What Is IT Compliance?

Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Written by Ashley Gwilliam on August 17, 2022

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Organizations that store and process customer data must comply with strict regulations that outline how they can safely exchange, process, and store consumer information. 

Despite being a source of struggle for many organizations — with checklists, rules, and precise details —IT compliance offers several benefits.

Does avoiding fines and penalties, protecting company reputations, and yielding insights that can improve operational efficiency sound appealing? If so, this article is for you. Let’s explore what IT compliance is, why it is challenging to implement, and how to streamline compliance processes. 

Definition of IT Compliance

IT compliance is the process of fulfilling third-party requirements to ensure organizations align themselves with established laws and regulations. 

For example, a software developer may build and sell a product in compliance with specifications defined by specific regulatory standards. 

It’s worth emphasizing that IT compliance sometimes overlaps with security, even though its motive is different. IT compliance largely centers around conforming to the requirements of third parties, including government policies, industry regulations, security frameworks, and client contractual terms. 

IT security, on the other hand, focuses on following best practices to secure IT systems at an enterprise level to prevent attackers from compromising corporate resources.  

Why Is IT Compliance Important?

IT compliance is crucial because it provides the following benefits: 

  • It allows an organization to maintain a solid reputation. Organizations that comply with regulations provide customers with a sense of security by signaling that their personal data is secure. This helps build brand loyalty. 
  • It allows organizations to avoid steep financial penalties. Organizations that don’t comply with regulatory standards can face steep penalties. For example, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo paid nearly $ 7.85 billion in fines in 2020 for not complying with banking regulations. 
  • It enforces the overall security posture of the organization. Higher-risk sectors such as financial and healthcare institutions are attractive targets for malicious actors because of the value of the information they collect. IT compliance provides an added IT security by requiring such organizations to adhere to rules and policies that protect their assets from threat actors. 
  • It protects the organization from potential lawsuits. Besides avoiding financial penalties, IT compliance protects the organization from lawsuits. 
  • It promotes competitiveness and business continuity. Organizations that comply with regulations are poised to achieve brand recognition because they have reduced their chances of bad publicity.

Compliance Requirements by Standard

Below are some prominent standards and regulations that companies may need to be compliant with.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 

It’s a U.S. regulation that sets out standards for confidential data protection. Organizations that deal with protected health information (PIH) need to put in place sufficient physical, network, and process security measures and adhere to them to be HIPAA compliant. For example, tracking logs is a vital component of HIPAA compliance since it allows auditors to detect cybersecurity breaches quickly. 

Service Organization Control (SOC) 2

This is a voluntary compliance standard for service companies that specifies how businesses should manage their customer data based on security, processing integrity, privacy, confidentiality, and availability. Access controls — which provide physical and logical restrictions to corporate assets to prevent access by unauthorized users — are essential components of SOC 2.

Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)

The primary objective of the SOX compliance audit is to verify the organization’s financial statements. However, SOX is also used to define rules that specify how companies should store and process IT records. Like SOC 2, SOX also establishes access controls with measures such as role-based access controls (RBAC), permission audits, and the principle of least privilege (POLP). 

International organization for standardization (ISO) 27001

This is a specification for an information security management system (ISMS) that uses a top-down and risk-based approach to IT security. For an organization to be ISOC 27001-compliant, its IT infrastructure must incorporate multi-factor authentication (MFA) and other identity and access management (IAM) as security controls. 

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

This is a set of regulations that MasterCard, Visa, and American Express formulated to provide a framework for securing credit and debit card transactions. For a company to be PCI DSS compliant, it must create and maintain access logs that auditors can use to detect data breaches, among dozens of other protocols.  

General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)

This is a product of the European Union (EU)’s data protection reform that aims to secure the personal data of all its citizens. Appropriate access controls such as mandatory access control (MAC), discretionary access control (DAC), RBACs, and POLP are vital to ensuring that an organization complies with GDPR.  

Are you sitting down? Depending on your unique industry, location, and business objectives you may need to meet multiple compliance standards and regulations. Yikes! The good news is that many statues overlap when it comes to IT compliance controls 

Some of the most common controls include full-disk encryption (FDE), multi-factor authentication (MFA), antivirus software, MDM patch management, password security, and data backups. 


The IT Manager’s Guide to Data Compliance Hygiene

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Why Achieving IT Compliance Is Challenging

IT compliance is essential when building IT infrastructure, but it’s also one of the most challenging parts. Below are some reasons that make IT compliance a difficult endeavor.

Changing laws and regulations

Compliance isn’t a destination; it’s a process. It’s a moving target, especially in IT, where technology evolves rapidly. New laws and regulations such as California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) can present challenges that must be addressed quickly.

Remote and hybrid workplaces

While many organizations have already transitioned from traditional office structures, not all of them have considered the associated challenges of meeting compliance requirements. The most significant challenge is providing network oversight and control when the employee is no longer in the traditional office. To add to the challenge of managing remote and hybrid workforces, many modern IT environments also contain Linux, macOS, and Windows operating systems (OSs). 

Shadow IT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD)

Organizations that allow their workforce to use their preferred endpoints under the BYOD framework must also consider how employee actions increase attack surfaces, including data theft, malware, and stolen devices. Without a BYOD policy, some employees may also leverage consumer-grade technologies not sanctioned by the IT department, potentially increasing attack vectors

Vendor sprawl

If an organization uses products from several vendors, it’s likely to have multiple compliance obligations. In some instances, the organization’s policies can conflict with compliance regulations. 

Manual reporting 

Organizations that lack automated tools for reporting compliance measures usually resort to manual systems. Manual systems are prone to human errors and often require significant effort from employees. 

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.

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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