If you’re an IT professional, you probably didn’t enter into the world of compliance willingly. Not many do. For most, IT compliance is less of a choice and more of something that’s been thrust upon them. And if you’re like most IT admins, compliance can feel daunting. Painless compliance sounds downright impossible.
But when it comes down to it, IT compliance isn’t as foreign as it may seem to you right now. In essence, IT compliance is just a metric for your IT security. The regulations you’re subject to are built to assess the IT policies, processes, and technologies you have in place.
So while IT compliance takes a little more work than just pressing a magic compliance button, it takes a lot less work than most admins realize. And that work gets paid forward: compliance becomes easier and easier every time you do it. Once you’ve built a strong IT compliance foundation, complying with a new or changed regulation becomes a painless, three-step cycle: Enforce. Prove. Repeat.
So, how do you get there?
Over the next few months, we’ll be focused on answering exactly that: getting IT professionals to a place where IT compliance is painless. We’ll do this by offering free resources and guidance, including tools, coursework, guides, and support. You can access all these resources in our IT Compliance Quickstart Guide.
To kick things off, this blog will cover the top things you need to know when you start your compliance journey and what you need to do to kick things into gear for an upcoming audit or deadline. And finally, it will prove to you that you can do this. So, deep breath and… action!
3 Things IT Admins Should Know About IT Compliance
First, it helps to get oriented to IT compliance as a whole so you know what to expect. Keep these fundamentals in mind throughout your IT compliance journey.
- Compliance Is Dynamic.
Feel like IT compliance is confusing? That’s because regulations can be vague — often, intentionally so. While this can feel frustrating, it can work in your favor: it allows you to determine how you want to meet the requirements.
To do this, however, you do need a basic understanding of the regulations you need to comply with. That means that, unfortunately, there’s no “easy button” you can press to instantly become compliant. Fortunately, though, understanding regulations isn’t as hard as it sounds. Jump to step 1 of the 4 main steps of compliance to learn more about this step.
Doing your homework on the relevant frameworks will not only set you up to tackle any immediate deadlines, but it will also give you a baseline understanding of your compliance objectives. This will provide helpful context as you make ongoing decisions about your IT and security environment. Making compliance-aligned decisions on a regular basis will, in turn, streamline future compliance initiatives.
- Compliance Is a Metric of Security.
It’s natural for IT compliance to seem foreign and scary — especially when your job is firmly rooted in something else entirely. However, IT compliance is closer to your wheelhouse than you may realize. You may not be a compliance expert, but you are an IT and/or security professional — and that’s not far off. IT compliance is essentially a metric of your IT and security. Think of it like a rubric for your work: how well is your IT set up and secured?
Approaching IT with a compliance mindset — and compliance with an IT mindset — can be advantageous in more ways than one. While it helps you prepare for an impending audit or deadline, it can also help you build a stronger, more comprehensive IT and security foundation for your organization.
- A Strong Baseline Makes This Easier Every Time.
Keeping up with IT and security best practices is like prepping for an exam: learning the material as you go is much easier than cramming the night before — and it tends to yield better results. Practicing strong IT and security hygiene practices regularly is the best compliance prep you can do. It downgrades new compliance tasks from stressful overhauls to nimble adjustments.
Further, maintaining a strong IT and security baseline naturally brings compliance into the fold of your IT work. By maintaining a strong security posture, you’ll know your security environment intimately while staying up-to-date on your security knowledge. This background knowledge and reliable security foundation will make it easy to understand and respond to a new or changed compliance requirement. And you’re more likely to keep your IT environment air-tight when you’re measuring your security against both your own internal metrics and additional compliance frameworks.
If you’re working with a fast-approaching deadline, you may not have time to focus on your overarching security program right now. That’s okay. Focus on what’s in front of you, but keep the benefits of a strong security baseline in mind as you go through this compliance initiative. It may uncover some new ongoing security practices you could implement or shed light on areas you’d like to improve on.
Then, once this deadline has passed, take some time to examine your overarching security program and practices. Apply what you learned from your compliance work as well as industry best practices and any needs specific to your organization. Putting in the work up front sets you up for painless compliance later.
Not sure where to start? Zero Trust security is the industry go-to for strong security practices that center around the identity (not the outdated physical perimeter). Learn more in the guide, Zero Trust Demystified.
The 4 Main Steps of IT Compliance
At its core, IT compliance is centered around controls. A control is a policy, a process, or a technology. When you zoom out of the minutiae and look at the big picture, achieving IT compliance can be broken down into four main steps:
- Understand the framework and requirements.
Understanding the framework you need to comply with means going to the source. Read the requirements and guidelines set out by the framework’s official documentation. While it may not provide exact specifications on how to meet every requirement, official compliance documentation is generally neatly organized with clearly defined objectives that ease the navigation process.
And don’t let the vagueness shake you: a lack of specificity translates into opportunity and flexibility. Regulations are often purposely left vague to give organizations the flexibility to meet requirements by means that work best for them. For example, PCI DSS standards outline both a “defined” and “customized” approach for each requirement. The “defined” approach specifies how the requirement might be met, and the customized approach leaves room for the organization to choose how it prefers to meet it.
- Translate compliance requirements into controls.
Once you understand the baseline requirements, you’ll need to determine how you’ll meet them in your environment. More specifically, you’ll need to determine what controls you need to put in place to enforce compliance. For example, if a regulation prescribes secure authentication, you might fulfill this requirement by using multi-factor authentication (MFA) as a control.
- Create and enforce the controls.
Once you’ve identified the controls you need, you’ll need to create, implement, and enforce them. This can include activities like installing software, creating policies, and communicating new processes to the organization.
In addition to creating controls, you’ll need to make sure you’re enforcing them. For example, if your control is MFA, you’ll need a way to ensure that all applicable users or devices are enrolled in MFA. This is often where tooling comes in — jump to tooling to learn more.
- Demonstrate controls.
Once controls are in place, you’ll need to demonstrate to your auditor, third party, cybersecurity insurance company, or other assessor that you have implemented and enforced them. This is usually done through thorough documentation and reporting.
These core steps — along with the following guidance — will help set you on the right course in just about any compliance endeavor.
Navigating the IT Compliance Process
Meeting compliance regulations may not look the same every time. Regulations change, and you may be asked to comply with new or different regulations as your organization and industry change. While the small details may change, the general process won’t — and when you have a strong foundation of IT and security, complying with any regulation becomes second nature.
Treat This Like a Project.
Whether you’re facing an upcoming audit, cybersecurity insurance deadline, customer request, or other compliance benchmark, treat it like a project — because it is one. This is especially true when you’re going through the process for the first time. Outlining the specifics of this compliance project will help keep things on track and minimize stress.
Consider using the four main IT compliance steps (above) as the main roadmap for this project. However, projects generally need a more detailed plan. Try asking yourself the following questions to help you outline the big-picture elements.
- What is the objective and scope of this project? What is the ask? What elements of your environment is the auditor/customer/third-party assessing, and what are they not assessing? Make sure to clarify this before you proceed to avoid unnecessary extra work.
- What is the final deadline? I.e., when is the auditor coming?
- What benchmarks can I set? Consider starting with a deadline for each of the four steps.
- What tasks need to be completed to reach each benchmark? Try mapping them out on a calendar or Gantt chart.
- Who can complete these tasks? Assign them with clear expectations and deadlines.
- What resources and tools do we need to accomplish these steps? If you need to take any steps to acquire additional tools and resources, build the acquisition steps into your plan.
- Who are the stakeholders? Does someone need to approve my plan before I proceed or give input on certain steps?
Of course, these questions aren’t exhaustive, and every compliance initiative may look a little different. Project managers, coordinators, administrators, leaders, and others within your organization can be great resources during this stage — consider reaching out to them for help developing a plan.
Set Expectations With Leaders
It’s important for your leaders to have the right expectations. One of those expectations is that the project will take a bit of work up front — and that means that you won’t be able to get your entire organization compliant overnight. Communicating how IT compliance works and why you and your team will need time to understand the regulations and develop a strategy is critical to setting realistic expectations with leaders and stakeholders. A great way to do this is to share your compliance project plan and keep them updated on its progress.
Acknowledge Your Gaps. Work With What You Have.
Often, compliance feels stressful when you don’t think you have everything you need. This may be due to a rushed deadline, poor documentation, fragmented tools, or simply missing data. Whatever the reason, focus on working with what you have. Audits rarely end in a perfect score with no suggestions for improvement; instead of throwing up your hands at the first snags, consider what you do have and how it may help you make up for missing data. From there, form a temporary fix while you research alternatives, or get part of the way there.
Work with Auditors (Not Against Them)
Like messengers who carry bad news, auditors sometimes get a bad rap because they come bearing dreaded tasks. However, auditors aim to work with you, not against you. Auditors often welcome back and forth communication around your environment, questions, and plans to improve.
Think of your auditor as a member of your team, and leverage their compliance expertise to help you achieve the best possible outcome. This includes developing a plan to shore up areas in need of improvement.
If you aren’t able to meet a requirement, document the practices you do follow and the steps you can take in the future to remedy the gap. Auditors want to work with you, and they’ll appreciate the due diligence.
Make smart tool choices.
With tooling, sometimes less is more. Having only a few tools in your stack eliminates the need to search through dozens of tools to find different pieces of data. And when those few tools are robust, comprehensive, and easy to use, they can consolidate all your data into a compact, easy-to-use central hub.
The tools you do choose for your consolidated stack can take audits from painful to seamless. Look for tools that are powerful, efficient, and easy to learn. JumpCloud, for example, allows you to create, enforce, and demonstrate controls for identities and devices — all from one user-friendly platform.
IT Compliance: As Painless As Enforce, Prove, Repeat.
Ready to start getting compliant? JumpCloud’s IT Compliance Quickstart Guide was designed to get IT professionals the resources they need to prepare for an audit or shore up their IT security baseline. Visit the IT Compliance Quickstart Guide now.