What is IT Compliance?

Definition

When we talk about compliance in IT, we're referring to certain guidelines an organization must follow to ensure its processes are secure. Each guideline details rules for data, digital communication, and infrastructure. Since compliance standards are a set of rules, the organization must follow every rule to avoid violations. Regulatory bodies lay out guidelines for every rule so that an organization clearly understands how to meet the compliance standards.

Focusing on infrastructure, the guidelines are meant to safeguard data. Typically, an organization's staff determines how to design and implement defenses to infrastructure; however, these defenses must meet compliance standards to maintain the most secure environment for data.

What Are IT Compliance and Guidelines?

IT compliance guidelines developed by regulatory bodies for engineering and designing infrastructure must be followed by developers and operations professionals. These guidelines determine the compliance and security measures that protect infrastructure by safeguarding consumer data. Every business should adhere to compliance guidelines that oversee their stored data to ensure that they are not in violation. Organizations face hefty fines for compliance violations, especially after a data breach.

IT Compliance vs. IT Security

Although IT security is built into compliance, the two areas of focus are different. Compliance focuses on cybersecurity, monitoring, and safeguarding of user data. Security focuses specifically on safeguarding data, reliability of operations, identifying vulnerabilities, and educating users on the latest trends. IT security encompasses every strategy to protect the business environment. IT compliance covers specific issues and requires organizations to deploy defined infrastructure that protects data.

Both categories are necessary to protect data, but compliance is a concern for businesses that must follow the rules meticulously or face hefty fines. The guidelines for compliance standards may be strict, but they help instruct businesses on best practices in cybersecurity and data privacy.

IT Compliance Checklist

Each compliance standard has its own requirements, but many of the regulations overlap. For example, HIPAA protects healthcare data and PCI-DSS protects financial data, but both have similar requirements for data encryption, storage of sensitive information, and authorization access controls. The first step in compliance is finding the standards relevant to your business. Go through each standard and identify missing cybersecurity components in your current infrastructure. For the most efficient design, infrastructure should initially be built with compliance in mind, but older businesses may have existing infrastructures that were built decades ago. Compliance standards are continuously reviewed and renewed, so any new regulations must be identified and analyzed. If the organization does not implement new compliance regulations into its current infrastructure, it could be in violation and face substantial fines.

Most standards fall into the following IT compliance checklist of categories:

  • Access and identity control. This standard defines authentication and authorization rules.
  • Control over data sharing. The organization must have strict control over data shared with the public and customers.
  • Incident response. This regulation guides the organization on mitigating, reporting, and investigating a data breach.
  • Disaster recovery. When infrastructure fails, organizations must restore backups and productivity. Disaster recovery standards reduce the duration of downtime so that productivity and revenue don’t suffer.
  • Data loss prevention. To avoid suffering from data loss, compliance spells out what to do to protect business revenue and productivity, including backups, recovery, and redundancy.
  • Protection against malware. Antivirus and other anti-malware protect infrastructure from malicious code, and every compliance standard requires it across the environment, including servers and user devices.
  • Corporate security policies. The organization should develop policies that users must follow to protect data.
  • Monitoring and reporting. Without monitoring, the organization is vulnerable to persistent threats. Reporting gives administrators the ability to review the health of their systems.

Types of Compliance

The IT compliance standards that oversee an organization’s operations depend on the data stored. An organization could have several compliance standards that must be followed, so here are a few of the common regulations:

  • HIPAA Compliance (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). Oversees health insurers, healthcare services, and healthcare providers storing and transmitting patient data.
  • PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). Organizations that work with credit card data and payments must comply with PCI-DSS.
  • SOC 2 (Systems and Organizational Controls). Cloud vendors that host organization data must follow SOC standards and allow audits to stay compliant.
  • SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). After the Enron incident, Congress passed SOX to oversee the way organizations handle electronics records, data protection, internal reporting, and executive accountability.
  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). For organizations that handle European Union (EU) data, GDPR standards give users more control over their data.

IT Compliance Solutions

Ensuring your business follows IT compliance regulations requires the right software and services. The first step in any solution is to find and categorize data. Software designed to perform the e-discovery phase of compliance can be used, but you must find an efficient and thorough application. Some applications use machine learning and artificial intelligence to help guide organization administrators.

After you discover and classify data, you need a solution to enforce compliance regulations. Every compliance standard has their own requirements, so the application and other third-party help should focus on the regulations important to the organization. The solution should ensure that data is defensibly retained and disposed. Solutions should also include data loss prevention and protection across social media, email, and mobile applications.

Importance of IT Compliance

Many of the standards put into law were created to protect user data, and they've been a part of data compliance for decades. The most important reason organizations must follow standards is to protect user data. Violating compliance standards are risks that could lead to a severe data breach. Organizations avoid these risks by implementing the appropriate cybersecurity rules, resulting in a safer environment, lower risk of a data breach, preserved reputation, and increased user trust.