As companies migrate to the cloud to take advantage of its scalability and flexibility, many don’t fully realize how this move will affect their compliance with cybersecurity and privacy requirements mandated by laws and standards such as SOX, CCPA, SOC 2, PCI DSS or ISO 27001.
While the cloud offers significant freedom, it also creates new pain points around achieving compliance with these requirements, especially when first moving compliant workloads from on-premises data centers to the cloud. Thankfully, once teams understand the cloud’s unique compliance challenges, they can begin selecting and implementing tools that will automate around the pain.
Challenges in cloud compliance
There are three main challenges in managing and maintaining cloud compliance.
The first is inherent in compliance with any cybersecurity and privacy requirement, and the cloud doesn’t make it go away (in fact, it arguably makes it worse) – and that’s the time it takes to audit. Companies preparing for audits must sink significant time and effort (hundreds of hours, every audit, across multiple requirements) into collecting a vast amount of technical data on information security controls and processes.
Manually collecting data, taking screenshots, and organizing evidence takes that time away from cloud and DevOps teams that could otherwise be spent building new products or services. Because the cloud increases IT complexity (more services, more APIs, hybrid environments, etc.), the required resource investment actually gets worse over time.
Second, security capabilities meant for on-premises environments no longer apply when companies begin migrating to the cloud, making evidence gathering all the more complicated. Quite simply, the cloud creates a new paradigm, forcing companies to re-architect the best security practices they have spent years perfecting, i.e., to fundamentally start from scratch.
Third, software development and change management in the cloud moves at light speed compared to more traditional monolithic application updates, and it can be difficult for companies to keep up with the security and privacy implications of that ever-changing cloud environment. That can result in unintended and unforeseen gaps in security, as well as an overall lack of clarity and confidence around compliance.
The pressure of limited resources, an unfamiliar environment, and an inability to keep up with rapid software development lifecycles, puts CISOs in a bind when it comes to cloud compliance. The result is that security teams can become a blocker on cloud innovation for mission-critical workloads, while living with more risk than they’re comfortable with on newer initiatives and pilot projects.
Automating the compliance process
Automation helps with compliance pain points in several ways. First and foremost, it speeds and streamlines the whole process, drastically cutting down on the time required. It also improves the completeness and accuracy of the audit process, adding welcome structure and ensuring that important areas aren’t overlooked in an unfamiliar cloud environment. Finally, it facilitates continuous assessments, increases testing frequency, and monitors compliance drift in the fast-paced world of the cloud.
What can be automated?
In broad terms, automation impacts three important aspects of compliance audits: evidence collection, evidence-to-control mapping, and cross-walking evidence across common control frameworks and between statutory, regulatory and contractual cybersecurity and privacy requirements.
Automated evidence collection solutions crawl the cloud environment to rapidly gather technical evidence from IT infrastructure and SaaS applications. This data can include specifics on encryption of data at rest, encryption key management, network segmentation/configuration, background check reports, vulnerability scan reports and more.
The results are transformed into formatted reports ready for internal review, analysis and auditor review. This automated evidence collection saves significant time for engineering and development teams – thousands of hours annually for typical enterprises facing multiple audits.
The data is also considered more complete and more accurate from a compliance perspective than traditional screen shots, as it includes time stamps and other metadata to assert the processing integrity of the evidence collected. Automation of evidence collection can also be run ad hoc or scheduled to assess compliance drift over time.
Mapping is the act of taking a particular piece of evidence and associating it with a required control. Automation comes in to play when a particular piece of evidence – say, an information security policy – applies to multiple controls within a single audit.
Rather than uploading that same piece of evidence a dozen or more times over the course of several weeks, automated mapping instantly completes all associations when data is first uploaded.
Think of cross-walking as mapping on steroids. A particular piece of evidence might not only apply to a dozen or more controls within a particular cybersecurity or privacy requirement such as SOC 2, but it might also apply to even more controls across multiple requirements (ISO 27001, PCI DSS, etc.).
By automating the cross-walking process, it’s possible for an organization to find itself already 40-60% complete on collecting audit evidence for subsequent requirements, simply by automatically re-using the data it has already collected.
Improving cloud compliance
For modern enterprises, meeting multiple statutory, regulatory, and contractual compliance obligations is an important signal to the outside world that the organization is serious about data security and privacy. That becomes all the more relevant when companies are concerned about the potential for increased risk and exposure in the cloud; compliance certification provides additional assurances through independent validation that your company is doing the right thing.
If compliance is important, then it’s equally important to ensure that the audit process itself never become a barrier or excess burden in achieving that certification. Using automation to streamline what has traditionally been a highly manual and time-consuming process can make all the difference in our cloud-first world.