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What is IT compliance?

IT compliance is the process by which organizations ensure they operate within a specific set of privacy and security requirements, guidelines, and best practices.   
 
Many organizations incorporate compliance policies and best practices into their everyday procedures, systems, and tools. IT compliance helps reduce an organization’s risk by ensuring it’s aligned with policy enforcement and supporting regulatory laws.

What are common types of compliance requirements?

Hipaa, GDPR, PCI DSS, NIST, Sarbanes-Oxley, FedRAMP, CIS, DISA STIG

Some of the most common compliance requirements include HIPAA, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), PCI DSS, NIST, the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act, and FedRAMP.

Compliance frameworks are sets of guidelines or best practices created by regulatory bodies that organizations are often expected to follow. They’re typically specific to an industry, country, or geographic region that sets the rules they’re based on.

Examples of compliance requirements include:

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is specific to healthcare organizations and establishes baselines for protecting patients’ sensitive information.
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is specific to organizations that manage credit, debit, and cash card transactions and is meant to protect the security of cardholders’ personal data.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a set of regulations designed to protect EU citizens and their personally identifiable information (PII). Thus, it applies to all organizations operating or offering goods and services within the EU.

Other frameworks, such as CIS and DISA STIG, go a step further and provide specific, configuration-level requirements.

These frameworks provide a well-defined set of baseline configurations. That helps organizations focus on how to configure their systems to improve their overall security.

An organization will typically need to adhere to multiple industry frameworks. Specific frameworks, such as CIS, commonly include the compliance guidelines and best practices from the more general industry frameworks, such as HIPAA – meaning that implementing CIS benchmarks is a good way to ensure compliance with industry or country-specific frameworks.

Organizations typically have their own security policies and procedures, which they have to align with multiple regulatory compliance frameworks. For those organizations, a hybrid approach makes the most sense. Compliance tools, like Puppet Comply, can support custom compliance policies through configuration management.  

What is the difference between IT compliance and security?

IT compliance and security are both crucial in achieving and maintaining compliance. They both reduce risk and safeguard systems, but go about it in different ways, which is why it’s necessary for them to work together.

  • Without security, compliance wouldn’t be as concerned with important security measures, such as employee awareness training and responding proactively to data breaches.
  • Without compliance, an organization might not be as focused on operating efficiently and enforcing industry best practices.

There’s a lot of overlap between security and compliance, but they’re not one and the same. They work together to protect an organization, but there are some major differences. The differences boil down to a few key areas.

Security vs. compliance

IT security

  • IT security focuses on protecting an organization’s data (both customer and internal data) and critical infrastructure. Security can also include identifying and remediating vulnerabilities, managing an organization’s attack surface, and mitigating data breaches.
  • Organizations get to pick and choose the security practices they want to enforce based on what they think they need to remain secure. For example, less mature organizations might only concern themselves with preventive measures to avoid breaches, while more mature organizations take a more proactive approach to analyze and find attackers (threat hunting).
  • Each organization is responsible for policy enforcement of its own security practices. There’s no outside auditor or regulator that enforces security.

IT compliance

  • IT compliance ensures that an organization is complying with the minimum security-related requirements. These requirements come from third-party organizations, such as the government.
  • The goal for IT compliance is to manage and minimize risk in accordance with third-party standards.
  • Compliance enforcement is imposed through audits conducted by external organizations, such as the government or an industry regulator.

For all the ways they’re different, IT security and compliance are similar in their risks. Both bad security policies and failing a compliance audit can have severe financial, legal, and reputational consequences for an organization.

Why is IT compliance important?

IT compliance can have positive outcomes for an organization or negative consequences for being non-compliant.

Positive business outcomes

Aligning with IT compliance frameworks ensures that your organization is implementing best practices, which reduces your risk in the event of a security incident. It also shows that you put in the effort to meet a standard developed specifically for your industry, which increases confidence among stakeholders. In addition, these standards help you implement consistent processes and procedures that can scale with your organization.

Negative business consequences

Non-compliance can and does result in legal and financial penalties, security breaches, and damage to a business’s reputation. Failed compliance audits can also be a sign that your organization is operating inefficiently, relying too much on one-off policies and procedures, and more prone to human error.

What are the benefits of IT compliance?

Staying compliant ensures that customer data and privacy are maintained. This in turn benefits the business, as customers that trust an organization tend to remain loyal. Overall, it builds trust across the organization, among employees, with customers, stakeholders, investors, regulators, and within the industry.

Other benefits include:

  • Avoiding fines and penalties
  • Protecting the organization’s reputation
  • More efficient data management processes
  • Higher quality partners
  • Reduced risk of security breaches
  • Increased confidence in development and growth
  • Attracting and retaining employees

What is compliance risk?

Compliance risk is the risk of potential loss due to failing a compliance audit. This could include monetary loss from any fines or fees as well as legal penalties. Compliance risk can include loss of customer trust, negative brand perception, and reputation damage as a result of a data breach or leaked customer information.

How do I reduce compliance risk?

Here is how to reduce compliance risk:

  • Look at your environment honestly and holistically and assess internal and external factors that impact your organization’s compliance.
  • Identify industry frameworks and IT compliance standards that your organization is held accountable for and stay up-to-date on changes made to those standards.
  • Implement policies and best practices into your organization’s procedures, tools, and systems that reinforce your goals.
  • Organize efforts across IT and security.
  • Prioritize and maintain organizational compliance.

Navigating the world of compliance can be a challenge for any organization, regardless of size or industry. Compliance regulations and requirements constantly evolve and can become overwhelming if not kept consistently top of mind.

In order to meet the challenges of today’s complex requirements, organizations must find a delicate balance between meeting the privacy and security requirements of their market, their customers, and governments, while also ensuring that compliance and policy enforcement is scalable and sustainable.

How does IT automation make IT compliance easier?

  • IT automation makes IT compliance achievable at scale. Rather than prioritizing compliance just to pass an audit, implementing a programmatic approach through automation can save an organization a lot of time and reduce the time spent putting out fires.
  • Automation improves efficiency and streamlines processes. It can also ensure the right stakeholders are engaged when necessary to help manage requirements.
  • IT automation helps reduce the risks associated with human error.
  • Automation allows you to stay up-to-date with updates and changes to compliance benchmarks and can allow you to easily fix issues as they arise.

How can I get started with IT compliance?

Achieving and maintaining compliance can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Often the first step in the journey is coming up with an actionable plan. This includes taking an honest, holistic look at your organization and your infrastructure and determining where you’re most at risk.

From there, get familiar with the compliance regulations and requirements in your industry. Finally, it’s turning that plan into action to ensure that everyday processes, systems, and procedures are continually reinforcing those standards.

Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey, or you’re looking to maintain and improve the status of your compliance, Puppet can help. Puppet takes a consultative approach to help you find where you’re most at risk and helps you implement automation solutions that will help your organization achieve continuous compliance.