How robust IT compliance and infosec protect your organization against data breaches

IT compliance team collaborates on a computer

Oro provides content designed to educate and help audiences on their compliance journey.

The sounding of the alarm for a data breach is the last thing any leader wants to hear. With the average cost of a breach sitting at $4.35 million, the consequences can be quite devastating. 

These breaches not only compromise individual customer data but also erode consumer faith in the security measures that are supposed to keep their information safe. Any organization that collects and stores customer data is responsible for protecting that information. How to do this? Business owners and IT leaders must utilize compliance standards to fight against the evolving threat of cyber attacks. 

In this post, we’ll explore the essential components of an IT compliance plan and showcase how implementation can strengthen your security, safeguard your most important customers and stakeholders, and mitigate the threat of cyberattacks. 

Understanding the modern era of data breaches

Today’s breach landscape is a continuously evolving arms race with opponents on either side developing tactics to stay ahead of each other. Additionally, artificial intelligence’s emergence as a new player and non-compliance can be a huge concern at organizations of any scale, from the smallest one-man operations to the largest multinational company. 

While the frequency and impact of data breaches vary across these organizations, one thing remains certain: A robust IT compliance roadmap is a necessity. 

IT compliance regulations for data breach prevention: Where to begin

They say the best cure is prevention, so take a proactive approach: Before any real data is moved through your systems, implement some robust compliance measures to help establish a strong security foundation. Getting ahead of any potential problems will ensure a high degree of protection and minimize the vulnerabilities that cyber-attacks exploit. 

Regulatory framework compliance

Every industry has its unique risks and vulnerabilities. Understanding these can help you identify the appropriate controls and prevention strategies to avoid non-compliance. 

Following the appropriate, industry-specific regulations from government agencies will set you up for success in your efforts to prevent (or minimize the impact of) any data breaches your business might experience.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

Conducting business with individuals in both the EU and California requires a special set of compliance requirements that are critical to establishing robust security standards. For the EU, this is General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and for California, this is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and its enhancement, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

No other industry has as stringent IT compliance standards for keeping data safe as healthcare. And for good reason: It is the most heavily targeted industry for cyberattacks, with $10 million as the average cost of a data breach, a 9.7% year-over-year increase.  

HIPAA and broader healthcare IT compliance frameworkd should take into account three distinct categories to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI (protected health information): Technical, physical, and administrative safeguards. 

Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

Complying with standards for the financial services industry involves establishing secure network configurations and encryption mechanisms that can protect sensitive customer data in the event of a data breach. 

Like a majority of frameworks, compliance with the PCI DSS standard enforces a practice of establishing unique user IDs and multi-factor authentication. These controls can reduce the chances of a data breach from compromised credentials. 


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Technical safeguards

Naturally, the strategies you employ for IT compliance will rely on your specific situation. That being said, there are a few general technical guidelines that can be discussed. 

Network security

Network security involves several preventative measures including firewall configuration, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), network segmentation, and wireless network security that use encryption protocols. An ever-increasing number of endpoints has made configuring network security specifications that much more critical to the well-being of the organization. 

Access controls

Access controls ensure that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive data. Access controls like user authentication and roles-based access controls (RBACs) should be applied strictly to maintain the foundational integrity of the network. 

This can be done through privileged account management that emphasizes account provisioning and regular access reviews. 

Encryption

Sensitive data stored across servers, databases, and laptops need to remain protected both at rest and in transit. Encryption transforms sensitive information into unreadable ciphertext so unauthorized users can’t make use of stolen information. Pseudonymization reduces the impact of a breach by making it challenging for attackers to link specific individuals to stolen data.

Secure transmission

Encrypting PHI and other sensitive data at rest and in transit so unauthorized users can’t get access to information. TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocols can help ensure secure file transfer while encryption key management establishes a framework for secure encryption key storage, rotation, and revocation. 

ePHI needs to be securely transmitted over networks. TLS v1.2 (Transport Layer Security) or newer communication protocols need to be implemented to send and receive encrypted PHI. 

Data storage

Data storage revolves around adequate discovery, classification, and retention according to data sensitivity. Two major measures appear when taking a deep dive into data storage best practices: 

  • Secure data backups followed by encryption and access control policies
  • DLP (Data Loss Prevention) solutions to monitor and prevent unauthorized information transfer

Backup and recovery

IT compliance frameworks should establish backup and recovery schedules that ensure the availability and integrity of critical data. The regular testing of restorative processes can help instill stakeholder confidence in the event of a system-wide disaster

System patching

Patch management ensures a greater level of compliance through regular risk assessments and testing that ensure the software can handle business needs within the current threat environment. Additionally, patch prioritization that ranks the severity of software vulnerability can help mitigate system impacts. 

Vulnerability management

In addition to patch prioritization, regular vulnerability scans that uncover operating system vulnerabilities across organizational endpoints are critical to maintaining compliance and data integrity. Periodic penetration testing that simulates real-world attacks is vital to getting ahead of cyber criminals leveraging tools to bypass scans. 

While these are general guidelines for technical specifications, it’s important to review and regularly update them according to your needs. As the threat landscape continues to evolve and new attack styles emerge, individual compliance policies will need to adapt to stay ahead. 

  • Audit logs: Log information will help retain information on user activities and track security incident patterns. 
  • Data backup and disaster recovery: Regular data backup and disaster recovery should consider the time and the amount of data needed to maintain regular practices. 
  • Device control: Securing hardware and electronic devices that store PHI and other sensitive data should involve encryption and the secure disposal of old devices. 

Physical safeguards

The proper handling of the physical objects that store information is critical to preventing data breaches. Handling physical media (like USB drives or other storage devices) should involve secure storage through facility access controls and appropriate disposal procedures like shredding, degaussing, and other secure erasure mechanisms. 

Administrative safeguards

As we have already noted, data breaches are an ongoing threat. This means incident response plans that outline reporting, containment, investigation, and recovery need to reflect current attack patterns and integrate seamlessly into the holistic administrative culture. 

  • Reporting: Specifies the personnel that needs to be notified as well as what information should be provided
  • Containment: Involves isolating affected systems and networks as well as shutting down compromised accounts to limit the incident impact 
  • Investigation: Serves to identify the root cause of the incident and assess the extent of the breach in addition to collecting evidence for forensic analysis
  • Recovery: Outlines steps to restore data from backups and implement new controls to address vulnerabilities

In addition to the incident response capabilities, these safeguards should also include information security policy frameworks, risk assessments, sanction policies, and workforce clearances that grant the appropriate access privileges to employees based on their roles and responsibilities. 

Security assessments identify and address security infrastructure vulnerabilities and weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers.

An organization that manages to harmoniously weave all of these safeguards together can enact a robust security posture that reduces the risk of data breaches and protects user data from collection to storage and sharing. 

Looking ahead: The next frontiers of IT compliance

The technical necessities of regulatory frameworks should form the foundation of any compliance plan. However, as new technologies become accessible to all parties, your information security management system must also evolve to meet the needs of the day. 

AI is an ever-growing concern

You can be sure the modern hacker is using the latest technologies to launch attacks. This could involve using generative AI to create highly sophisticated phishing schemes or even realistic speech for phone-based social engineering attacks. 

In this new AI world, you can fight fire with fire: AI-driven adaptive security mechanisms dynamically adjust security mechanisms in response to evolving threats. Machine-learning models can learn from new attack patterns and update controls, configurations, and policies in real-time, making breach detection and containment 27% faster.  

The key here, however, will be to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the model to minimize false positives or false negatives. Implementing the tool will require continuous tweaks and a regular compliance audit that takes the organization’s goals and standards into account. 

Thorough IT security practices that protect against the modern breach environment not only satisfy industry frameworks but also plan for what the future threat landscape might look like. However, the process of coming up with an airtight plan can be complex, so it’s important to consult with an expert as soon as possible.

Expect continuous monitoring through automation

Preventing data breaches requires a high degree of continuous monitoring. Automation tools that collect and analyze real-time data are a major asset for any organization. Automatically collecting network traffic, system logs, and user activity information enhances the efficiency of uncovering significant security vulnerabilities or unauthorized access attempts that sound the alarm of a potential data breach. 

Conclusion: Creating a culture of compliance

A major aspect of preventing data breaches through IT compliance is by fostering a culture in which security awareness is at the top of mind. Through continuous training, organizations can educate employees on the best practices for handling sensitive information and the importance of confidentiality. This, in turn, can reduce human error from negligence or a lack of responsibility. 

Creating a compliance-driven culture adds another layer of defense that can strengthen the organization’s overall resilience against data breaches.


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