Businesses and organizations working in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and finance often face a challenge of complying to constantly changing regulations. There are always new security policies and rules to comply with in order to stay in operation and avoid hefty non-compliance fines and penalties. The issue of compliance often falls on HR and IT departments that oversee essential functions such as network security and infrastructure management. However, compliance and ensuring that the company maintains prominent levels of information security should be a responsibility of all employees starting from the top management to the person managing Point-of-sale devices.
What are the Compliance Standards?
I think the better question here would be what is compliance? Security-related compliance basically implies following the laid down regulatory rules and standards set by legislative and administrative organizations.
Examples of regulations a business should comply with include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI/DSS), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for businesses with operations in the European Union, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA), the Sarbanes Oxley Act, and many more acts and regulations. It is quite evident that staying in compliance with these regulations at all times can be a major challenge if your company does not have a process to accomplish and maintain compliance standards.
Is Your Business Subject to Compliance Regulations?
Most businesses in the US are subject to one or more types of security regulations. The regulations provide information security requirements that a business must follow to improve levels of information security within the organization and the entire industry at large. Given the number of regulations and standards in diverse industries, it is often difficult to know which regulations apply to your company.
In most cases, the regulations are not formulated in a way that an average business owner can understand which is why you need to seek the assistance of a professional information security company to interpret the requirements and show you the best way to implement them. Security professionals such as Venkon have the necessary experience on implementing systems and procedures to ensure that your business is in full compliance with the required standards.
Compliance doesn’t stop after you’ve passed the required audits such as PCI, HIPAA, or GLBA. It is an ongoing process. A study by Verizon showed that many companies find themselves out of PCI compliance within 9 months. Many companies invest resources to pass the audit and achieve compliance only to falter after the audit is over. Compliance shouldn’t be taken for granted. For instance, PCI compliance means that your business should be able to constantly secure its cardholders data while compliance with SOX and HIPAA standards will help you avoid fines and other legal consequences of data breaches.
Getting a compliance certification for the first or second time doesn’t mean that your business is 100% safe in the foreseeable future. You must maintain compliance throughout the year and not just when the auditors drop by.
Compliance Best Practices
Why do companies fall into non-compliance? The most common reasons are lax controls, complacent staff, and the ever-changing nature of the information technology world. For example, if you are entering into a business that accepts, transmits, and stores customer credit card data, and therefore subject to PCI compliance requirements, then you may need current information systems and applications that adhere to the required standards. However, as cyber threats increase or become more sophisticated, you’ll need to improve on your information security software and hardware to stay in compliance. If you lax on security or your IT team becomes complacent with their existing systems, you’ll not only expose your business to emerging cyber threats but fall out of compliance too.
So how do you avoid falling into the non-compliance trap?
- Start by developing clearly defined policies controls that ensure your company doesn’t stagnate on compliance. The process should also include updated documentation for easy auditing.
- Make sure your compliance adapts to any changes you make to your IT infrastructure.
- Stay updated on compliance mandate changes and legislation. You can easily do this by subscribing to compliance newsletters and checking industry or government websites for the latest news on compliance standards.
- Make sure that all the new applications in your IT department undergo testing and review before they are rolled out into production.
- Check and update your compliance documentation regularly including all your security controls at all levels.
- Break down compliance standards in a point-by-point format describing each step as required by the compliance standard. You may end up with a lengthy document, but a point-by-point breakdown makes examinations easier.
- Review your compliance measures regularly, at least quarterly each year. The review can be scheduled alongside other IT activities such as penetration testing, update monitoring, stress testing, and other information security related duties you perform regularly.
- Involve a third-party specialist or a security professional outside your company in the review process. It helps to get an expert third party opinion, especially when conducting penetration tests to identify data security flaws and vulnerabilities your team may not be aware of.
- PCI and HIPAA compliance standards require a formal risk assessment test to achieve compliance. You should, therefore, have your test results documentation readily available at all times. If you have multiple compliance standards to satisfy then you can re-use relevant portions of your risk assessment document.
Involve all members of your staff in the process. PCI, for instance, requires that a compliance policy covers information security procedures for all your employees. It is therefore important to train your entire staff on the best information security procedures across all departments.
It takes effort and resources to accomplish and maintain compliance standards. If your organization has enough resources, dedicate a team or at least an individual to security and compliance tasks. If you don’t have enough resources to maintain a full-time team, you can always enlist a third-party security company to prepare your company for compliance certifications.