The increasing number and sophistication of data breaches lead to increased concern over threats to the data environment. Protecting information can no longer be a set-and-go process. Establishing a “security first” compliance program focuses on maintaining a secure landscape that proves compliance. With that in mind, continuous monitoring allows you to not only protect your data but enable a continuous compliance program.

Continuous Compliance Monitoring

What is a security first compliance approach?

A security first compliance approach begins with securing your environment. Information security professionals argue that cataloging assets, assessing risks, reviewing threats, and enacting controls first allows you to create a stronger compliance stance. Establishing IT security controls before determining the frameworks to which you want to align enables better protection and compliance since many of them overlap.

How does continuous monitoring help enable “security first” compliance?

If you view security as your primary objective, then continuous monitoring allows you real-time insights into the threats hackers pose to your systems and networks. Tracking alerts that indicate attempted intrusions into your systems provide a shallow defense of your systems. You need insights into external controls that maintain the system and network integrity.

How do artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data enable continuous monitoring?

Modern information technology infrastructures incorporate a variety of web-based cloud data solutions. For example, a retailer using Amazon Web Services for online sales may also include a point-of-service system in their physical store location. To ensure protecting all cardholder data as part of their Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance, they need to review data encryption for their PoS systems, payment portals, and information storage locations.

As companies increase the places and people interacting with their data, they increase the attack surface. In a lot of ways, your data security attack surface is more like play 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.

Big data collection and predictive statistical models allow you to automate information gathering and help see the most significant risks to your environment. For example, security ratings enable organizations to review their external controls the way a malicious actor would. As the 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 enable you to determine not just the current risks to your environment but also the potential future risks.

Malicious actors continuously update their tactics to find new vulnerabilities. A secure system remains safe only as long as it takes a malicious actor to find a new vulnerability. These “zero-day” threats, vulnerabilities previously unknown, 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 to not only ensure your current controls remain effective but also predict potential new threats. As threats evolve, risk management activities need to re-evaluate the new risks to the data environment regularly.

How does continuous monitoring relate to compliance?

Risk, compliance, and governance 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 effective controls. Compliance best-practices means aligning the controls to a set of standards. If a control breaks, then you no longer remain compliant.

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 you to update your software to protect against new malware and ransomware threats. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) specifically notes in its guidance that part of maintaining a strong compliance program means updating software, systems, and networks regularly to account for previously unknown vulnerabilities that become known.

Adopting a security first compliance stance, therefore, means that maintaining a secure IT environment keeps you compliant. By focusing on maintaining data integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility, you can more easily align your controls and activities to the checklists a clean audit requires.

How ZenGRC Eases Continuous Monitoring for Compliance

Documenting your continuous monitoring efforts is the primary pain point. After establishing that you have mitigated threats to your environment with the appropriate controls, you then need to map those controls across the various frameworks and regulations. Once you map them, you need to document the continuous monitoring to ensure that you can map your governance appropriately as well.

ZenGRC’s System-of-Record makes collecting audit information easy. By streamlining the workflow, organizations can eliminate emails while tracing outstanding tasks. Additionally, the unified control management feature allows organizations to map controls across multiple frameworks, standards, and regulations to determine whether compliance gaps exist. This mapping capability enables organizations to ensure consistency that leads to stronger audit outcomes.

For example, as part of the System-of-Record dashboard, organizations have at-a-glance insight into the percentage of controls finalized and a portion of controls mapped to a particular framework.

ZenGRC’s streamlined workflow shows task managers the date on which a vendor provided a response and a status. These details mean that compliance managers no longer need to spend time following up with the organization’s multitudinous vendors.

GRC automation enables organizations to focus on the fundamental issues of compliance while eliminating the tedious tasks that often make compliance feel like a burden. Not only does this help compliance officers feel more effective at their jobs, it also makes organizations more efficient at the ongoing task of governance and continuous monitoring.

For more information about how ZenGRC can streamline your GRC process, contact us for a demo today.