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What is IT compliance?

IT compliance is the process by which organizations ensure they are operating in accordance with a specific set of privacy and security requirements, guidelines, and/or best practices.

Many organizations incorporate compliance policies and best practices into their everyday procedures, systems, and tools. This practice helps with policy enforcement and supporting regulatory laws and requirements and works to proactively reduce risk.

What are common types of compliance requirements?

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

Some of the most common compliance frameworks include HIPAA, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), PCI DSS, NIST, the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act, and FedRAMP. These frameworks are typically industry- or country-specific and are sets of guidelines or best practices that organizations can follow to meet regulatory requirements, improve processes, and strengthen their overall security posture.

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

The requirements vary by industry and by country. Examples 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) and is applicable to all organizations operating within the EU and all non-EU organizations that offer goods/services within the EU.

These frameworks provide a well-defined set of baseline configurations and focus on the specifics of how to configure a system, improving the overall security of the organization’s environment.

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.

For most organizations, a custom or hybrid approach is required since organizations typically have their own policies and procedures in addition to needing to align to multiple regulatory frameworks. Therefore, an organization should ensure it has a compliance tool, such as Puppet Comply, to allow for this important customization.

What is the difference between IT compliance and security?

IT compliance and security play different, but crucial roles in helping organizations become compliant and adopting best practices. They both enable the same thing (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 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 by external organizations, such as the government or industry regulator.
  • Non-compliance through failed audits can have severe financial and legal consequences for an organization.

IT security

  • IT security is more of an internal-facing initiative that goes a step beyond meeting third-party standards.
  • IT security focuses on protecting data (both customer and internal data) and critical infrastructure, identifying and remediating vulnerabilities, managing an organization’s attack surface, and mitigating data breaches.
  • Organizations have more of a choice when it comes to how proactive they want their security practices to be. E.g., 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.
  • Penalties from a security breach can be just as severe as being found in non-compliance.

Why does IT compliance matter?

There are two ways to look at compliance: the positive business impact that it has on an organization, and the negative consequences for being found non-compliant.

Positive business outcomes

IT compliance is based on third-party standards that are meant to improve the security of the company’s sensitive information. These standards are typically based on best practices according to the type of data that similar organizations handle within their industry. Aligning with these IT compliance standards can ensure that your organization is implementing best practices. In addition, these standards help organizations implement consistent and scalable processes and procedures.

Negative business consequences

As already mentioned, non-compliance is subject to a myriad of consequences including 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?

Aside from avoiding fines and penalties, the primary benefits of IT compliance impact the customer first: 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:

  • Protecting the organization’s reputation
  • More efficient data management processes
  • Higher quality partners
  • Reduced risk of security breaches
  • Increased confidence in development and growth
  • A more level playing field in the industry
  • Attracting and retaining employees

What is compliance risk and how to reduce it?

Compliance risk is the risk of potential loss as a result of being found non-compliant. This could include monetary loss from any fines or fees as well as legal penalties. It could also include negative brand perception and reputation as a result of a data breach or leaked customer information.

Here are a few ways to reduce compliance risk:

  • Honestly and holistically look at your environment 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 impact IT compliance?

IT automation makes IT compliance achievable at scale. Rather than prioritizing compliance only during an impending audit, implementing a programmatic approach through automation can save an organization a lot of time and needless “fire fighting.”

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 risk associated with human error.

Automation allows you to easily stay up-to-date with updates and changes in 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, it’s imperative to understand the requirements for your organization based on your industry and the government regulating your industry. Finally, it’s turning that plan into action to ensure that everyday processes, systems, and procedures are continually reinforcing those standards.

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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.