Organizations today rely on technology and data to run their business operations. Many also use contract employees and cloud-based technology providers, and — thank you, COVID-19 — have legions of their employees working remotely.

IT security departments need to monitor the cybersecurity risks of all those parties somehow. That is where continuous monitoring comes into play.

Broadly speaking, continuous monitoring is when security professionals use automation technology to detect compliance and security risk issues in real-time within an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Continuous monitoring for compliance and risk management provides real-time information about security activity, including outside attacks, unauthorized access, and control failures.

In a sense, auditing and monitoring are two sides of the same coin. Continuous monitoring is the constant vigilance for external threats to your security controls; continuous auditing is the constant testing of internal controls to make sure they are effective at preventing attacks or compliance failures.

Both are integral components of a robust cybersecurity strategy. They allow chief information security officers (CISOs), IT administrators, compliance officers, and other stakeholders to implement mitigation strategies quickly in case of a vulnerability or potential breach.

This article will explain the advantages of continuous monitoring, how it relates to cybersecurity, and how proper implementation of continuous monitoring can significantly increase your IT security and deter cyber threats.

Advantages of Continuous Cybersecurity Monitoring

The landscape for cybersecurity threats has evolved enormously over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, traditional network security protocols such as firewalls and anti-malware tools are no longer enough to thwart elite cybercriminals.

Even if your organization has already prioritized data security, that’s not enough to combat modern cyber threats. Today a business must see an attack coming before that attack breaches the operating system. Continuous monitoring is the best way to do that.

Implementing continuous security monitoring into your cybersecurity plan can help reduce cybersecurity risks and the potential harm from cyberattacks and data breaches if those events occur.

Continuous security monitoring also gives you real-time visibility into your IT security data, offering advantages such as:

  • Helping to prioritize and manage risk consistently across the organization;
  • Providing cybersecurity metrics that can assess the state of security at all levels of an organization;
  • Monitoring the continued effectiveness of all security controls;
  • Verifying compliance with information security policies derived from the organization’s business functions, federal legislation, directives, regulations, policies, standards, guidelines, and best practices;
  • Assuring that you have a good understanding of and control of the system and environment changes; and
  • Improving awareness of threats and vulnerabilities.

How Does Continuous Cybersecurity Monitoring Work?

NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, defines information security continuous monitoring (ISCM) as “maintaining ongoing awareness of information security, vulnerabilities, and threats to support organizational risk management decisions.” Furthermore, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework consists of three components:

Core Functions. These activities work together to address and manage cyber security risks.

  • Identify. Analyze organizational tools and resources to identify risks.
  • Protect. Develop safeguards to protect resources and systems.
  • Detect. Aim for prompt discovery of cybersecurity events.
  • Respond. Develop processes to take action when a cybersecurity event is discovered
  • Recover. Quickly restore systems and services to assure business continuity.

Implementation Tiers. The tiers provide a scale that indicates the level of rigor in an organization’s cyber security processes.

  • Tier 1: Partial (least advanced)
  • Tier 2: Risk-Informed
  • Tier 3: Repeatable
  • Tier 4: Adaptive (most advanced)

Not all organizations must reach Tier 4; it depends on a cost and benefit analysis, the types of information the organization collects and stores, and the organization’s regulatory requirements. The following categories can help to determine which tier an organization fits into:

  • The cumulative risk management process: the prioritization of risk management objectives and maturity of policies
  • An integrated risk management program: the extent to which risk management is disseminated across departments and the organizational culture
  • External participation: risk management practices with third-party partners

Framework Profiles. Profiles align the framework’s core functions with business requirements.

The five core functions are further divided into categories and subcategories, which include descriptions of leading information security practices. All of these activities build a roadmap for mitigating cyber risk.

Organizations can use several NIST publications to help implement their continuous monitoring program. These include:

  • NIST 800-53, a set of controls intended to help organizations meet the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) requirements. FISMA is mandatory for federal agencies and organizations wanting to do business with those agencies.
  • NIST SP 800-30, a Guide to Conducting Risk Assessments, helps with cyber risk management, including controls and control baselines.
  • NIST SP 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Non-federal Systems and Organizations, helps systems and organizations that are not a part of the federal government protect their sensitive information.

Implementing Your Own Continuous Cybersecurity Monitoring Plan

An organization’s actions to identify IT systems, classify them by risk category, apply mitigation controls, continuously enforce rules, and respond to emerging risks or threats are formalized in a continuous monitoring plan.

As part of the implementation of your continuous monitoring plan, you should:

  1. Identify data stored on networks, systems, software, and devices. In addition, identify all users and devices accessing your IT stack.
  2. Perform a risk analysis. Decide whether to accept, reject, transfer or mitigate risk. Analyze the likelihood of data, users, devices, networks, systems, and software being breached.
  3. Establish risk levels for data, users, and devices. You should re-evaluate your risk assessment as business needs and requirements change, such as the addition of new services.
  4. Monitor. The ecosystem needs to be monitored to assure that mitigation controls are adequate. Also document activities to demonstrate governance over your ongoing controls monitoring.
  5. Respond to any new risks as quickly as possible. A risk-based plan allows you to establish response measures.

ZenGRC Helps You Track Security in Real-Time

Governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) software can help supervise a business’ entire ecosystem and provide situational awareness through risk assessment, real-time alerts, incident response management tips, and reporting metrics.

With ZenGRC‘s continuous monitoring solution, companies can experience improved decision-making, real-time visibility into the effectiveness of their security management, and the insight to correct misconfigurations that can cause security threats.

ZenGRC automates continuous monitoring by collecting audit information, streamlining workflows, and eliminating the need for constant follow-up while tracking outstanding tasks.

The unified control management feature allows organizations to map controls across multiple frameworks, standards, and regulations to determine compliance gaps. This mapping capability enables organizations to assure consistency that leads to more substantial audit outcomes.

ZenGRC 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 make compliance officers more effective at their jobs, but it also makes organizations more efficient at the ongoing task of governance and continuous monitoring.

Schedule a free demo to see how ZenGRC can improve your risk management and continuous monitoring strategies.