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Cybersecurity Compliance: Everything a Business Needs to Know


Dealing with endless cyberattacks and threats is difficult enough, but most organizations also need to ensure they comply with all the cybersecurity regulations and standards of their industry or sector. This can be a challenge, as there may be many standards to consider, and there could be heavy fines for noncompliance; however, these standards can be of great use to organizations, as they often provide strong frameworks for cybersecurity best practices. This article will discuss these cybersecurity compliance standards, what they are, and how to comply with them. These standards regularly evolve to deal with new types of technologies and threats, and staying knowledgeable about them is essential to surviving in today’s interconnected world.

What are Cybersecurity Compliance Standards?

Cybersecurity compliance standards are best practice frameworks and guidelines set by industry bodies to ensure organizations take appropriate measures to secure their networks and data. These standards can be specific to a particular data type, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS); a particular region, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); or a particular or industry, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Beyond being an industry obligation, complying with cybersecurity standards is also a security best practice, allowing organizations to follow a structured approach to cybersecurity. There are several reasons to adopt these standards:

  1. Mandates: These mandates are often required as part of the industry or region in which organizations operate, and non-compliance can result in severe fines imposed by the regulators. 

  2. Improved Security Posture: Following these standards results in improved security posture, as industry experts often design them with best practices in mind. 

  3. Competitive Advantage: Complying with these standards can allow organizations to demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity and protecting customer data. This can increase customer trust in a particular brand.

  4. Risk Mitigation: Organizations may choose to implement a particular standard even if they are not required to do so because of the best practices and guidelines present in them. Adopting a proactive stance enables organizations to protect themselves from cyber threats and mitigate the risk of a data breach.

Common Cybersecurity Compliance Standards

Cybersecurity standards are present in virtually every industry and region. It is always recommended for organizations to consult with their regulatory compliance divisions to ensure they are compliant with all the standards they are obligated to follow. This section will cover some of the most popular and common standards across the world.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is the most popular data privacy regulation across the globe. Introduced as an overhaul of existing data privacy laws, it significantly impacted the data protection landscape. It applies to any organization that handles the personal data of EU citizens, even if it is based outside the EU. It gives individuals increased control over their data, such as explicit consent, notification about data breaches, right to access data, right to be forgotten, etc. With a heavy fine of around “€20 million or 4% of the company’s global annual revenue, whichever is higher”, most companies worldwide have brought their data privacy frameworks in line with the GDPR to ensure they follow its standards.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The PCI DSS standard is another popular standard that applies to any organization or party that “stores, processes, or transmits cardholder data.” It was released due to major card brands like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc., recognizing the need for a single industry standard that all parties could follow. PCI DSS is a technical standard that requires specific security controls to be implemented across systems and networks to protect cardholder data. These cover encryption, vulnerability assessments, access controls, etc. Non-compliance by merchants and service providers can result in various punishments, including fines or losing the ability to process payments.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA applies to the US healthcare industry and primarily focuses on Protected Health Information (PHI). Any entity that handles PHI comes into scope, be it insurance providers, healthcare businesses, service providers, etc., and is required to follow its guidelines. HIPAA mandates security controls such as authentication, access controls, auditing, backups, etc. Non-compliance can impose severe fines and penalties, which depend on the violation that occurs and its severity.

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

FISMA was introduced to improve the security posture of federal entities and any affiliated parties in the US. It encompasses federal agencies, private contractors that support them, and any state agency administering federal programs. It mandates security best practices such as risk assessments, security policies, etc., and appointing a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for strategic oversight of the security program. Non-compliance can lead to fines and even budgetary cuts to federal agencies.

ISO Standards for Cybersecurity

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides a global set of standards that cover various facets of cybersecurity. ISO remains recognized worldwide as an industry benchmark, and most organizations use it as a starting point in their compliance journey. Some of the most popular ISO standards are:

  • ISO/IEC 27001 – Information Security Management System (ISMS) Overview: The most popular ISO standard for cybersecurity, ISO 27001, requires the creation of an Information Security Management System (ISMS) to identify, mitigate, and oversee cyber risks. It provides a library of controls that organizations can implement based on a risk assessment. Once an ISMS is in place, organizations can choose to get certified against the standard and achieve ISO 27001 compliance. The standard is a trusted and well-recognized name, which most organizations proudly display to demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity. 

  • ISO/IEC 27002 – Code of Practice for Information Security Controls: A complementary standard to the ISO 27001 standard, ISO 27002 provides recommendations on the controls within ISO 27001. It is common for most companies to use this as a guiding standard when implementing ISO 27001 due to the detailed guidance present within it.

  • ISO/IEC 27005 – Information Security Risk Management: This ISO standard focuses on risk management and creating a risk management framework. It can be used in tandem with the ISO 27001 standard if organizations want to delve deep into the intricacies of risk management when creating an ISMS.

Understanding Cybersecurity Compliance Standards

These were just a few of the most prevalent cybersecurity compliance standards worldwide. While they may differ in their details, their overarching aim remains the same: improving cybersecurity and mitigating the risk of a data breach. Organizations that treat these standards as best practices to be embraced instead of a compliance obligation to be followed often see tangible improvements in their security posture.

Integral Parts of Compliance Standards

Success in implementing these standards and regulations comes from recognizing their value and understanding that compliance is a continuous process. To make that process easier, it can be useful to highlight the similarities between the various standards and regulations. While they all have their differences, they share some common and crucial steps that all organizations should adopt:

  • Risk Assessment: Nearly all standards mandate a formalized way to identify, mitigate, and monitor cybersecurity risks on an ongoing basis. This forms the basis of controls that are implemented. 

  • Policy Development: Effective governance requires formalized policies that set down the roadmap to be followed and show management’s commitment to cybersecurity. 

  • Ongoing Audits: Security controls and measures must be audited to ensure their effectiveness and provide management with an independent assurance about their security posture. 

  • Awareness: Employee training and awareness is a common theme across all standards due to its importance. Users are the first and last line of defense and must be trained on their specific obligations.

  • Incident Response: The ability to respond to cybersecurity breaches and incidents is essential. All standards recognize that security incidents can and will happen, so the ability to respond quickly and effectively is a must-have. A properly documented and tested incident response plan can greatly minimize the effects of a disaster.

By following these processes, organizations can put in a framework that aligns with the best practices of most cybersecurity standards. This makes compliance easier and fosters an overall culture of improvement and cybersecurity. Organizations embarking on this journey for the first time can also seek help from third-party companies that specialize in implementing these frameworks.

The Way Forward

Cybersecurity compliance standards have become a vital part of modern security practices. Cybercrime is a major and constantly evolving threat, but following the best practices provided by various standards will help organizations combat these threats and improve their security posture. More than a simple checkbox exercise, compliance demonstrates the organization’s commitment to providing safe and secure services to its clients.

Thank you for trusting us to help with your cybersecurity needs. Contact us any time – we’re always happy to help.  


Meet the Author
Adam Burke is Quest's Vice President of Sales and Partnerships.
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