Continuous Compliance: A Guide for IT Professionals

Written by Ashley Gwilliam on June 12, 2023

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It’s almost time for Joel’s bi-annual teeth cleaning. Did Joel tell his dental hygienist he would begin flossing every day during his last appointment? Yes.

Did Joel actually do it? No, which is why he is suddenly flossing three times a day, in addition to trying some coconut oil pulling regimen he saw on YouTube. 

Unfortunately, many organizations treat compliance like Joel treats his dental appointments — scrambling to follow requirements to appear presentable to an auditor.

It’s time organizations of all sizes ditch the stressful frenzy in favor of continuous compliance. In this post, we’ll look at continuous compliance, its benefits, and its challenges. We’ll also examine how to simplify continuous compliance and how to keep up with the seemingly never-ending lists of requirements.

What Is Continuous Compliance and Why Is It Important?

Continuous compliance is an approach that ensures organizations consistently meet best practices and data regulatory requirements, and it involves weaving data-compliant practices into the fabric of an organization’s operations.

Compliance helps businesses identify possible gaps in their security posture and helps foster trust between them and other relevant stakeholders such as regulators and clients. Plus, it improves their processes and helps them stay audit-ready all year round.

Understanding Compliance Requirements

To stay data compliant, it is essential to be aware of what regulations apply to your organization, as well as the obligations they impose.

Different Types of Compliance Requirements

Depending on the locality or industry your business operates in, the standards and regulations it is subject to may vary.

Generally, though, many organizations are subject to any number of these regulations and standards:

Control Objectives for Information Technology (COBIT)

COBIT is a framework by ISACA built on five principles. These principles aim to help organizations of all sizes meet IT regulations, business needs, stakeholder satisfaction, and corporate governance best practices.

Systems and Organizations Controls 2 (SOC 2)

SOC 2 is a set of standards developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to protect cloud information. SOC 2 provides general requirements that organizations employ to maintain robust information security.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-171

NIST SP 800-171 is a standard applicable to businesses that handle the U.S. government data that are deemed Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). The standard contains 14 families of requirements that organizations must meet and maintain throughout their contract with the government.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The PCI DSS is a set of standards applicable to all organizations, regardless of size or number of transactions, that accepts, transmits, or stores cardholder data of the major payment card brands. This standard ensures companies maintain a secure environment for processing payment card transactions.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA is a U.S. federal law that sets standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information. It gives patients control over their health information by setting boundaries on the use and release of health records.

Other standards and regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the International Organization for Standardization, etc. are also very relevant for understanding data compliance requirements.

The Consequence of Noncompliance

The price for noncompliance with data standards and regulations varies according to the standard breached and the severity. Legal penalties could range from fines, and loss of licensing, to even outright imprisonment in some cases such as in severe breach of the HIPAA or the Sarbanes-Oxley.

Besides this, there is also reputational damage which can lead to the loss of clients’ trust, loss of business opportunities, and possibly lawsuits by customers who may have been affected by the organization’s noncompliance.

Achieving Continuous Compliance

Here are a few guidelines to achieve continuous compliance:

Implement a Compliance Management System

A compliance management system (CMS) refers to the processes, tools, controls, and policies that an organization puts into place to help it comply with data regulations. A CMS should detail the data regulations that an organization is subject to, high-risk areas, and a compliance strategy.

Monitor and Report Regularly

Monitoring efforts should track indicators that tally with your compliance management systems such as data security incidents, access controls, policy adherence, employee training completion rates, etc. Also, put reporting procedures in place to document incidents, their frequency, remediation efforts, and the progress of such efforts.

Utilize Automation Tools

Automation provides endless options that are instrumental for maintaining continuous compliance while simplifying tedious tasks. With automation tools, businesses can monitor systems, control access, and even protect data.

For example, with JumpCloud’s identity and access management tools, you can control who has access to what type of data depending on what role they occupy in your organization.

You can also employ automation in your data retention policy to separate data you need to maintain and which you can dispose of legally.

Conduct Regular Compliance Audits

Audits and regular self-assessments identify possible gaps and highlight areas for improvement. Hence, you should conduct internal risk assessments and internal compliance audits.

Rectifying issues identified in internal compliance audits makes your organization more prepared for external audits. Plus, accurate documentation from your internal audits makes it easier to demonstrate your compliance efforts and may be required for external audit reports.

Benefits of Continuous Compliance

Here are the advantages of continuous compliance:

Reduced Risk of Security Breaches

Complying with data regulatory standards requires putting measures in place such as conditional access policies, full disk encryption, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and other tools that make cyberattacks more difficult.

Plus, continuous compliance requires organizations to conduct regular assessments of their security infrastructure. This enables them to timeously identify vulnerabilities and resolve potential entry points for security breaches.

Improved Data Protection

Critical data loss and damage pose risks of regulatory penalties and can result in significant downtime.

Continuous compliance helps organizations prevent these occurrences through data protection measures such as regular data backups. These backups must be securely stored, both on-site and off-site, to protect against potential risks such as hardware failures, physical disasters, or cyberattacks.

An efficient recovery system is another measure and it includes processes to restore data from backups, validate its integrity, and ensure a swift recovery process.

Enhanced Reputation and Trust of the Organization

Customers place a high value on the data-compliant practices of businesses they engage with. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in a 2020 research study by McKinsey stated they would not do business with a company if they had concerns about its security practices.

Other potential business partners also have similar expectations. This is partly because they don’t like being seen doing business with a noncompliant company. Besides, if they’ll be partnering with you, then their data may be at risk as well.

A continuous compliance posture, however, demonstrates your commitment to protecting data, and this can go a long way in building trust with potential customers and business partners.

Staying Up to Date with Compliance Requirements

In the wake of increased scrutiny over data-handling practices — thanks, in part to some high-profile scandals over the years — regulatory bodies have stepped up efforts to make compliance standards effective in addressing new challenges.

Organizations thus have a burden to continually be in the loop about regulatory changes and stay up to date with requirements. They can achieve this through the following means:

  • Monitoring: Establish a system to track regulatory changes and updates relevant to your industry and location. For example, you may subscribe to industry newsletters or follow regulatory authorities’ announcements on their social media pages or websites.
  • Networking: You should aim to stay connected with regulatory bodies, industry associations, and professional networks related to your sector. Conferences, webinars, and workshops are great places to learn and understand new regulations.
  • Professional guidance: Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from experts in data regulatory compliance. Experts typically have deep knowledge of the regulations and keep track of their changes. They may also provide insight into how best to meet certain requirements.
  • Continuous training and education: Training sessions and education for employees are important in keeping them informed and equipped to navigate changes. With it, they stay informed of regulatory updates, industry best practices, and evolving compliance standards.

Challenges of Continuous Compliance

Here are some common challenges organizations face in implementing and maintaining continuous compliance and some best practices for resolving them.

Unclear or Conflicting Regulations

Some standards and data regulations lack clarity and provide imprecise guidance. This makes it challenging for organizations to interpret and implement them effectively. Plus, inconsistent interpretations or conflicting requirements in different regulations can further complicate compliance efforts.

To overcome this challenge, you should prioritize the most critical regulations and standards that directly impact your organization.

Engage compliance officers to help interpret complex or ambiguous requirements and you should maintain open lines of communication with regulatory authorities to seek clarifications when needed.

Costs of Compliance

Although compliance has many benefits, the costs associated with implementing it can be high. This is due to the investments required in personnel, training, auditing, technology, etc. Therefore, organizations may struggle to allocate sufficient resources to compliance initiatives, especially those with limited budgets or competing priorities.

To overcome this challenge, you may consider leveraging automation where possible to reduce manual effort and free up resources for compliance initiatives.

Integration Into Existing Processes

Continuous compliance may require organizations to tweak or rethink their current processes. This may pose a challenge as business stakeholders are typically loyal to the familiar way of doing things. 

To overcome this challenge, organizations should focus on fostering a culture of improvement, train and effectively communicate with employees, and provide ongoing support through the integration process.

Simplify and Maintain Compliance with JumpCloud

JumpCloud is an open directory platform that provides comprehensive solutions for organizations to remain continuously compliant. With solutions such as identity and access management, mobile device management, password management, single sign-on (SSO), and lots more, JumpCloud provides the perfect springboard for organizations to maintain year-round data compliance.

JumpCloud’s directory platform unifies IT architecture, is incomparably easy to use, and comes at reduced costs compared to multiple disparate tools. So, if you want an all-in-one solution to set your organization on the path to continuous compliance, sign up for JumpCloud today. Your first 10 days are free.

Ashley Gwilliam

Ashley Gwilliam is a Content Writer for JumpCloud. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from on-camera acting to interviewing NBA basketball players to ghostwriting for CEOs. Today she writes about tech, startups, and remote work. In her analog life, she is on a quest to find the world's best tacos.

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