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IT Compliance: Definition, Standards, and Risks

IT Compliance Definition, Standards, and Risks blog banner image

The IT compliance landscape is changing as governments address rising data security risks. As a result, organizations must stay on top of their risk management and security procedures to ensure compliance with new laws and requirements. Aside from these general regulations, organizations operating in more tightly regulated industries need to be aware of additional compliance requirements. 

Regulations are tightening, while data security is becoming more challenging and complicated. Fortunately, solutions, such as automated monitoring, are available to help organizations comply without overburdening IT professionals. This helps mitigate risks while keeping IT teams efficient and costs relatively low. 

What is IT compliance?

IT compliance refers to observing legal and practical rules or standards designed to keep data and sensitive information secure. Because data is shared throughout organizations, all departments must practice compliance and a cohesive strategy is preferred. 

There are a few important components of IT compliance that organizations should consider: 

  • IT governance: The purpose of IT governance is to align the capabilities of the IT team with the organization’s security needs and strategic goals. As this relates to compliance, the IT team must balance regulatory requirements with the organization’s strategy and the resources available to accomplish that. 
    1. Risk management: Understanding risk assessment and mitigation strategies is essential for IT teams. Regulations require companies to protect consumer data, so organizations need to identify and appropriately prioritize vulnerabilities to comply. Organizations should also create disaster recovery plans to minimize the amount of data at risk if a security incident occurs. 
    2. Regulatory standards: IT teams need to be aware of major regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA and SOC2, and the more general legal requirements established by the GDPR in Europe and the CCPA in California, for example. HIPAA applies to medical providers handling sensitive patient information, and SOC2 typically applies to service providers that contact private consumer information.
  • IT security compliance: IT teams need to ensure that employees follow internal compliance regulations. Many security incidents are caused by human error, so managing access and establishing a zero-trust environment are two important steps to ensure compliance with protocols. 

Understanding IT compliance standards

Compliance standards vary across states and countries, but most have some common requirements. To keep consumers in control of their own data, the regulations generally require companies to provide or delete data at the consumer’s request.

Europe’s GDPR standards are a bit tighter than most regulations in the United States; the primary difference is how consent is handled. The GDPR requires companies to obtain affirmative consent from consumers before collecting and accessing data. The CCPA, for example, only requires companies to provide consumers the option to opt out of data collection.

There are also frameworks that guide organizations outside of legal requirements. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are guidelines for best practices. While IT professionals are not obliged to follow them, they are helpful for creating policies that encourage and support a secure, compliant environment. 

Risks associated with IT compliance

Noncompliant organizations risk security breaches, data corruption and theft, high recovery costs and fines, and reputational damage. Many companies are shifting from traditional, locally-based hardware infrastructures to cloud or hybrid infrastructures, which adds complexity to the security environment and increases potential vulnerabilities. This makes compliance more difficult to achieve, further increasing risk.

Security incidents have long been painfully expensive for companies, but failure to comply with recent regulations opens them up to incurring fines on top of any recovery costs. 

Some organizations also need to consider things like HIPAA and SOC2 compliance, which are specific regulations and standards designed to provide additional consumer protections.  Medical practices, for example, must carefully follow HIPAA regulations to ensure that no privileged information falls into the wrong hands.

A data breach can result in severe consequences, including patient identity theft. Compliance violators could spend up to a year in prison and receive fines up to $50,000.

Consumers often require SOC2 compliance to ensure data privacy. While it is not a legal requirement and thus does not risk fines or prison time, keeping customers’ data secure is essential for business continuity and ongoing success. A company that allows customer data to be exposed or stolen risks reputational damage, customer and revenue loss, and expensive downtime. 

Best practices in IT compliance

Compliance may seem daunting, but as regulations become more strict, it’s essential for continued operation. Here are some best practices organizations should follow to begin improving their security posture:

  • Establish an IT compliance management system: This compliance management system should contain all of an organization’s policies and documentation pertaining to compliance. Regular penetration testing, continuous monitoring, and frequently checking for new standards are all important parts of managing compliance. 
  • Continuous monitoring and improvement: Monitoring programs are an important part of the compliance management system, and automated monitoring solutions are ideal for maximum visibility into user activity and data access. The resulting visibility and documentation will be invaluable if the organization ever be audited. Once IT teams have brought the organization into compliance, there should be continued fine-tuning.
  • Compliance training and awareness: The importance of training staff on compliance procedures cannot be overstated. The majority of data breaches are caused by human error, often employee negligence. Training is essential to decrease the risk of social engineering, phishing, and compromised credential attacks.

The importance of IT compliance

Compliance has a role in data protection, regulatory adherence, and risk management. By attending to regulatory requirements, organizations naturally improve their security posture, enabling them to protect themselves and their data from attack. This affects more than just the IT team. When the organization meets compliance requirements, it decreases its risk of incurring fines and losing customers and revenue.

Prioritizing IT compliance increases the likelihood of long-term success. While it may be tempting for leaders to ignore compliance and prioritize other issues, a single security incident could cost millions of dollars, plus the fines for failing to comply with regulations or legal fees from lawsuits brought by customers. Ensuring the organization’s data is secure will reduce the risk of attack, enabling leaders to focus on building the business and IT teams to tackle strategic projects.

Next Steps

Building an efficient and effective IT team requires a centralized solution that acts as your core service deliver tool. NinjaOne enables IT teams to monitor, manage, secure, and support all their devices, wherever they are, without the need for complex on-premises infrastructure.

Learn more about Ninja Endpoint Management, check out a live tour, or start your free trial of the NinjaOne platform.

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