Achieving compliance with internal policies and external regulations results from doing a great job securing all the components that drive your IT systems—people, processes, and platforms. The way to show your progress towards achieving compliance is to plan, execute and check your work against best practices. The compliance results ultimately validate that all that hard work you put in place is working.
While being completely secure with no vulnerabilities is unlikely, continually increasing your compliance awareness will make your system more resilient to attack and will show your due diligence in combating cyber-attacks. Given the current efforts to achieve compliance using spreadsheets and paper reports, there’s a misconception among some security professionals that continuous compliance is too time-consuming and costly. A few also think continuous compliance is simply unattainable.
However, this is not the case when you employ modern tools to automate the process. Maintaining compliance “checkmarks” and continually showing your plan is working is not time-consuming with a regimented systems security lifecycle. With the proliferation of new regulations that have a global reach, every organization must implement continuous compliance as the benefits clearly outweigh the risks.
The Risks of Not Implementing Continuous Compliance
The growing complexity of existing regulations as well as requests from customers and partners to verify compliance make it important to periodically assess the security of your environment. What’s in scope may change with increases in the control requirements.
And waiting to assess at audit time can be calamitous and costly. You will likely need to react to unscheduled work that causes disruptions to your normal security processes. Waiting can also create an impression of ineptitude or apathy. Regulators, customers, and partners all expect you to be prepared or respond fast to issues.
Without continuous compliance, you also lessen your situational awareness; after all, you can’t defend what you are not aware of. And when a breach or incident occurs, response and recovery are significantly more difficult – resulting in loss of money, time, and reputation as supported by headlines in the news that show the seriousness of inaction.
The Benefits of Continuous Compliance
By implementing a continuance compliance process, you gain better awareness of all your existing IT assets and their vulnerabilities. You can then maintain that awareness as new risks emerge and as IT assets come online or go offline. This approach enables you to reduce risk to an acceptable level that matches the risk tolerance of your organization.
With the ability to quickly gather information on in-scope data and systems applicable to each compliance requirement, you will also find your security team can react to security incidents more efficiently. They can project compliance cycles to proactively prepare for audits and the implementation of security controls—such as patches—rather than being surprised by audit requests and patch notifications.
All this allows the team to maintain predictable operational costs and reduce the time they spend on audits. Pre-planning relevant processes and keeping data and artifacts up to date also reduces disruptions to the team’s planned work and lessens audit fatigue.
Perhaps even more important, the continuous compliance approach allows you to establish a strong reputation in the market that can become a competitive advantage. You create trust among your customers and partners by consistently producing audit results that demonstrate well-controlled IT systems.
You can then strengthen your brand further by posting proof of due-diligence certification badges on your website, marketing materials, and reports given to auditors, partners, and customers. In this sense, the compliance team essentially helps the company spend less time reacting to cybersecurity incidents and more time generating value for the organization.
How Xacta Facilitates Continuous Compliance
To capitalize on the benefits of continuance compliance, many enterprises have turned to Xacta. The suite automates continuous monitoring and other time-consuming aspects of managing IT security controls to maintain compliance.
The monitoring feature tests and reports on the technical status of IT assets by ingesting scanner data that’s predictively mapped to validate controls. Xacta also allows you to set up intervals for reviewing controls according to system criticality and requirements while delivering several additional capabilities:
- Selection and Tailoring—apply the right regulation and controls at the right level of robustness to protect systems and data.
- Crosswalking and Mapping—make the best use of your time by matching similar controls across different frameworks, standards, and regulations.
- Inheritance—share compliance responsibilities among teams inside and outside the scope of a particular assessment to save you time and avoid duplicate efforts.
- Implementation—save benchmarks and best practices in a central system of record to streamline communications with engineers so they can properly implement system controls.
- Validation—check technical and administrative configurations, safeguards, and controls thoroughly to ensure they work as expected.
In comparison to manual processes (documents, spreadsheets and paper reports) that can get lost in email, the automation capabilities of Xacta allow you to accomplish these activities much more efficiently. You also benefit from alerts and notifications produced by Xacta communicated through email and collaboration platforms like Teams and Slack—so everyone involved in compliance has real-time information on the status of security controls and vulnerabilities.
Continuous Compliance as an Enabler for New Services
In addition to Xacta automation making it possible to implement continuous compliance monitoring, we also recommend your team continuously stays current with government requirements, configuration baselines (i.e. Center for Internet Security (CIS) and Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG)) and industry trends. This includes monitoring the news and attending seminars provided by auditing organizations—such as AICPA (for SOC), ISC2, and ISACA—as well as following governmental advisories from NIST, FedRAMP, and the EU (for GDPR).
Combining an automated monitoring process with up-to-day regulation expertise will give your team a powerful combination. They can handle audits more efficiently and become an enabler of new IT services and partnerships that help your company meet your customers’ needs.