Dave Schmoeller, GRC Expert and Director of Solutions Marketing, ReciprocityBy Dave Schmoeller

When it comes to reducing risk, the key lies in making it simple to manage compliance. In doing so, you can improve your ability to execute the controls that mitigate risk. But compliance isn’t just about checking boxes and doing the minimum; it’s about seeking out opportunities to reduce your risk, which means compliance is critical to fostering a successful risk management mindset. However, this begs the question: compliant with what?

With countless compliance requirements around the world, ensuring you’re compliant with all the applicable ones for your organization can be a full-time job. That’s where a common controls framework comes in.

When it comes to the massive array of cybersecurity and data privacy requirements that exist today, there are two popular frameworks available that you can use to design, build, and maintain controls that enable you to become and stay compliant, which also reduces your risks. Let’s look at each one to understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can determine which one is right for your organization.

The Pros and Cons of the Unified Compliance Framework

The Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) does exactly that: it provides a single solution for all your compliance needs. And when we say all of them, we mean all of them; according to the UCF, it’s the largest library database of interconnected compliance documents in the world, containing more than 1,000 mapped authority documents, 100,000 individual mandates, 10,000 common controls, and 250,000 interconnected words and phrases in its dictionary.

As a result, the UCF extends far beyond the needs of cybersecurity and data privacy frameworks. For a company that needs to access multiple, non-IT frameworks, the UCF might be a good fit. For example, a company that may have to also worry about legal compliance could leverage the comprehensive nature of the UCF.

Another bonus to the UCF is that it uses algorithms to read and interpret new requirements, then connect these new requirements to its existing control library, ensuring you stay updated with new compliance requirements. However, you pay for all of that extra content; as a subscription-based product, the UCF can cost organizations thousands of dollars each year.

The Pros and Cons of the Secure Controls Framework

By comparison, the Secure Controls Frameworks (SCF) focuses purely on cybersecurity and data privacy controls for the following:

  • Statutory obligations: Including US State, US Federal, and international laws.
  • Regulatory obligations: Including specifications from regulatory bodies or governmental agencies from around the world.
  • Contractual obligations: Including common contractual compliance requirements such as PCI DSS, FINRA, and SOC.
  • Industry-recognized leading practices: Including Generally Accepted Privacy Principles (GAPP), ISO information security, NIST cybersecurity, and CIS critical security controls.

As a community-built tool, it’s regularly updated based on changes to existing frameworks or the addition of new frameworks, with updates suggested by subject matter experts and reviewed by the SCF’s council of cybersecurity experts. And because it includes industry best practices, it helps you go above and beyond checking the box on compliance to enable effective risk management.

Unlike the UCF, the SCF is provided as a free solution that is powered by the SCF’s community of cybersecurity and data privacy practitioners. This makes it easy to begin using the SCF today without needing to spend your limited budget.

However, because the SCF only specializes in cybersecurity and data privacy controls, it may not have everything you ultimately require to ensure compliance across every facet of your organization. In addition, because the SCF reviews new regulations manually, it can take longer to update than the UCF – although it’s always updated before regulations go into effect.

How to choose between the UCF and the SCF

Make no mistake: both frameworks are an excellent way to implement a common control set, with each more than capable of handling your cybersecurity and data privacy compliance needs. Here’s what to ask to determine which is right for you.

  • What are your total compliance requirements? If your organization is a large, multinational organization with other compliance requirements beyond cybersecurity and data privacy, the UCF is likely a better fit.

    In fact, don’t be surprised if your organization already has a UCF license. In that case, it’s a no-brainer to leverage your existing subscription. However, if your organization has no need for other compliance framework requirements, then the SCF provides everything you need to tie governance, risk, and compliance together in a uniform set of controls.

  • What is your budget? Because the SCF is a free solution, any organization can immediately adopt it to address their cybersecurity and privacy control guidance requirements. This allows you to start managing your needs today, rather than needing months to secure a budget.

At Reciprocity, we went through this process ourselves. Because our ZenGRC platform is built specifically with cybersecurity and data privacy compliance in mind, we chose to use the SCF. It’s completely comprehensive for those needs, helping us create the content library needed to enable our customers’ compliance, governance, and policy management applications.

At the same time, it’s also completely accessible, giving security and compliance teams everything they need to understand and reduce risk across an organization. Learn more about how ZenGRC employs the Secure Controls Framework.