What Is Cybersecurity Compliance?

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The business world is rapidly changing and becoming more data-driven and technologically advanced. Whether it's hardware or software, organizations must leverage information technology to improve their operational efficiency, gather more data for analytics and empower their workforce.

New industry standards and regulations regarding data and cybersecurity have made compliance more challenging for organizations. However, cybersecurity compliance is a driving force behind any organization’s success. Compliance is not just a checkbox for government regulations, but also a formal way of protecting your organization from cyberattacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS), phishing, malware, ransomware and more.

Below is an in-depth guide outlining cybersecurity compliance, requirements, how compliance impacts your sector, how to get started with a compliance program and more.

What Is Cybersecurity Compliance?

Any organization working with data, which is the majority of them, or that has an internet-exposed edge must take cybersecurity seriously. Accessing data and moving it from one place to another puts organizations at risk and makes them vulnerable to potential cyberattacks.

At its core, cybersecurity compliance means adhering to standards and regulatory requirements set forth by some agency, law or authority group. Organizations must achieve compliance by  establishing risk-based controls that protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) of information. The information must be protected, whether stored, processed, integrated or transferred.

Cybersecurity compliance is a major challenge for organizations because industry standards and requirements can overlap, leading to confusion and more work.

Why Is Compliance Important in Cybersecurity?

No organization is completely immune from experiencing a cyberattack, meaning that complying with cybersecurity standards and regulations is paramount. It can be a determining factor in an organization's ability to reach success, have smooth operations and maintain security practices.

Small or medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can be a major target because they're considered low-hanging fruit. And in the United States, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors (CIS) that are the most important to protect because a breach could have a debilitating effect on national security, the economy, public health and safety, or more.

SMBs may not prioritize cybersecurity or cybersecurity compliance, making it easier for hackers to exploit their vulnerabilities and execute damaging, costly cyberattacks. According to a 2020 Cyber Readiness Institute (CRI) survey,  only 40% of SMBs implemented cybersecurity policies in light of the remote work shift during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Often, data breaches can cause complex situations that can damage an organization's reputation and financial standing. Legal proceedings and disputes resulting from a breach are  becoming increasingly common across industries. For these reasons, compliance is a significant component of any organization’s cybersecurity program.

Types of Data Subjected to Cybersecurity Compliance

Most cybersecurity and data protection laws revolve around sensitive data, including three different types: personally identifiable information (PII), financial information and protected health information (PHI).

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

  • Date of birth
  • First/last names
  • Address
  • Social security number (SSN)
  • Mother's maiden name

Financial Information

  • Credit card numbers, expiration dates and card verification values (CVV)
  • Bank account information
  • Debit or credit card personal identification numbers (PINs)
  • Credit history or credit ratings

Protected Health Information

  • Medical history
  • Insurance records
  • Appointment history
  • Prescription records
  • Hospital admission records

Other types of sensitive information may also fall under these compliance requirements and laws:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • IP addresses
  • Email addresses, usernames and passwords
  • Biometric data (fingerprints, facial recognition and voice prints)

Benefits of Cybersecurity Compliance

Having proper cybersecurity compliance measures is beneficial to organizations for several reasons:

  • Protects their reputation
  • Maintains customer or client trust
  • Builds customer confidence and loyalty
  • Helps identify, interpret and prepare for potential data breaches
  • Improves an organization’s security posture

Many of these benefits can directly impact an organization's bottom line. It's widely understood that a positive reputation, garnering customer loyalty and confidence, and maintaining trust are critical factors that lead to success.

Aside from these benefits, maintaining cybersecurity compliance can improve an organization's security posture and protect intellectual property (IP) like trade secrets, product specifications and software code. All of this information can help give an organization a competitive advantage.

How to Start a Cybersecurity Compliance Program

If you've gotten this far, you may be wondering how to start a cybersecurity compliance program within your organization. It may seem like a daunting task because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, following the five steps below can help you start developing your compliance program to reap the benefits and meet regulatory compliance requirements. The compliance team and risk management process and policies are all part of this.

1. Creating a Compliance Team

Your organization's IT team is the primary force for cybersecurity compliance. Forming a compliance team is necessary when implementing a thorough compliance program.

While IT teams typically handle most cybersecurity processes, general cybersecurity does not exist in a vacuum. In other words, all departments within an organization need to work together to maintain a good cybersecurity posture and help with compliance measures.

2. Setting Up a Risk Analysis Process

Although naming conventions will vary by compliance program, there are four basic steps in the risk analysis process:

  1. Identify: Any information systems, assets or networks that access data must be identified.
  2. Assess: Review data and assess the risk level of each type. Rate the risk of all locations that data will pass through in its lifecycle.
  3. Analyze: Use this analysis formula to determine risk: Likelihood of Breach x Impact or Cost
  4. Set Tolerance: Decide to mitigate, transfer, refute or accept any determined risks.

3. Setting Controls: How to Mitigate or Transfer Risk

The next step would be to set up security controls that mitigate or transfer cybersecurity risks. A cybersecurity control is a mechanism to prevent, detect and mitigate cyberattacks and threats. The controls can be technical controls, such as passwords and access control lists, or physical controls such as surveillance camera and fences.

These controls can also be:

  • Encryption
  • Network firewalls
  • Password policies
  • Cyber insurance
  • Employee training
  • Incident response plan
  • Access control
  • Patch management schedule

Demand for these controls is high, meaning plenty of cybersecurity solutions are available that can help you with this step. For an example of security and privacy controls, visit the NIST 800-53 Risk Management Framework and go to Section 2.4 Security and Privacy Controls.

4. Creating Policies

Now that controls are in place, you must document any policies regarding these controls or guidelines that IT teams, employees and other stakeholders need to follow. Forming these policies will also come in handy for any internal or external audits in the future.

5. Monitoring and Quick Response

It's crucial to continuously monitor your compliance program as regulations emerge or existing policies are updated. The goal of a compliance program is to identify and manage risks and catch cyberthreats before they turn into a full-blown data breach. It’s also important to have business processes in place that allow you to remediate quickly when attacks happen.

Major Cybersecurity Regulations

It's important to understand what major cybersecurity regulations exist and to identify the correct cybersecurity regulation needed for your industry. Below are some common regulations that impact cybersecurity and data professionals alike. These help your organization remain compliant, depending on your industry and the locations where you do business.


Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of regulatory standards that ensures all organizations maintain a secure environment for credit card information. To be compliant, organization compliance must be validated annually.

All requirements that have been set forth to protect cardholder data pertain to these six principles:

  • Build and maintain a secure network
  • Protect cardholder data
  • Maintain a vulnerability management program
  • Implement strong access control measures
  • Regularly monitor and test networks
  • Maintain an information security policy


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, is a law that ensures the confidentiality, availability and integrity of PHI.

HIPAA is often applied in healthcare settings, including:

  • Health care providers
  • Health care Clearinghouses
  • Health care plans
  • Business professionals that frequently handle PHI

The entities listed above must comply with HIPPA and are bound to the privacy standards it sets forth.


System and Organization Control 2 (SOC 2) establishes guidelines for managing customer records based on five trust service principles:

  • Safety
  • Availability
  • Processing integrity
  • Secrecy
  • Privacy

SOC 2 reports are specific to the organization that develops them, and each organization designs its own controls to adhere to one or two of the trust principles. While SOC 2 compliance isn't required, it plays an important role in securing data for software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing vendors.

NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation

This regulation (23 NYCRR 500) was set forth by the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) in 2017. It establishes cybersecurity requirements for any financial services providers that may or may not reside in NY.

Some basic principles outlined in this regulation are risk assessments, documentation of cybersecurity policies and assigning a chief information officer (CIO) for compliance program management.


GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and was enacted by the European Union (EU) in 2018. The GDPR includes set standards for organizations that collect data or target individuals in the EU, even if the organization is located outside the EU or its member states.

The seven principles included in the GDPR include:

  • Lawfulness
  • Accuracy
  • Data minimization
  • Fairness and transparency
  • Purpose limitation
  • Storage limitation
  • Integrity, confidentiality and security
  • Accountability


The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a U.S. federal law that ensures students' educational records are protected and private.

FERPA applies to all educational institutions that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Students above the age of 18, parents or students attending college, trade school or university are granted specific rights and protections regarding their educational records.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) aims to promote innovation, industry competitiveness and quality of life with the advancements of standards and technology.

The NIST 800-53 Risk Management Framework is a list of guidelines to support and manage information security systems. Although the framework was originally used for U.S. defense and contractors, NIST has been implemented by enterprises worldwide.

The NIST 800-161 Supply Chain Risk Management provides standards on assessing and reducing information and communications technology supply chain risks.


The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a piece of legislation in California that gives consumers more control over the data that organizations collect about them. The CCPA applies to many organizations and requires them to disclose their data privacy practices to consumers.

Some other CCPA requirements include the right to know, opt-out of sale, delete, non-discrimination and more.


CMMC stands for Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification and requires some organizations to implement stringent cybersecurity measures to safeguard sensitive information. It applies to any organization that handles controlled unclassified information (CUI), meaning that some organizations are not held to this standard.

Under the CMMC, organizations must receive an audit from a certified third-party assessor organization (C3PAO) to verify compliance and determine if the organization satisfies the minimum requirements to bid on any U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contracts.

There are other compliance regulations that your organization may need to know. For example, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) protects critical government information and operations. It's always worth running a compliance audit or contacting a cybersecurity professional or licensed attorney to double-check requirements.

Compliance Assessment Checklist

A checklist for compliance helps assess that an organization meets the requirements of a given regulation. Because every organization has to approach compliance differently, many online sources of information and guidance can help you.

Here are some helpful resources:

Thankfully, there are many resources at your disposal to help you create a compliance checklist for your organization. Be sure to assess which compliance regulations your organization must meet and check them off one-by-one to ensure you’re complying with them.

Make Cybersecurity Compliance a Priority

With cyberattacks on the rise and more cybersecurity and data protection legislation emerging, now is the time to learn more about cybersecurity compliance. No organization wants to put itself or its customers at risk of data breaches in a threatening cybersecurity environment.

Hopefully, you know more about cybersecurity compliance and how certain compliance standards impact your organization. Whether you need to meet HIPAA, SOC 2 or PCI DSS requirements, there are plenty of cybersecurity solutions that can help you get there and stay compliant.

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