Role of automation in building a robust and continuous security compliance program

When it comes to compliance, the best way to complete your compliance readiness and seamlessly sail through audits is by using automation. It is probably not the first time you have heard this since automation, along with concepts like AI, machine learning, continuous compliance, and SaaS integrations, are the buzzwords of IT compliance today.

Compliance with frameworks such as SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA, and others is essential today for SaaS companies to earn customers’ trust. However, suppose the compliance process depends on labor-intensive manual monitoring and evidence collection processes. In that case, there are high chances of significant gaps in security, privacy protection, and the other facets of a compliance program. Instead, companies can automate those compliance monitoring and evidence collection processes and ensure continuous compliance using today’s automation tools.

What is continuous compliance?

Continuous compliance is required to ensure that best security practices and controls are in place and are working effectively to maintain compliance. Continuous compliance requires constant monitoring of assets such as SaaS services, data stores, and employee laptops. Continuous monitoring is the only way to quickly identify and remedy security gaps such as unauthorized user access, missing workstation security tools such as anti-virus and password manager applications, and publicly exposed privacy and confidential data.

The auditors verify continuous compliance by taking a random sample of evidence over a given period to confirm that a particular control has been implemented and is working. Also, during the audit process, an auditor can verify the evidence of properly implemented controls. For example: in the last quarter, were all production releases of the company’s SaaS application tested and authorized by the QA organization before full release? Were all employees properly onboarded by completing security awareness training and acknowledging the company’s Code of Conduct and other mandatory policies?

Continuous compliance, therefore, requires 24/7 monitoring, evidence collection, notification in case of non-compliance with controls, and rapid remediation of gaps.

How do we achieve continuous compliance?

The critical element is automation. Automate your compliance program and processes with your systems and third-party services to the maximum possible. Continuous compliance can be accomplished in many ways. For example, integrating with third-party services such as cloud infrastructure, DevOps repositories, ticketing, change management, and productivity tools can be achieved via their APIs. This integration enables automatic, regular data collection and should occur often enough to show continuous compliance.

Also, using lightweight software agents on end-point devices such as laptops, workstations, and servers enables the automated collection of evidence from them. This lightweight software monitors the assets to ensure the necessary security tools — such as anti-virus software, a firewall, and multi-factor authentication – are in place. The company can also achieve additional automation by leveraging other security tools that monitor the company’s security posture.

Absent an automated system of this kind; compliance teams must manually hunt for Jira tickets, take screenshots, run reports, and then painstakingly associate that evidence with the proper controls. Manual is painful.

How does continuous monitoring help reduce the overhead compliance burden?

Compliance readiness and audits traditionally require time, resources, and heavy spending on outside consultants. However, by using emerging compliance automation tools and platforms, companies can automate the collection of audit evidence for continuous compliance. The automation typically dramatically shortens the time and resources required for compliance readiness. The quality of observation is also significantly improved, given that automation ensures that monitoring and evidence gathering happen consistently, accurately, and on schedule.

Compliance automation can result in a significantly better ROI. Organizations can complete compliance readiness, audit, and certifications more rapidly, saving 40-50% or more in many cases versus traditional manual and spreadsheet-based compliance readiness and audit processes. In addition, compliance attestations and certifications must be yearly for many standards. In the case of SOC 2, for instance — using compliance automation tools not only helps you stay in compliance for the current audit cycle but also produces time and resources savings for future audit cycles, year after year. Automation is a gift that keeps on giving.

How do we choose a compliance automation platform?

When implementing compliance automation tools, companies should look to ensure that the chosen automation platform can help accomplish the following:

  1. Automate the evidence collection process for all aspects of the compliance requirements
  2. Automate monitoring, including sending alerts and notifications
  3. Be able to communicate with stakeholders regularly with status updates and analytics
  4. Help manage company policies and keep version history
  5. Enable management of the compliance project
  6. Provide access to an excellent customer support and success team
  7. Help establish trust with your customer

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when seeking to do business with SaaS companies in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that the vendors they work with are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and to avoid putting them at risk. Compliance certification as proof of security robustness fills that need. By automating compliance programs and processes, customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively and stay continuously compliant.

About the Author

Naveen Bisht is the founder and CEO of AKITRA, an AI-powered, Cloud-based Cybersecurity and Compliance Automation company, a serial entrepreneur who has founded and led numerous companies in the security and network infrastructure industries. He was the founder and CEO of Straks, SecurAct, Nayna Networks, and Ukiah Software (acquired by Novell). He is the past Chair, Programs and a Board Member of TiE Silicon Valley and started TiE SV My Story Program in 2011 to inspire budding entrepreneurs. He pursued PhD studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, and holds an MS from Texas Tech and BS/MS degrees from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science. He holds eight patents in the areas of artificial intelligence, security and networking and has published several papers and articles on entrepreneurship and industry trends.



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