Anyone who has worked in an IT environment will almost certainly have heard the term “cybersecurity compliance standards.” But what exactly does cybersecurity regulatory compliance mean, and is it the same across every IT category?
IT is a fast-evolving field, with near exponential growth worldwide. Securing systems and data, keeping it safe from deliberate attacks and natural disasters with the latest IT standards has never been more important. To gain a broad understanding of compliance, one has to become familiar with networks in general, and the regulations that pertain to the specific industry in question.
Some regulations are enshrined into law. Others are a requirement for membership in an industry standards group or certification body. Specific security requirements define what is necessary to gain compliance, according to the certification body’s guidelines. Complicating matters is the fact that the regulations can change periodically as new technologies are introduced, and new threats are identified.
Information Security vs. Cyber Security
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting networks, servers, cloud data, and applications from hackers. Information security encompasses cybersecurity, plus the act of protecting data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. The growing demand for professionals in this area is reflected in the fact that several post-secondary institutions offer degrees and certifications in IT cybersecurity. The Carnegie Mellon University Cybersecurity Program is an example.
For true business success, enacting compliant security functionality standards isn’t optional. There’s the immediate risk to your business from hackers, who can steal data and interrupt or destroy your operations. There’s also the risk to your reputation, even if you are lucky enough to not be immediately compromised. Who wants to do business with an organization that doesn’t comply with the latest security standards for data and application security?
Credit: Lewis Kang’ethe Ngugi
No organization, and no security standard, can claim 100% immunity to having their data compromised. Nevertheless, once the recommended security functionality requirement has been established, there is an element of trust involved.
Certification helps confirm that any IT firms you are considering doing business with are doing their best to safeguard customers’ data. One way to gain a potential customer’s trust is to communicate adherence to the latest security certifications.
Each industry can have more than one certification, and similar industries can have standards that overlap, so compliance is rarely a simple process. Below are some of the major industries that have well-established security standards.
Healthcare is data-intensive with customer information, treatments, pharmaceutical prescriptions, and much more, so this industry has some of the most extensive security regulations. The most widely recognized standard is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA was introduced in 1996 and includes a privacy rule component that covers a person’s identity, but also medical records and DNA. The rules apply not only to the health care provider but also to any associated business that may have access to the same data. In other words, any large or small business that does business with a HIPAA member must also be HIPAA certified.
Data protection comes into play here too, in order to protect competitive innovation, customer information, and other areas including worker health and safety, and environmental impact. One of the main security standards is the ISO 27001 series, within which are sub-groups of specific standards and levels. The standard examines how IT security is managed, risks, access control, and human resource security.
Customer identity and financial data must always be protected from unauthorized access and theft. This includes banking and transaction information, credit card history, loan balances, and more. One of several standards in the financial industry is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS), which sets minimum standards for the management of payment card data.
As with the financial services industry, the PCI-DSS standard applies here, with the handling of payment cards. Additionally, Point of Sale (POS) transactions fall under this oversight. Data protection can be covered under various certifications, including ISO 27001, which can include issues such as name, address, and email security.
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Energy and Utilities
Utilities are vulnerable to hackers, who can interfere with power delivery and hold the utility for ransom. With regard to cybersecurity, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) controls the regulatory compliance of utility companies.
There are other industries that have their own compliance rules, such as educational institutions, government agencies, hospitality services, and more.
While some standards and regulations are industry-specific, others cross various industries. Rarely do corporations exist in a vacuum; doing business nationally and internationally is becoming the norm, so it makes sense to be certified in every area that your business operates.
Attaining and maintaining compliance standards takes a great deal of strategic planning to meet the often complex requirements. However, the benefits are worth it. With the proper certifications in place, it will be easier to expand your customer base, operate internationally, and pass regulator audits. In some cases, it may even reduce your insurance costs. Lastly, it will be far easier to incorporate future regulatory requirements if you already meet current standards.
Other benefits are less tangible but no less important. For instance, the best-practices routines set out by certifiers can result in greater operational efficiency, as well as security, and greater policy certainty.
Moreover, the standards you embrace will serve to protect your trade secrets and proprietary technologies, while reducing the chances of accidental or deliberate misuse cases by employees.
The steps towards compliance
Despite the differences between industries, there are some general guidelines to follow when pursuing cybersecurity compliance. We outline five here.
- The first stage of working towards compliance is to identify the type of industry and the type of data you are dealing with. These may seem like obvious points, but it is important to determine whether your industry overlaps another, which may indicate that multiple compliance standards must be met.
- Conduct risk and vulnerability assessments to determine any gaps in security, and to document existing security.
- Utilize cybersecurity compliance frameworks to implement standardized protocols across the network, such as firewalls, anti-virus, encryption, logging, and access controls. A cybersecurity framework is best implemented by a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).
- Develop policies, procedures, and risk mitigation plans. This can include employee training, documenting best practices and policies, audit processes, specifications security, and the appointment of a CISO to oversee the operation.
- Review and test the above. Regular testing of systems and periodic assessments will ensure compliance as the business changes or grows.
Attaining a top standard for data security compliance can be a complicated and time-consuming process, but it is a necessary step if your business is to remain competitive. The knowledgeable consultants at Outsource Solutions Group are ready to help protect your organization and its critical infrastructure, and get your business on track with the latest security features. Contact us today for a consultation.