The MSP’s Guide to Data Compliance Hygiene

Written by Molly Murphy on March 21, 2023

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As part of our compliance campaign, we are re-releasing certain resources to help MSPs guide their clients through the steps necessary to achieve and maintain compliance. Enjoy this selection just for MSPs from our Data Compliance Hygiene Guide. 

Mindset — it’s often the difference between a smooth journey (with a few bumps along the way) or a stressful sprint to the finish line (with many twists and turns). 

This applies to everything from menial tasks to large-scale initiatives. And for MSPs, mindset shapes not only how you think about things, but how you help your clients go about accomplishing them. 

As an MSP, you’re likely to encounter frazzled clients that have to become compliant with a regulating body or two turning to you for your expertise. There’s two ways you can handle these requests:  

  1. As just one more thing to deal with in your busy day-to-day responsibilities, or
  1. An opportunity to teach your clients how to practice strong security hygiene that keeps everyone safe – and makes achieving compliance much easier.  

The good news – and the most important thing to assure your clients of – is that they don’t have to be perfect to pass their audit. Instead, your job is to help them prioritize the right actions throughout the year to ensure optimal results, rather than just focusing on the audit itself. And that means increasing emphasis on IT hygiene. 

This guide will review several IT hygiene practices worth adding to your clients’ tech stacks to facilitate smoother audit processes. It will also explore the relationship between faster prep times and consolidated toolkits and systems. After reading, you’ll have a better understanding of how to help your clients conduct internal audits, which proactive steps will save you time come audit season, and how to prepare them for official audits. 

The Benefits of IT Hygiene for MSPs 

At first glance, you may not see the connection between IT hygiene and prepping your clients for audits. Audit preparation includes gathering lists of data and documentation, explaining control failures, and making remediation plans, while IT hygiene is about following through with best practices 24/7. 

But much like a runner shouldn’t begin training a week before a marathon, an MSP shouldn’t start implementing IT hygiene the week before a client audit. Instead, creating a continuous culture of hygiene for your clients will make helping them achieve compliance a much lighter lift. In addition to facilitating smoother compliance experiences, prioritizing IT hygiene provides the following benefits.

Helps identify inefficiencies 

Data regulations help MSPs to discover opportunities for more efficient processes, procedures, and tools. For example, in an effort to reduce your clients’ attack surfaces and make compliance reporting easier, you may look for opportunities to eliminate redundancies or centralize your tech stack around a more efficient core platform. The less applications your staff has to manage, the easier compliance becomes, and the more freedom you have to serve even more clients. 

Reduces security vulnerabilities

According to the Microsoft Digital Defense Report, basic security hygiene protects 98% of attacks. That’s a critical figure for MSPs to know as data incidents continue to increase. Mitigating that threat for your clients should be a top priority.

Increases client trust 

Having a plan to help your clients meet and maintain their compliance requirements silently communicates that your MSP is up on the latest business trends, technologies, and security practices. In other words, good cybersecurity habits forge a bond of trust between your MSP and your clients. And that higher level of trust can translate to more referrals and more potential customers. 

As an MSP, it can be hard to not feel like audits are just another thing your clients are leaning on you to guide them through. But they provide an opportunity for you to showcase your proven cybersecurity measures that keep your clients’ data safe. 

4 IT Hygiene Best Practices for MSPs to Follow 

Whether your client is a startup or a mom and pop shop, the best practices for achieving compliance are the same. The only difference is the amount of rigor required. Audits happen regularly, and regulations change frequently. Translation: you must consistently carve out time to review and improve your existing security practices, so when they come to you with compliance concerns, you’re prepared. 

1. Monitor your clients’ regulatory requirements 

Talk to each of your clients to figure out which compliance regulations apply to them and which don’t. Consider building your security hygiene strategy based on the clients with the most stringent compliance requirements. For example, while HIPAA compliance is non-negotiable for health organizations, ISO 27001 implementation is voluntary. Nonetheless, according to the ISO Survey 2018, the demand for ISO certification grows by the year, and having a security program that complies with ISO provides top-of-the-line protection for your clients. 

Usually, IT compliance focuses on three types of data, so at a minimum, be sure your tech stack includes safeguards in these three areas:

  • Personally identifiable information: Any information that relates to an identifiable person: name, home address, date and place of birth, biometric records. 
  • Financial data: Credit card numbers, data on income and expenses, financial reports of an individual, organization, or any other entity. 
  • Protected health information: Results of medical examinations, information about health care plans, and any medical records linkable to a specific person. 

In addition, pay attention to the privacy standards and remember that laws such as the GDPR and the 2019 Online Privacy Act contain web/cookie data regulations. Hence, if your clients’ businesses handle customer cookies, encourage them to obtain permission before retrieving necessary cookies, and fully disclosing to their customers how their data will be used.

2. Walk clients through a risk assessment 

A risk assessment identifies and analyzes security risks your clients might face. During a risk assessment, it’s important to identify:

  • Cybersecurity risks and threats to their organization
  • Assets that are critical to their organization and are subject to compliance regulations
  • Their current level of protection, and the weak and strong points of their defenses 

This is a great opportunity to help your clients see the weaknesses in their current tech stack, and to recommend improvements or upgrades to their plan in order to ensure compliance. Help your clients discover and make a plan for these gaps early on. Reiterate to them that waiting until an actual audit to identify weaknesses could mean failing the audit and having to start over. 

3. Setup IT audit trails

Maintaining a clear audit trail is essential to acing any audit, and as an MSP, this requirement often falls under your IT management strategy. 

An audit trail is a set of records that depict any activities with sensitive data, databases, applications, or parts of your clients’ IT infrastructure. It allows auditors to examine how they handle sensitive resources. 

Digital audit trails are much harder to manipulate or tamper with than analog trails, and they’re easier to keep up-to-date, which can help you save time when managing multiple clients. Logging an audit trail is also useful for security monitoring and incident investigation. You can track any action inside your protected environment using generated logs, identify security incidents, and assess threat sources.

4. Automate compliance activities where you can

Reviewing policies, investigating security incidents, and cooperating with certification bodies takes time. That’s compounded for MSPs, who have to juggle these requirements for multiple clients at once. 

Thankfully, the vast majority of activities that go into making your clients data compliant can (and should) be automated. Automation tools help reduce overhead, minimize the risk of human errors, and improve the overall efficiency of your tech stack. 

Several different ways to automate compliance-related activities exist, including:

  • Password Management: Password management tools help create and enforce complex passwords and keep them up-to-date. 
  • User Management: Use automation tools to carry out your clients’ onboarding and offboarding processes. Not only do they help to ensure compliance with data regulations, but they also protect both the employee and the company’s data. 
  • Event Reporting: Event reporting can include everything from malware detections to user logins. It helps identify trends and potential issues, and can be used to isolate and investigate incidents. Automated event reporting tools can help streamline the process by collecting data from multiple sources and generating reports automatically. 

While it’s not possible to automate everything, prioritize automating what you can. The time it takes to do the upfront work is nothing compared to the long-term dividends of finding exactly what your clients need when they need it later. And, of course, you will sleep better at night knowing their data is safe and sound. 

IT Compliance: As Painless As Enforce, Prove, Repeat.

Ready to start getting your clients compliant? JumpCloud’s MSP Compliance Quickstart Guide was designed to get MSPs the resources they need to prepare their clients for an audit and shore up their IT security baseline. Visit the MSP Compliance Quickstart Guide now.

Molly Murphy

Molly Murphy is a Senior Content Writer at JumpCloud. A self-professed nerd, she loves working on the cutting edge of the latest IT tech. When she's not in the [remote] office, Molly loves traveling, rescuing animals, and growing her all together unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter.

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