, or device health data back to a centrally managed console, where threat intelligence is sorted and analyzed. This data is prioritized for administrators to review based on severity so that the most critical issues are responded to first and quickly remediated before incidents can worsen. The case for increased visibility permits admins to perform compliance tasks proactively, not unlike how preventive care can help patients identify the health issues of tomorrow by taking the steps to prevent them today.
Training, whether it’s geared toward IT/Security teams or aimed squarely at end users is an unsung hero in any cybersecurity program. Regardless if the former find admins beefing up their skill sets or the latter, upgrading a user’s knowledge base — both camps benefit immensely because of training. But the benefit doesn’t end there, as organizations benefit by being able to incorporate training initiatives into their cybersecurity compliance monitoring program. Doing so adds a layer to compliance initiatives, providing measurable assurance that all stakeholders are doing their part to keep compliant.
While some might argue the merits of automation being a best practice or not, we’ve included it in this list because the benefits of automating security compliance monitoring far outweigh manually doing so. After all, humans are, well human. We need breaks for food and rest and are prone to stress-related factors that impact our ability to remain top-performing, 100% of the time. Code running on cloud-based systems, not so much. This is as good a reason as any to consider how automating monitoring tasks and pairing them with remediation workflows alone will have a positive impact on incident response and by extension, security and compliance monitoring.
New to compliance management? Read our in-depth guide for tips on how to get started.
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