Relentless cyberattacks and data breaches created an urgent need for governments to step in and regulate cybersecurity activities. Today, almost every major country is coming up with cybersecurity legislation that defines how cybersecurity must be deployed and how consumer privacy must be protected. 

Even though compliance may not equal security, it certainly improves accountability and transparency; it can also streamline cybersecurity practices. Organizations that are non-compliant face increased regulatory scrutiny and can risk damaging their hard-earned market reputations. While regulations can vary greatly, the actual audit preparation remains the same for most compliance initiatives. Below are steps that can help organizations achieve cybersecurity compliance:

1. Know Your Compliance

Depending on the industry or the country you’re in, the information you store, the transactions you carry out or whom you do business with, your organization may need to comply with a number of regulations. So, whether it’s CCPA, GDPR, CMMC, HIPAA, PCI-DSS or NYDFS, security teams make note of what regulations are applicable and study the requirements carefully.

2. Run a Self-evaluation

Conducting a full cybersecurity assessment should be top of the list when starting the compliance process. Self-assessments offer several benefits: they help uncover hidden vulnerabilities in the compliance posture, provide a much better understanding of existing security processes, and help train security teams on how to deal with cybersecurity-related questions from auditors. 

3. Prioritize Your Security Gaps

Once the assessment is complete, ensure to account for any gaps preventing the organization from achieving full compliance. Prioritize gaps based on the level of relative risk and create a plan to implement necessary changes. Remember, the more items you choose to ignore or sweep under the rug, the wider the gaps will become and the more complicated it will be to achieve compliance in the long run. 

4. Establish a Timeline

Timelines help define a clear path and set of priorities to be achieved for the business to become security compliant. Accreditation bodies may require organizations to plan at least six months in advance of the audit. In cases where the business is not prepared or has a robust program, some accreditation bodies may require you to start preparations at least 12 months in advance of the audit.

5. Use a Systematic Approach

One of the most important things about compliance is streamlining and organizing information so that it can be pulled up easily when the auditor has questions. Not only does this make things less time-consuming, but it also helps set the tone for the audit. GRC (governance, risk and compliance) platforms are usually equipped with built-in templates for a wide range of regulations which can reduce the time, effort and money needed to meet compliance obligations. Look for tools that can provide a single-pane-of-glass view of the organization’s overall state of its risk posture and compliance (including your extended ecosystems like suppliers, vendors and partners).

6. Keep Tracking and Fine-tuning

Organizations can fall out of compliance if they are not tracking their controls and actions regularly. Security teams must establish a process of monitoring and fine-tuning cybersecurity systems with updates, security patches, vulnerability checks and third-party assessments. Deploy a system that identifies security issues and delivers proactive alerts in case of any gaps. Some regulations may require the monitoring of suppliers and partners for security issues. 

7. Develop Security Instincts in Employees

Most regulations require that organizations train and educate employees on cybersecurity best practices such as the use of strong passwords, safe browsing, recognizing online scams, etc. Organizations should develop a healthy cybersecurity culture where employees are trained to identify and be encouraged to report suspicious activities to the security team. Users must also comply with requirements that govern how data should be handled, stored, backed up, and deleted. Studies show compliance is a cultural issue, so organizational leaders should lead by example. 

8. Document Everything

Most regulators and assessors expect businesses to furnish documents on demand. Therefore, security teams must capture everything, from processes to security logs to historical data, which can be presented as evidence as needed. Organizations that tend to fare best on audits are those that treat every day like audit day. 

Security compliance should not be only viewed as an obligation but an opportunity. When businesses get compliance right, they not only improve their security posture and processes but also gain significant competitive advantage.