The number and severity of cyber-attacks are increasing with time. For that, the international industry standards and government authorities aim to regulate cybersecurity by enforcing more strict cybersecurity compliance criteria.
To stay ahead of the expanding regulatory requirements, organisations must adopt a security-first approach to cybersecurity in order to prepare for shifting cybersecurity compliance requirements.
As a data security professional, you may be responsible for obtaining SOC2 compliance for your company, implementing a NIST framework, or complying with the new ever-evolving privacy regulations. These are only a few examples as you might likely be faced with multiple cyber security standards to follow.
However, it is difficult to understand what cyber security framework is appropriate for your organisation. Also for regulatory compliance, it is essential to select the right security standard that matches your organisational goals and be a cost-effective approach.
Also even if you have a small business that does not come in the scope of state regulations, you may need to adopt a cyber security standard to provide your customers with an assurance that their data is in safe hands.
Nowadays, organisations and individuals are more concerned about data protection and cyber security due to the headlines we see – often filled with data breaches. It’s often the reasoning behind shift in tick in the box security towards proactive measures such as intelligence led penetration testing and cyber security assessments.
What are the risks posed by data security breaches?
Key findings of the 2021 data breach report from IBM concluded that:
Data breach costs increased significantly year-over-year from the 2020 report to the 2021 report, increasing from $3.86 million in 2020 to $4.24 million in 2021.
- $5.65m Average cost of a breach at organisations with compliance failures.
- $5.54m Average cost of a breach at organisations with 81-100% of employees working remotely.
- $180 per record average cost of customer personally identifiable information (PII) compromise, included in 44% of breaches.
- $5.01m Average total cost of a breach caused by business email compromise.
- $401m Average total cost for breaches of 50 million to 65 million records.
As a result of the pandemic, many small businesses operate from home, making them equally vulnerable to these data breaches. Cybercriminals target small businesses to get illegal access to data that they may sell on the dark web. To obtain access, hackers and social engineers exploit flaws in systems, networks, software, and people.
Whether PII compromise or employing weak network connections for transactions, small and medium-sized businesses are too vulnerable to these types of data breaches, resulting in loss and sales revenue.
Following the discovery of a data breach, organisations subject to industry or regional cybersecurity regulations are compelled by law to comply and perform the authorised actions. If a company is discovered to be non-compliant, it may face severe fines and penalties.
Strict adherence to cybersecurity compliance rules lowers the likelihood of a data breach as well as the less-quantifiable consequences of a breach, such as violation of missing data breach reporting, reputation harm, business interruption, and loss of business.
What is cybersecurity compliance?
In general, compliance is described as adhering to rules and achieving benchmarks. Compliance in cybersecurity refers to developing a cybersecurity program that sets risk-based controls to safeguard the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of information stored, processed, or transferred.
Cybersecurity compliance is not dependent on a single standard or law. Depending on the industry, several standards may overlap, causing confusion and additional work for businesses that use a checklist-based approach.
Meeting regulatory compliance standards and criteria have benefits for organisations. Implementing appropriate safeguards and security measures to protect sensitive customer and employee information strengthens the company’s security posture, which also aids in protecting intellectual property such as trade secrets, software code, product specifications, and other information that gives your company a competitive advantage.
What data is in scope?
Cybersecurity and data protection regulations are primarily concerned with the safeguarding of personal information related to natural persons, such as personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), and payment card information (PCI).
PII (Personally Identifiable Information)
PII includes any information that may be used to uniquely identify a person, such as:
- Social security number (SSN) or driver’s license number
- Address information
- Biometric data.
- Date of birth
- Employment information
- Student educational records
Protected Health Information (PHI)
Protected health information comprises details about an individual’s health history or treatments that are more sensitive in nature and could be used to identify a person, such as:
- Previous medical history
- Admissions records
- Medical record number
- Records of prescriptions
- Medical appointment information
- Records of insurance
Payment Card Information
Merchants, vendors and service providers handle the payment card information to process credit/debit card payment transactions such as those that take or process payments made on printed vouchers, over the phone, in person, or online. This data set includes financial information including:
- The cardholder’s name,
- Primary account number,
- Expiration date, and
- Security code.
PCI also includes sensitive data, such as:
- Magnetic-stripe data,
- Data stored on a chip, and
We have covered sensitive data along with examples to make it an easy-to-understand concept about data protection and privacy regulations.
How do cybersecurity regulations apply to different types of data?
Achieving cybersecurity compliance is not dependent on a single standard or regulation. Based upon the data a company processes, there may be numerous applicable standards and regulations. It is also possible that a company will be required to comply with multiple laws simultaneously, depending on the nature of the data they are collecting.
Since each information security standard and privacy regulation safeguards a specific group of personal information, to understand how to accomplish cyber security compliance, you must first determine all of the personal information identifiers that your company processes and then identify all of the applicable laws and standards that are required to protect it. This will ensure direct input towards a security plan for your organisation.
Examples of cybersecurity regulatory compliance
Providers who accept payments through point-of-service (POS) devices such as credit card readers must employ PCI DSS compliant hardware and software to comply with PCI DSS regulations (PCI DSS). PCI DSS standard gives a framework to financial institutions for completely auditing their IT security posture. This international standard also ensures that cardholder data is protected from loss and misuse as it is collected, maintained, handled, and transmitted.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to organisations that serve European and UK data subjects. It protects all those personal data identifiers that could be used to identify an individual.
n contrast, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) applies to businesses that serve consumers in California and provide services to California residents. Like GDPR for European Union, California Consumer Privacy Act also protects all personal data identifiers linked to any natural person living in California.
SOC 2 (System and Organisation Controls 2) applies to any technical service provider or SaaS provider that handles or maintains customer data. That implies it applies to almost any SaaS company and any company that stores user data on the cloud. Third parties or support organisations with whom such enterprises collaborate should likewise be SOC 2 compliant to protect the integrity of customer data.
UK public sector have made Cyber Essentials as a mandatory item covering security requirements to be eligible for contracts and work through its marketplace framework GCloud.
Cyber Essentials is a UK government scheme that provides businesses with guidance on protecting themselves from common cyber attacks. There are five key controls that businesses should implement to be cyber secure:
1. Boundary firewalls and internet gateways
2. Secure configuration
3. User access control
4. Malware protection
5. Patch management
The healthcare industry must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect personal health information.
Other sorts of sensitive data that regional or state authorities may regulate include IP addresses, email addresses, usernames, and passwords.
Advantages of cybersecurity compliance
Maintaining the security and privacy of customers is a significant concern for organisations and their IT departments that support them as data breaches become more common and hazardous, even among small and medium businesses.
Compliance in the context of information security ensures that the organisation’s security and user’s data privacy are managed and maintained for all business processes.
Aside from maintaining industry-specific compliance to avoid costly data breaches, here are seven advantages of cyber security compliance for every organisation:
- Cybersecurity compliance aids in the avoidance of hefty fines and penalties.
- Cybersecurity compliance safeguards the company’s reputation by avoiding non-compliant data processing activities that could risk their information assets.
- Cybersecurity compliance strengthens business functions in data protection by supporting their customers’ privacy rights to access, delete, or modify their data.
- Cybersecurity compliance builds trust among business partners by demonstrating that the company has done its due diligence to secure the data it collects.
- Cybersecurity compliance enhances business culture by implementing security controls and data processing good practices that meet or exceed applicable laws or regulations, while also displaying industry leadership in information security.
- Cybersecurity compliance promotes transparency and accountability by mandating organisations to deploy appropriate technical and organisational controls and prove their effectiveness when requested by individuals and authorities.
How to implement a cybersecurity compliance program?
Implementing a security program throughout the organisation will help you achieve cybersecurity compliance. It is critical to identify compliance obligations and map out step-by-step procedures to achieve an adequate state of compliance. The following activities should be prioritised for implementing the cybersecurity compliance program:
1. Dedicate a resource for compliance activities
Whether your organisation is small or medium-sized, you should think about forming a compliance team to achieve some level of cyber resilience. It is not necessary to have an entire department dedicated to compliance activities. All you need to do is:
- Hire an information security analyst responsible for monitoring compliance requirements,
- Consume your IT department’s existing resources to identify and minimise cyber risks associated with all data processing activities,
- Third-party tools and solutions for information security and privacy management are also available,
- Alternatively, you can seek the advice of a third-party service provider to gain a better understanding of information security and assist you in achieving compliance.
2. Identify the data you are collecting and processing
To understand cyber security compliance requirements, you need to identify what data is residing in your information security management systems. Based upon the type of information i.e. PII, PHI or PCI or any sensitive information, identify applicable regulations and cybersecurity standards necessary to protect the identified set of information.
3. Conduct necessary risk assessments for critical assets
Organisations of all sizes must engage in risk assessment processes, as increasing standards and evolving regulations emphasise a risk-based approach to compliance rather than a control-based one. Risk assessment is usually composed of the following activities:
Identify the risk
Identify all critical information assets, as well as information systems, networks, and devices that are subject to cybersecurity compliance requirements. A number of exercises such as PCI penetration testing or vulnerability scanning could be helpful in initial risk identification.
Assess the risk
Examine the level of risk associated with each data category. Determine where high-risk information is stored, transmitted, and collected, and assign a risk rating to those sites.
Analyse the risk
You must analyse risk after you have assessed it. Organisations have traditionally used the following formula:
(Probability of threat x Impact)/Cost = Risk
Choose risk tolerance strategy
After assessing it, you must decide whether to transmit, refuse, accept, or mitigate the risk.
4. Deploy organisational and technical controls
After deciding your risk tolerance methodology, based on that you need to choose defensive and preventive technical controls as well as defense in depth strategy to minimise the occurrence of the risk. Controls may include the following:
- Access controls
- IDS/IPS or SIEM
- Data backups
- Vendor risk assessment
- Password management
- Patch management
- Network security
- Physical security
5. Implement information security policies
When you create policies, you ensure that the policies you deploy comply with cybersecurity. Your policies will document your compliance efforts and controls, laying the groundwork for any necessary internal or external audits. These information security policies will include:
- Acceptable use policy
- Access control policy
- Change management policy
- Incident response policy
- Remote access policy
- Business continuity and disaster recovery plan
- Email/Communication policy
- Data protection policy
6. Monitoring and Review
All the cybersecurity compliance requirements revolve around how the cyber threat landscape evolves. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for new ways to steal information. Rather than looking for new vulnerabilities, known as Zero-Day Attacks, they prefer to exploit existing ones.
They may, for example, combine two different types of known ransomware malware to create a new one.
Continuous monitoring assists in the detection of new risks. The objective of a compliance program is to detect and respond to these dangers before they cause a data breach.
Consequences of non-compliance
Organisations of all sizes are impacted by data protection and privacy rules. If you have customers or employees, you have data that must be protected under some state or federal regulation.
Such regulations are meant to guarantee that sufficient measures have been taken to protect potential victims of cybercrimes such as fraud or identity theft caused by malicious actors getting access to data via hacking, technological failure, or human error.
Unauthorised data access as a result of noncompliance with cybersecurity standards can cause challenges for organisations such as:
- Bank fines
- Audits by governing authorities
- Remediation and compensation cost
- Lost revenue/ reputation
This blog explained how to achieve cybersecurity compliance with multiple regulations and cyber security frameworks. As you learnt, it’s important to know how to create an effective cybersecurity compliance plan for any type of organisation.
When you implement your security controls appropriately, compliance becomes a byproduct of your data security. As cybersecurity evolves, your company must have the necessary solutions in place to ensure compliance. As cybersecurity compliance is required for organisations across many industries, why not join the revolution in improving your cybersecurity landscape and preventing unforeseen cyber-attacks by creating a compliance plan today?
Get in touch for a casual chat to discuss your concerns and learn more.
Shahrukh, is a passionate cyber security analyst and researcher who loves to write technical blogs on different cyber security topics. He holds a Masters degree in Information Security, an OSCP and has a strong technical skillset in offensive security.