8 Steps to Navigating Cybersecurity Data Compliance

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Cybersecurity compliance is complicated.

As industry standards change and evolve with new technology, so do compliance requirements. Depending on your organization’s operations, industry, or even location, 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.

While not one in the same, compliance and security are intrinsically linked. Compliance guidelines are created largely to protect data from unauthorized access, and failure to follow guidelines and take proper security precautions can increase an organization’s cyber risk or lead to an incident. In 2023, HIPAA Journal reported that one in three Americans had their healthcare data exposed, and 133 million medical records were exfiltrated during attacks on healthcare organizations and their vendors.

While the details of many of these breaches remain unknown, the exposing of medical records is a HIPAA violation which, often, will swiftly result in legal and financial impacts from governing or regulatory bodies. These impacts can come in the form of lawsuits or compliance-related fines, which can affect organizations’ operations, budgets, and more. The average cost of a data breach for a healthcare organization, according to the 2023 IBM Cost of a Data Breach, is $10.93 million USD, almost $6 million USD more than the global average. That high cost is driven by operational and regulatory impacts of a breach, which can include fines, legal costs, reputational damage, and more.

This one example shows how compliance, security, and breach outcomes worked together to define an organization’s overall security, and why organizations must take compliance and their security journey seriously.

What Is Cybersecurity Compliance? 

Cybersecurity compliance pertains to aspects of regulations, standards, or frameworks dictated by a governing body or by law that relate directly to an organization’s data and information security controls. As mentioned above, cybersecurity compliance supports risk management initiatives, helping organizations harden their attack surface and lower their risk, better protecting confidential data in the process.

And while HIPAA may be one of the most well-known compliance standards, all industries, including those that may not be considered as highly regulated as the healthcare and financial sectors, are required to comply with a growing number of regulatory requirements. There are global standards like PCI-DSS, rules for specific industries such as the FTC Safeguards Rule which now extends to auto dealerships, and voluntary frameworks, like SOC2, which is geared at helping third-party service providers protect client data.

Compliance is a growing requirement 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.

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

Achieving and maintaining compliance can be its own herculean task, as can navigating different guidelines, changing requirements, 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 to not only meet industry-mandated requirements but also strengthen organizational cyber resilience over time.

How To Ensure Cybersecurity Compliance 

1. Understand Your Organization’s Specific Data Security 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 is a given regulatory requirement. Additionally, many healthcare organizations are required to follow PCI-DSS since processing patient payments in the form of credit card transactions is a common industry practice.

Considering that 87% of organizations must meet some kind of compliance requirements, it’s likely your organization will as well. And this can be a daunting task for an organization. There are not only the large compliance requirements most organizations are familiar with, but there’s also state and industry-specific requirements, so it’s important to do research to see what requirements are mandatory for your organization. For example, if your organization is based on the East Coast, but does business in California, you may be required to follow the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which works to protect consumer data, and can come with hefty fines for organizations who violate the act.

Explore compliance mandates in-depth with our compliance map.

2. Identify Security Gaps Within Your Environment

Understanding your security gaps will help you understand where you need to implement new controls or improve existing controls. The first step is to conduct gap assessment on your environment, testing the security controls you have in place to establish a benchmark that will help you measure the effectiveness of your controls against your selected framework.

Gaps an organization should look for include:

  • Security policies and procedures gaps
  • Information storage and disposal gaps
  • Technical and physical safeguards gaps
  • Administrative safeguards gaps
  • Third-party gaps
  • Breach compliance gaps

Working to continually fill in these gaps not only puts your organization in a better position when it comes to compliance audits but will enhance your overall security posture.

Arctic Wolf’s security operations maturity assessment can help your organization see where it may be excelling or falling short, and how to prioritize security measures as you work toward compliance.

3. Engage Your Security and Compliance 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.

Stakeholders can include:

  • Your C-Suite
  • Governance, risk, and compliance team
  • A compliance officer or compliance department for larger enterprises
  • Jurisdictional leaders (if your business operations cross state lines)
  • An outside auditor

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

4. Define Your Compliance Outcomes

If your organization doesn’t know what it’s working toward in terms of both compliance and security, it will never make progress. To better protect your organization and avoid the financial and operational implications of non-compliance, you organization should:

  • Work with a compliance assessor or auditor to understand what they look for in audits
  • Communicate risks and gaps to your stakeholders and agree on acceptable risk
  • Regularly track compliance and security progress

The Arctic Wolf Concierge Delivery Model is helpful when working through this step, as the Concierge Security® Team (CST) can assist your organization in gathering security and compliance artifacts, identifying gaps, and assessing acceptable risk.

5. Complete Data Classification to Better Assess Data Security

Cybercriminals are not only turning their sights toward an organization’s most valuable assets, but they’re also increasingly exfiltrating and releasing that data to the dark web. In fact, according to a recent Arctic Wolf survey, 91% of organizations who experienced ransomware had data exfiltrated. Protecting your organization’s most valuable data starts with classifying that data and understanding which data is high risk or critical, and therefore needs more scrutiny and control.

Classification is the process of defining and categorizing said data. It’s important, in this stage, to work with the stakeholders listed above to better identify your organizations “crown jewels” and what inherent risk may surround them, including technological and human risk. 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 and Compliance

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

Stages include:

  • Creation
  • Storage
  • Usage
  • Archival
  • 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.

6. Conduct an Internal Risk Assessment

After thoroughly auditing your environment, data, and security gaps, it’s time to take the risk assessments discussed in step one. 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 previously.

Assessment can include vulnerability scans, security awareness training sessions or phishing simulations, penetration testing, and other assessments that accurately gauge your organizations’ current risk levels.

As with compliance, there are risk assessment frameworks and risk assessment tools to help your organization conduct a risk assessment and better manage risk, as well as meet compliance standards more concretely and efficiently, allowing them to stay compliant longer, even as business and security operations change over time.

Learn how SMBs can better manage their risk.

7. Implement a Security Framework to Improve Your Security Posture and Compliance Outcomes

As mentioned previously, compliance is not security. However, there is a significant amount of overlap between broad security frameworks and requirements of larger, more well-known compliance regulations.

By taking the security gaps, risks, and other measures identified in the steps above, and utilizing a security framework to improve them, your organization can make major strides toward both improved cybersecurity and compliance.

Two major frameworks that organizations can follow are the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF 2.0) and the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Critical Security Controls. By aligning your security plans (including staffing, budget, and operations) to these frameworks, it will help your organization not only increase your cybersecurity but help continually meet compliance standards for future audits and future compliance changes.

8. Map Your Security Framework to Specific Compliance Standards

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 regulatory compliance requirements. Many regulations specifically state what data the controls within the standard are designed to protect, and it’s important to know what assets and data are included within each standard and framework. 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.

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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