Security is not Compliance & 5 Reasons Why SMEs Must Remember Cybersecurity

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A company can be 100% compliant and yet 100% vulnerable to attacks by cybercriminals. Many companies follow every cybersecurity measure and check all appropriate compliance boxes. Yet after doing all these, still headline as having lost customer data.

Cybersecurity is now a topic of discussion in every boardroom. A diligent business owner or management takes this risk, and their fiduciary duty around it, seriously. But the risk is complex and technical, and most small and medium business’ management do not have a cybersecurity expert on the list of directors.

What are the Differences Between Compliance and Security?

Security and compliance play different roles, both in the internal and external environments of the business. The right cybersecurity measures protect enterprise information from threats by controlling how that information is used, consumed and provided. Conversely, compliance, is a demonstration (a reporting function) of how the security program of the business meets specific security standards as laid out by relevant regulatory organizations.

Compliance focuses on the kind of data handled and stored by a company and what regulatory requirements (frameworks) apply to its protection. A company may have to align with multiple frameworks and understanding these frameworks can be difficult. Their main goal is to manage risk and this goes beyond information assets. They oversee policies, regulations, and laws and cover physical, financial, legal, or other types of risk. Compliance means ensuring the business is complying to the minimum of the security-related requirements.

Security is a clear set of technical systems and tools and processes which are put in place to protect and defend the information and technology assets of an enterprise. Compliance is not the primary concern or prerogative of a security team, despite being a critical business requirement. Security can include physical controls as well as who has access to a network. Standardized methods and tools provided by specialist vendors make security simpler than compliance. Compliance, on the other hand, can be multifaceted and is based on a company’s data type and security processes.

Today, many boards have fallen into the trap of over-reliance on audits and compliance as a determination for whether the company has done its due diligence in preventing a cyber breach or mitigating vulnerabilities. The following are why SMEs must remember cybersecurity:

Compliance is not security

Compliance was meant to be the starting point, but it has become the standard. Industry standard certifications and compliance frameworks (for example, HIPPA, PCI, ISO) are the bare minimum and intended to be generic. A framework cannot account for the nuances of your company operations and environment. Audits are performed ‘as at’ and report the state of affairs for a specific period and not the ongoing state of organizational security. The SME could pass an audit, but the next day a vulnerability that was left unaddressed may result in IT security compromise.

Security is a culture, not just a function

The CISO may have functional oversight but the information security team cannot practically micromanage the behavior of every in the company. Every staff must get involved and do their part. Some staff have the part of just following protocol (for example, use unique passwords, don’t forward work documents to personal device, don’t click links in emails). These small but important habits need to be built into the business culture. Build a culture where everyone views security as their responsibility, and you’ll mitigate 90% of your risk.

The board needs to treat security as a business priority

Just as finance, human resources and legal all have a place in the boardroom, cybersecurity needs to be part of every decision and measurement of business outcomes. Reducing the cybersecurity function to having a consultant advise the business management occasionally is not enough to tackle what is an ongoing business risk and priority. At least one permanent board member with technical or security expertise is desirable. Similarly, delegating cybersecurity issues to the audit committee does not do much good unless someone on that committee has cybersecurity expertise.

Beware of the “Checkbox Mentality”

Meeting compliance regulations will never cover all of the security needs of the business. This “checkbox” mentality results in inadequate protection. As mentioned earlier, compliance only ensures that a specific set of requirements that change slowly (typically only once a year) are in place. As a result, it cannot possibly keep pace with the changes that are occurring daily in the world of cybersecurity.

To truly safeguard against the growing number of sophisticated threats, organizations have to elevate security and develop an overall approach that integrates all the necessary controls with each other to create a cohesive, multilayered web of security.

Never Use Compliance as Your Security Blueprint

Using compliance requirements as a plan for building a security program is another common mistake. An effective cyber security program should be built from the ground up and be based on an organization’s needs. Focusing on compliance first is putting the virtual cart before the horse. Compliance should be a byproduct of a solid security program, not the source of it.

Remember, investing in a proper, thorough and ongoing cybersecurity strategy now will make future compliance audits easier, save money in the long term, and protect data, business and brand.

Compliance and Security: The Perfect Alliance

Security is something all companies need. Most will already have some form of protection when it comes to IT infrastructure. This could even mean the bare minimum of having an antivirus installed on a workstation or using the basic Windows Firewall.

Turning security tools into a compliant IT system requires more effort. Company’s need to prove their compliance with the regulatory standards when a compliance audit happens.

Creating one system, an alliance of both security and compliance, in a systematic and controlled way is the first step in reducing risk. A security team will put in place systemic controls to protect information assets. And then a compliance team can validate that they are functioning as planned. This type of alliance will ensure that security controls won’t atrophy, and all the required documentation and reports are accessible for auditing.

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Cyberattacks on big corporations flood the headlines, but small and medium businesses are also big targets too. One in every five small businesses fall victim to a cyberattack and of those, 60% go out of business within 6 months. 

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