The increasing number and sophistication of data breaches have led to increased concern among boards, regulators, and the public about threats to the data environment. That, in turn, has led to a desire for constant data protection – and a rise in the importance of continuous compliance monitoring to be sure that those data protection efforts are always sufficient and working.
This article will explore continuous compliance monitoring and how it supports the “security first” approach to compliance that is so important today.
Why Is Monitoring Compliance Important?
Compliance monitoring assures that operations happen smoothly and according to established standards. Consider compliance monitoring as a mechanism to identify instances of noncompliance whenever it happens – whether those violations arise from internal policies or external regulations or are accidental or intentional.
Here are some key benefits of monitoring compliance:
- Demonstrates compliant policies and procedures
Through compliance monitoring, you can document and demonstrate that robust processes exist in your organization. You also establish the norm of following and enforcing correct procedures, mitigating the bad consequences of potential instances of noncompliance.
- Improves over performance
By clearly understanding the current state of affairs, compliance monitoring allows organizations to identify improvement opportunities across operational areas beyond compliance. Developing a comprehensive scorecard and conducting rigorous checks against it is your ticket to achieving this.
- Achieves regulatory compliance
Organizations operating as highly regulated entities (financial services firms) must demonstrate a robust and comprehensive compliance monitoring program. Such programs are crucial for meeting regulatory obligations and assuring adherence to the prescribed regulatory standards.
- Creates thorough documentation
Automated compliance solutions generate detailed audit trails, streamlining the process of documenting your compliance efforts. This reduces the risk of errors associated with manually compiling records and enhances efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on your compliance, risk, and audit teams.
How Does Continuous Monitoring Help Enable Security-First Compliance?
If you view security as your primary objective, continuous monitoring gives you real-time insights into the threats hackers pose to your systems and networks. Tracking alerts that indicate attempted intrusions into your systems provides a shallow defense of your systems. You need constant awareness of the controls that maintain the system and network integrity.
Who Is Responsible for Monitoring Compliance?
While every employee has a role in organizational compliance, the compliance officer and compliance team are primarily responsible for monitoring adherence to regulations, standards, and internal policies.
The compliance officer oversees the development of compliance procedures, implementation of monitoring systems, review of reports, internal audits, policy updates, and remediation efforts. They serve as the subject matter expert on regulatory environments and changing compliance obligations.
The compliance team assists the compliance officer in executing continuous monitoring initiatives across business units and departments. Their responsibilities include collecting compliance data, assisting with audits, communicating policies, analyzing reports, and supporting remediation.
Some organizations also utilize external assessors, auditors, and consultants to evaluate the effectiveness of internal monitoring programs. However, ultimate accountability resides with the dedicated compliance officer and team.
What Are Three Techniques for Monitoring Compliance?
Organizations can use several techniques to monitor compliance. Three of the most common methods include:
- Regular audits
Conducting regular audits is a cornerstone of compliance monitoring. Audits assure a systematic review and examination of processes, procedures, records, and activities to evaluate the alignment of those items with predetermined standards and compliance requirements. By adhering to scheduled audit intervals, you can promptly identify any areas of noncompliance, uncover deviation patterns, and take corrective actions.
- Data analysis and reporting
Harnessing the power of data analysis and reporting tools is another practical approach to monitoring compliance. You can use technology and software to collect and analyze relevant data points, uncover emerging trends, and generate comprehensive reports. This empowers organizations to swiftly detect deviations from compliance standards and identify areas needing improvement or closer attention.
- Internal Controls
Robust internal controls involve establishing policies, procedures, and stringent checks to ensure that operations consistently happen in full compliance with regulatory requirements. This technique ultimately enables you to identify and resolve potential compliance gaps, preventing them from escalating into significant issues.
How Do Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Big Data Enable Continuous Monitoring?
As companies increase the places and people interacting with their data, their attack surface increases. In many ways, your data security attack surface is akin to putty: the more you stretch it, the easier it is to find weaknesses and holes. Closing the gaps in your cybersecurity requires automation that enables faster scanning of large amounts of data.
Extensive data collection and predictive statistical models allow you to automate information gathering and help see the most significant compliance risks to your environment. For example, security ratings enable organizations to review their external controls like a malicious actor would. As organizations collect public information from across the internet, they aggregate it and run it through mathematical programs that provide insights into how well your controls protect your data.
Where Does Continuous Monitoring Fit into Risk Management?
Risk management means assessing your information assets and reviewing potential threats to their integrity, accessibility, and confidentiality. Continuous monitoring using big data and predictive analytics enables you to determine the current risks to your environment and the potential future risks.
Malicious actors continuously update their tactics to find new vulnerabilities. A secure system remains safe only if a malicious actor does not find a new vulnerability. These “zero-day” threats (previously unknown vulnerabilities) pose a significant, ongoing risk to your data environment.
As malicious actors continue to find new ways to penetrate your systems and networks, continuous monitoring allows you not only to ensure that your current controls remain effective but also to predict potential new threats. Once threats evolve, risk management programs must regularly re-evaluate the unknown risks to the data environment.
How Does Continuous Monitoring Relate to Compliance?
Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) form the trifecta of information security. The governance in the GRC triad means monitoring your ability to maintain compliance between audits. If you’re reviewing compliance as the documentation of your security stance, then continuous monitoring allows you to prove adequate controls.
Continuous monitoring supports compliance in more specific ways, too. First, continuous monitoring allows you to create a more streamlined risk management process. Annual risk assessments only provide a moment-in-time glance into the threats targeting your data. Since most compliance standards require the risk rating of your information assets, continuous monitoring eases the burden of this process.
Second, many standards and regulations require updating software to protect against new malware and ransomware threats. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) notes explicitly in its guidance that part of maintaining a solid compliance program means updating software, systems, and networks regularly to account for previously unknown vulnerabilities that become known.
Monitoring brings these risks to light so you can address them quickly and remain in compliance with your regulatory obligations.
Key Steps in Compliance Monitoring
An effective compliance monitoring system is crucial for organizations to comply with industry standards and regulations. Here are some key steps for implementing continuous compliance monitoring across business operations:
- Appoint a chief compliance officer and compliance team to oversee monitoring initiatives. The compliance officer will develop compliance policies, manage the compliance monitoring system, analyze compliance reports, and report to senior management.
- Identify applicable regulations and create comprehensive compliance policies that align with these standards. This includes crafting detailed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance policies for healthcare organizations.
- Conduct regular compliance audits of business processes, workflows, and service providers. Audits help uncover any compliance issues or areas of non-compliance.
- Implement continuous compliance monitoring software that gathers real-time data on regulatory compliance risk factors across the organization. Automated monitoring improves efficiency.
- Generate compliance reports frequently (monthly or quarterly) to analyze trends and detect potential compliance problems proactively. Reports should be distributed to senior management and across the compliance team.
- Develop procedures for quickly remediating any identified compliance gaps or regulatory non-compliance. The compliance team is responsible for ensuring remediation occurs promptly.
- Review and update compliance monitoring systems and policies regularly as the regulatory environment evolves. Monitoring systems must adapt to new regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and changes in data privacy laws.
Creating your Compliance Monitoring Plan
Organizations need a robust framework for monitoring compliance on an ongoing basis. Here are some tips for creating an effective compliance monitoring plan:
- Define the scope, frequency, and metrics for compliance monitoring processes based on regulatory requirements and company standards. Monitoring should align with compliance audit schedules.
- Identify data sources and choose compliance monitoring software to aggregate and analyze data from across the organization in real time.
- Build compliance dashboards that provide visibility into crucial compliance risk factors so issues can be flagged quickly. Dashboards improve efficiency in reporting.
- Establish a schedule for monitoring activities like compliance report generation, policy reviews, training updates, and control testing.
- Assign monitoring responsibilities across the compliance team to cover all regulatory and operational areas.
- Create protocols for reporting major compliance issues/violations, disclosures to regulators, and senior management briefings.
- Determine methods for reviewing and updating monitoring program standards to account for changes to regulations and company policies.
- Document all monitoring processes, stakeholders, data sources, reports, and timelines in the formal monitoring plan.
- Gather feedback on the monitoring program plan from crucial stakeholders like internal audit, the board, and external assessors.
How RiskOptics Eases Continuous Monitoring for Compliance
Implementing controls to mitigate threats is just the beginning. Next is mapping those controls across frameworks and regulations for proper governance. Continuous monitoring and accurate documentation are essential in this process. Enter ZenGRC.
ZenGRC empowers organizations to visualize, comprehend, and act on IT and cyber risk. Automated compliance management capabilities and unified control monitoring allow effective communication on top priorities and controls mapping across multiple frameworks, standards, and regulations. All this makes it easier to determine whether compliance gaps exist.
ZenGRC provides a unified, real-time view of risk and compliance tailored to your business priorities. Gain contextual insights to communicate impacts, make risk-informed decisions, and protect your organization, systems, and data. Earn the trust of customers, stakeholders, and employees.
Contact us for a demo today to discover how RiskOptics streamlines your GRC process.