Organizations today rely on technology and data to run their business operations. They also use a large number of contract employees or cloud-based technology providers, and (thank you, COVID-19) have legions of their own employees working remotely.

All of those measures might deliver operating efficiency, but they also expand the attack surface and potential for data breaches. 

To forestall attacks and maintain regulatory compliance in such a complicated environment, businesses need to be more proficient in the continuous monitoring of their networks and data.

In this article, we’ll explain what continuous monitoring is, how it relates to cybersecurity, and how proper implementation of continuous monitoring can greatly increase your IT security and deter cyber threats.

What is continuous monitoring?

In general terms, continuous monitoring is a process where security professionals use technology and automation to detect compliance and security risk issues within an organization’s IT infrastructure. Continuous monitoring provides real-time information about security activity, including outside attacks, unauthorized access, and control failures.

A related oversight activity is continuous auditing, where security teams use automated systems to perform risk assessments and to test internal controls. Then security teams can use the results of those audits to remediate weaknesses more quickly.

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

Both are integral components of a robust cybersecurity strategy. They allow CISOs, IT administrators, compliance officers, and other stakeholders to implement mitigation strategies quickly in the event of a vulnerability or potential breach.

Why is cybersecurity continuous monitoring important?

The cybersecurity threat landscape has evolved enormously over the last 20 years. Traditional network security protocols such as firewalls and anti-malware tools aren’t enough to thwart elite cybercriminals. 

Even if your organization has already made data security a priority, that’s not enough to combat modern cyberthreats. Today a business must be able to see an attack coming before that attack breaches the operating system. This can only be done through continuous monitoring.

Continuous Monitoring for Compliance

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 is comprised of three components: 

  1. Framework Core Components
  • Identify
  • Protect
  • Detect
  • Respond
  • Recover
  1. Implementation Tiers (by level of maturity)
  • Tier 1: Partial
  • Tier 2: Risk-Informed
  • Tier 3: Repeatable
  • Tier 4: Adaptive

The risk management workflows that indicate tiers are:

  • The cumulative risk management process
  • An integrated risk management program
  • External participation
  1. Profiles 

Each of the five core components includes activities for mitigating cyber risk. These are further divided into categories and subcategories, which include descriptions of leading information security practices.

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

What tools can help with continuous monitoring?

Governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) tools can help by supervising a business’ entire ecosystem and providing 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, eliminating the need for constant follow-up 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 assure consistency that leads to stronger 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 help compliance officers feel more effective at their jobs, but it also makes organizations more efficient at the ongoing task of governance and continuous monitoring.

To see how ZenGRC can improve your risk management and continuous monitoring strategies, schedule a free demo today.