8 Steps to Achieve Cybersecurity Compliance

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Cybersecurity compliance is complicated.

As the cybersecurity industry changes, so do compliance requirements and, depending on your organization’s operations, compliance could mean adhering to multiple frameworks and reporting to multiple governing bodies. In fact, 67% of organizations surveyed by Arctic Wolf follow between one to three sets of guidelines.  

Compliance is also intrinsically tied to security. Compliance guidelines are created to protect data from cybercriminals, and failure to follow guidelines can increase an organization’s cyber risk. Just look at the HCA hack, where a class action lawsuit has already been filed. The breach originated with a third-party vendor, and while it’s still unknown how protected that vendor was, HIPAA requires vendors that deal with private information to also be HIPAA compliant. The details of this breach are still unknown, but it highlights how compliance, security, and breach damages are all connected. 

What Is Cybersecurity Compliance? 

While HIPAA may be the most well known, the world of compliance extends far beyond health organizations. Cybersecurity compliance is the process of adhering to regulations, standards, or frameworks dictated by a governing body or by law, specifically in relation to private information and data security. As mentioned above, cybersecurity compliance operates as risk management, helping organizations harden their attack surface and lower their risk, better protecting valuable consumer data in the process.  

67% of organizations follow between one to three sets of cybersecurity compliance guidelines.

For example, any organization that deals with personal health information (PHI), must comply with HIPAA regulations. Compliance is quite common for organizations across industries, with 87% of organizations reporting that they follow some guideline or framework, listing HIPAA and PCI DSS as the most common. 

Achieving and maintaining compliance can be its own herculean task, as can navigating different guidelines, changing recommendations, and adjustments in business operations. Many organizations struggle to understand which frameworks are best for their business and security needs, with 43% only following requirements due to a legal obligation 

Here are eight steps to help your organization start down the path toward compliance and improved security posture. 

How To Ensure Cybersecurity Compliance 

1. Understand Your Organization’s Specific Compliance Requirements

The first question an organization should ask itself is, “what requirements does our organization need to follow based on our industry, location, and the data we handle?” If you’re a healthcare organization, HIPAA will be a big one, but also possibly PCI DSS if you deal with financial information for your patients. However, compliance is more granular than just “are we a healthcare organization?”

For example, if your organization utilizes the cloud, you’ll need to understand cloud compliance and how data and the cloud work together. If you deal with third-party vendors, that’s another subset that needs to be addressed. In the same way an organization assesses its security posture by doing an overview and audit of its entire system, the same audit needs to happen for compliance.

2. Choose One or Multiple Compliance Frameworks

Once you’ve determined what compliance, regulations, and laws you need to adhere to, the next step is to pick a security framework to build your program upon. Your framework will help you map to compliance requirements so that you’re not building everything all over again when laws, regulations or requirements change.

Learn more about specific requirements with the Arctic Wolf Cybersecurity Compliance Guide.

3. Identify Major Security Gaps

Because compliance and security are two sides of the same coin, understanding your security gaps will help you understand where you need to apply scrutiny when it comes to compliance. The first step is to conduct gap assessment on the security environment you have already built and judge how it aligns to the controls within your selected framework. Doing this will save you a lot of time and effort, as well as help your security and compliance team focus on what needs to be done and in what order.

4. Complete Data Classification

Protecting your organization’s most valuable data starts with classifying that data and understanding which data is high risk or critical. Classification is the process of defining and categorizing said data. There are various data classification levels that are usually organization or industry specific and are defined by what the data contains, who can access it, and what access controls are in place.

The Data Lifecycle

Data has a five-stage lifecycle that is often mentioned in compliance requirements.

Stages include creation, storage, usage, archival, and destruction. It’s vital that important data meets compliance standards at each stage of the lifecycle, often called data lifecycle management, or your organization risks noncompliance.

5. Conduct a Risk Assessment

A risk assessment ranks risk based on likelihood and impact in your organization and considers your people, process, and technology. Your organization can leverage this assessment and its results to reduce risk by closing the security gaps you’ve discovered in step three. As with compliance, there are risk assessment frameworks and risk assessment tools to help your organization conduct a risk assessment and better manage risk, including those offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Center for Internet Security (CIS).

Learn how SMBs can better manage their risk.

6. Engage Your Stakeholders

Cybersecurity is every individual’s responsibility. As you implement compliance frameworks, you need to engage your C-suite and other stakeholders to ensure full transparency and communication around your organization’s risk and security gaps. Your stakeholders will have a great deal of input on what level of risk they’re willing to tolerate and what regulatory gaps they consider acceptable for the business to shoulder.

Learn how to get executive level buy-in for cybersecurity.

7. Set Up Your Compliance Team

It’s no secret that the cybersecurity industry is facing a skills shortage. That’s doubly true when it comes to compliance — only 32% of organizations have a team that consists of multiple individuals that are dedicated to ensuring compliance is met. Having individuals dedicated to compliance not only helps in implementation and maintenance but increases the confidence in an organization that they are both compliant and secure.

8. Map Your Security Framework to Specific Compliance Frameworks

Now that you have a functional security program based on a framework that measures risk across the organization, it’s time to map that framework to compliance regulations, requirements, and laws. A lot of regulations specifically state what data they aim to protect, and it’s important to know what assets and data fall under which regulations and frameworks. It’s also important to consider your jurisdiction and identify any particular or unique requirements or regulations specific not only to the industry your business is in, but where you’re doing business.

8 steps to achieve cybersecurity compliance, with the headings listed above.

Take a deep dive into these eight steps with our webinar, “Navigating The Complex World of Cybersecurity Compliance.” 

If you want to better understand your organization’s compliance requirements and what role cybersecurity plays in those requirements, visit our compliance page or explore our in-depth guide to compliance

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Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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