What is compliance?
Cyber security compliance refers to the adherence of an organisation to specific regulations, standards, or guidelines set by governments and other regulatory bodies related to information security and data protection.
What is the difference between ‘compliant’ and ‘regulatory’?
Both are terms relating to adhering to rules, regulations, and standards.
‘Compliant’ refers to being in accordance with, or conforming to, specific rules, regulations, standards, or requirements. This can relate to any industry or client specific standards, frameworks or policies and is typically enforced through commercial means.
‘Regulatory’ pertains to the rules, regulations, laws, or policies established by governing bodies or regulatory authorities to govern specific industries, activities, or behaviours. Regulatory requirements aim to ensure fairness, safety, transparency, and accountability within a particular sector. Regulatory frameworks may cover areas such as finance, healthcare, telecommunications, data protection, environmental standards, or occupational safety. Enforcement is typically through legal sanction, fining or limitations on operating (for example, through license restrictions) that have widespread impacts on organisational operation beyond a single client.
Achieving compliance means adhering to the standards set by governing bodies or regulatory authorities.
Who needs to be compliant?
Almost all businesses, regardless of their size or industry, have compliance obligations. Requirements can vary depending on industry specific regulations, contractual agreements, applicable laws, or general data protection regulations.
A few examples:
- Government Agencies, and the organisations that delivery products and services throughout their supply-chain may be required to process or store sensitive or protectively marked data. This includes sectors such as Defence, Criminal Justice, and National Security, but many more organisations need to comply with these regulations, such as Healthcare providers, and the regulators themselves. Standards and guidance for compliance being governed by the Government Security Classification scheme, recently updated in July 2023, to ensure the security and privacy of sensitive information and how to handle them appropriately.
- Every business or charity is subject to financial regulations in the UK, but compliance to the relevant laws and standards varies significantly from International Finance institutions to small business that take credit card payments and need to comply with PCI-DSS to protect customer financial data and ensure the integrity of transactions.
- Flow down of contractual terms often includes requirements for specific standards and industry regulations; which are often complex in larger supply chains and can mean understanding regulatory controls that are outside of the normal scope. For example, a construction company working on a Defence contract may be expected to comply with Defence Conditions (DefCons) to meet specific security and privacy standards outlined by the contracting entity.
Why should regulatory compliance be top priority? ￼
Regulatory compliance is essential for any organisation. It can be used to protect both their employees and customers, often by protecting their data. Maintaining compliance helps your company mitigate risks as well as avoiding disciplinary actions. Being compliant with broader regulations and standards also pens up additional potential markets for goods and services than would otherwise be available.
Organisations who are compliant show their commitment to:
- Protecting sensitive data: Compliance with regulations and standards helps to ensure that an organization is taking the necessary steps to protect sensitive information, such as personal data and financial information. This can help to prevent data breaches, which can result in significant financial losses and damage to an organization’s reputation.
- Being compliant for legal requirements: Failing to comply with regulations and standards can result in significant fines and penalties, as well as legal action. Compliance is important to avoid these risks and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
- To maintain customer trust: Compliance with regulations and standards can demonstrate to customers and partners that an organization takes data security and privacy seriously, which can help to build trust and maintain positive relationships.
- Improving overall security posture: The process of achieving and maintaining compliance can also help to improve an organization’s overall security posture. This can include identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, implementing best practices, and regularly assessing and testing security controls.
- To obtain cyber insurance: Many companies have cyber insurance that requires compliance with certain standards and regulations. Non-compliance can lead to denial of claims or face significantly higher premiums.
What are the cyber security compliance frameworks and regulations?
There are several cyber security compliance frameworks and regulations that organisations can follow to enhance their cyber security practices and meet specific requirements.
A few examples are:
- National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – The national technical authority providing mandatory standards for government agencies and good practice guidance for all UK organisations.
- Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) – Providing specific oversight for organisations involved in the delivery and operation of critical national infrastructure, including those covered by the Network Information Systems Directive (NISD).
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – A comprehensive data protection regulation enforced in the EU and EEA. Sets guidelines for the collection, processing, and protection of personal data of EU citizens with a strong focus on privacy rights and consent. In the UK this is governed under the Data Protection Act 2018 which also incorporates the Law Enforcement Directive for law enforcement organisations.
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cyber Security Framework – Provides guidelines, best practices, and a risk-based approach to managing and improving cyber security.
- ISO/IEC 27001 – An international standard for information security management systems (ISMS) providing a systematic approach for organisations to establish, implement, maintain, and improve information security controls, risk management processes and overall security posture.
How to achieve regulatory compliance?
To achieve compliance, you require a systematic approach and a commitment to implementing the appropriate measures. Some general steps include:
- Identify the specific regulations, standards or frameworks that apply to your organisation, both immediately and that may be required or desired in future.
- Understand compliance requirements including specific controls, policies, procedures, and safeguards.
- Conduct gap analysis to assess your organisation’s current state of compliance.
- Develop a compliance strategy and roadmap by defining the necessary steps, milestones and resources required. This should include an aspect of ongoing maturity improvement.
- Establish policies and procedures to cover data protection, access controls, incident response, employee training and ongoing risk management.
- Implement security controls which may include network security, access controls, encryption, vulnerability management and regular security testing.
- Employee awareness and training to educate employees about compliance requirements, security best practises and their roles and responsibilities.
- Incident response planning to address security incidents promptly and effectively.
- Regular audits and assessments to evaluate and validate your organisations compliance status.
- Third-party management with service providers who handle sensitive data on your behalf and comply with relevant regulations.
- Documentation and record keeping helping demonstrate your organisations commitment to compliance.
Achieving regulatory compliance is on ongoing process which requires regular monitoring, continuous improvement, and adaptation to evolving regulations and threats.
I need help achieving regulatory compliance
Achieving regulatory compliance can be a complex and challenging process. It often requires a deep understanding of the specific regulations and standards that apply to your industry.
You can seek external assistance from compliance professionals, consultants, or specialised service providers to achieve compliance. This assistance can be particularly valuable when facing complex regulations or when organisations lack expertise or resources to handle compliance requirements on their own.