Data Security Compliance: How To Ensure Compliance With Industry Regulations

Data Security Compliance: How To Ensure Compliance With Industry Regulations

Digital technologies have revolutionized the entire business landscape, especially regarding data management. Today, data is stored primarily on the cloud compared to any storage platform, thereby minimizing silos and maximizing accessibility.

But with businesses holding more confidential information than ever, they also have to take responsibility for protecting that data. They can suffer severe reputational damage if they fail to take precautions for data security.

If businesses act unethically or carelessly when handling sensitive material, they can also have hefty penalties. While keeping data under lock and key may seem like a simple task, it is easier said than done!

The vastness of digital information, the constant technological advancements, and the sophisticated tactics of cyber hackers make data protection a challenging endeavor. That is where data security compliance enters the picture.

What is data security compliance?

It is a formal governance structure a business must follow to ensure its digital assets – financial details or personally identifiable information (PII) – are safeguarded against misuse, theft, and loss.

These regulations may be industry-specific or have a broader application, depending on the nature of the data and jurisdiction. Businesses must deeply understand the legal context and commit to deploying robust security measures.

Here is a list of a few common data compliance security requirements worldwide:

1. ISO/IEC 27001

It is a globally recognized standard for systematically managing information security. It is a part of the wider ISO/IEC 27000 series of international principles. ISO/IEC 27001 has three focus areas – integrity, confidentiality, and data availability.

It is responsible for continuously improving an information security management system (ISMS) concerning business risk.

2. Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

SOX mandates certain practices that improve financial disclosures from financial corporations and prevent accounting fraud. It was passed in 2002 as a response to several financial scandals during the time, with the hope of restoring public confidence.

SOX impacts various industries depending on the business nature. Security compliance requires understanding the specific requirements of each standard or regulation and necessitates specialized technical or legal expertise.

3. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The European Union (EU) enacted GDPR in 2018. It is a data protection and privacy regulation for all EU residents and individuals within the European Economic Area (EEA). GDPR has two main purposes: to simplify the regulatory environment for international business and to give control to people over their personal data.

4. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS)

Implemented in 2004, PCI-DSS is a set of security standards that ensures all businesses that store, accept, process, and transmit credit card information operate in a secure environment. Major credit card companies follow PCI-DSS to boost controls around cardholder data and prevent credit card fraud.

5. The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

FISMA is a US law that was rolled out in 2002. It defines specific requirements for protecting federal government information and systems against natural or man-made threats. It mandates federal agencies to conduct periodic risk assessments, implement security policies, and provide regular training programs. FISMA is also relevant for financial services companies that deal with sensitive government data.

6. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

This is a US law rolled out in 1996. It mandates data privacy and security provisions for protecting medical data. HIPAA aims to minimize the admin burdens and cost of healthcare by streamlining the e-transmission of financial transactions. It also provides continuous health insurance coverage for workers who change or lose jobs.

Seven tips to ensure data security compliance with industry regulations

Now that you understand why data security is essential and the important industry compliances followed globally, let us take a look the seven steps your business needs to take to get on the systematic path to security compliance:

1. Understand the nature of your data

Before you put any data protection measures in place, find out what you are dealing with. Are you a healthcare company with patient records? Do you deal with credit card information? Are you a business catering to EU-based customers?

Sure, businesses try to protect their sensitive data from breach; however, customer information is stored in vulnerable databases across the globe. Therefore, be cautious.

The type of data you store or deal with determines the information security standards and compliance security laws you must follow. Here is what you need to do to make this job simpler:

  • Categorize your data sets into employee, financial, customer, and operational data.
  • Determine the sensitivity of each data type. For instance, if you hold PII, that data is highly sensitive and demands stronger security measures. Similarly, credit card details require specialized protection mechanisms.
  • Understand the geographical scope of your data collection and storage. For instance, if it is the EU, you must comply with GDPR.
  • Get an idea about how a data set enters your system, where it is stored, for how long, and how it is used. Is it disposed of? If so, how? Each stage will present unique vulnerabilities and challenges.

Proactively studying your data will make your approach to data security compliance more precise and nuanced.

2. Formulate a data compliance strategy

Once you know your compliance requirements, list the steps to achieve and sustain adherence to those rules. In most cases, businesses take the help of third-party data security service providers to set up proper protocols and procedures for maintaining compliance, such as:

  • Categorizing data based on sensitivity levels, such as public, confidential, internal, and so on.
  • Encrypting data-at-rest uses industry-standard measures so the physical storage is always protected.
  • Deploying secure transmission techniques, such as SSL/TLS for web traffic and VPNs for remote access.

In addition, you could mask data and create fake but realistic versions of your business data. The objective is to protect sensitive information while offering a functional alternative when real data is not needed – for instance, during sales demos, user training sessions, and software testing.

Data security compliance is not just a by-product of a series of wise decisions; it necessitates a well-defined plan.

3. Implement adequate security controls

According to a Verizon report,the “human element” is responsible for 82% of data breaches, with phishing scams playing a major role.

Compliance is in, actual fact, a reporting function showing that a business meets specific requirements. However, to achieve a “compliant status,” you must actively create security controls.

What are those, you ask? Security controls are safeguards employed for managing or reducing the risk to your digital or physical assets. They help protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, alteration, disclosure, or destruction.

Security controls come in the form of policies, mechanisms, or procedures. Five areas to focus on when setting these up include:

  • Network access controls
  • Incident response plans
  • Firewall and router management
  • System patch schedule maintenance
  • Data encryption and key management

But do not just deploy the security controls and forget about them. Conduct routine audits to ensure your business follows the latest and the most important data compliance policies and maintains data security.

In addition, build a plan to address potential data breaches, including notifying affected stakeholders and authorities, immediately containing the affected system, and also putting together measures to prevent data breaches in the future.

4. Update data protection measures

The world of privacy is a fast-growing cause of concern. As technology continues to evolve, so do the tactics or techniques deployed by cyber hackers. You must, therefore, take certain steps to protect your business data.

First things first, check your employees’ control access. Make sure the ones who have left your company do not have any permissions. Establish the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to limit employees’ access rights to only what is strictly required for them to do their jobs.

Review your cloud environments and on-premise computer systems and ensure their anti-malware software is current. Quickly fix any security gaps you may find and set up processes to avoid them in the future.

In addition, have regular training sessions with employees so that they are always aware of the latest regulations and tools related to data management, how they are supposed to deal with data, and the potential consequences of not following the defined guidelines.

If your business lacks in-house expertise, hire a data protection officer or outsource this to third-party specialists for accurately reviewing the regulations. They can identify any anomalies and recommend best practices to ensure you meet the latest compliance standards.

5. Conduct regular data assessments

Compliance is not just a one-time thing. Over time, consumer data standards change, new regulations emerge, and the goalposts shift.

You must, therefore, conduct regular assessments to determine where you stand, identify areas to improve security and compliance and optimize your processes accordingly. Here is how you can do that:

  • Depending on the type of data and the industry you operate in, determine the frequency in which assessments should be conducted, i.e., annually, quarterly, or monthly.
  • Understand what data you possess, how and where it is stored, and who has access to it. This includes unstructured and structured data, such as emails and databases.
  • Maintain detailed records of who accessed the data within a specific timeline and how often. This information can come in handy during a data breach investigation.
  • Use specific tools for data discovery, risk assessment, and information classification. Scan large volumes of data sets and identify vulnerabilities quickly and more efficiently.

You must also document your findings every time you perform a data assessment. If you find any recurring themes during the audit, for instance, patches in a particular network or system, fix that immediately. 

Also, share your findings with the concerned team so everyone is on the same page and can ensure a prompt approach to a similar problem should it arise.

6. Adopt compliance automation

As the name suggests, compliance automation involves using technology solutions to minimize effort and improve business data accuracy. By automating repetitive tasks and processes, focus more on strategic and value-added activities, resulting in improved operational efficiency.

Access and monitor compliance status and audit information via a centralized dashboard and get a comprehensive view of your regulations. This helps maintain a strong compliance posture. You can also save significant time and money compared to manual compliance controls.

A data compliance automation framework typically includes the following components:

  • Assess the applicable regulations, internal policies, and standards you comply with and identify any specific requirements that automation can address.
  • Map out the existing compliance processes and workflows. Find out areas that can be automated and streamlined using tech solutions.
  • Evaluate and select apt tools and software systems for automation. Consider factors such as integration capabilities, vendor reputation, pricing, and functionality.
  • Customize the selected technology to integrate it with your business’ existing infrastructure. Define and configure automation rules and workflows, which decide how compliance tasks are executed, monitored, and reported. Whatever you do should align your technology with your data security compliance requirements.
  • Automate data collection, validation, reporting, and notifications. Give particular attention to continuous monitoring mechanisms to track compliance performance and track proactive measures to deal with potential issues. Automate generating real-time reports for better and faster decision-making.

7. Prioritize employee training

Compliance automation will only be as successful as how trained your employees are to use it. That is why you should conduct periodic workshops to ensure they are always equipped with appropriate knowledge about automated processes and ongoing governance and oversight.

Further, reduce the risk of legal penalties and reputational damage by spreading awareness about data protection regulations amongst your employees. Real-life examples and case studies can be quite effective in showcasing the negative impact that being non-compliant can bring.

Create a compliance team who oversees the business data protection practices and addresses data-related concerns. They can massively help in maintaining high standards of data protection and serve as a central point for all compliance-related issues, resolving queries, and providing guidance.

Over to you

The importance of data security cannot be overstated enough. When a business thinks about it thoroughly, it enhances its chances of boosting its market standing, cultivating customer loyalty and impacting its bottom line. And which business does not want that?

In the end, it is extremely crucial for you to systematically approach data security compliance by constantly reviewing the cloud environment and mitigating risks. Doing so can dramatically alleviate the likelihood of data breaches, keeping your intellectual property safe and secure.


Carl Torrence is a Content Marketer at Marketing Digest. His core expertise lies in developing data-driven content for brands, SaaS businesses, and agencies. In his free time, he enjoys binge-watching time-travel movies and listening to Linkin Park and Coldplay albums.

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