Continuous compliance in the public cloud refers to the ongoing process of ensuring that an organisation’s cloud infrastructure and applications adhere to regulatory requirements and industry standards. There are governmental standards that are initiated and maintained by national and regional governments, for example:
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): The United States government owns and operates NIST as a regulatory organisation. NIST establishes several guidelines for Information Technology, including cloud computing.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): This European Union (EU) initiative provides stringent privacy and security regulations for handling data belonging to EU residents.
There are also industry-specific standards. These standards are crucial for implementing security practices important to particular industry verticals:
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): The PCI DSS is an international standard to prevent credit card fraud. Several approaches are used to achieve this, including protecting cardholder data and sensitive authentication details from unauthorised access.
- ISO/IEC 27001: An international standard for information security. It sets out the specification for an effective ISMS (information security management system). ISO 27001’s best-practice approach helps organisations manage their information security by addressing people, processes, and technology.
With the increasing use of public cloud services, it’s essential for organisations to implement continuous compliance to protect their sensitive data and maintain the integrity of their systems, all while remaining compliant with governmental and industry-specific standards as this can result in substantial fines and loss of reputation. Chief Compliance and Chief Risk Officers lack visibility into their organisations’ security and privacy control environment and the ability to demonstrate compliance to numerous regulatory obligations, unknowingly exposing them to accepting risks they cannot see.
Organisations that have a strong security posture and are compliant with regulations are less likely to experience a data breach and if they do, the breaches are less costly. According to IBM’s Cost of data breach 2022 report, 83% of organisations will experience a data breach, usually more than once, costing on average £4.35m. Additionally, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, large organisations are now reporting the average cost to maintain compliance can total up to £10,000 per employee. Continuous compliance requires cultural and strategy changes, as well as the right combination of people, processes, and technology to become proactive rather than reactive. If implemented well, it prepares organisations for future security threats and audit requirements.
In this article, we’ll cover the benefits of continuous compliance, and how to use it to comply with example regulations and industry standards. We’ll also provide some example use cases for continuous compliance, as well as how compliance as code can be leveraged to ensure that compliance is met right from the start, for example, during the development phase of application code and design of cloud infrastructure resources.
Benefits of Continuous Compliance
There are several benefits to using continuous compliance:
- Reduced risk of data breaches and security incidents.
- Avoidance of costly fines and penalties for non-compliance.
- Improved reputation and customer trust.
- Enhanced ability to pass audits and security assessments.
Implementing continuous compliance can help organisations avoid these costs by proactively identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities. By being proactive, organisations can receive non-compliant reports in real-time and identify non-compliant cloud resources or endpoints without waiting for periodic audits, causing security gaps. Multiple use cases can benefit from continuous compliance including:
- Regulatory compliance: Many organisations are subject to regulatory requirements that mandate the implementation of specific security controls and policies. Continuous compliance can help organisations monitor their compliance with these regulations and ensure that they are always in compliance.
- Risk management: Manage security risks with real-time monitoring and alerting for security incidents and vulnerabilities. This can help organisations identify and address security risks before they lead to a data breach or other security incident.
- Cloud security: Ensure the security and compliance of cloud infrastructure. This can include monitoring for misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and compliance with security policies and standards.
- DevOps security: Integrate into the DevOps process to ensure security and compliance are considered throughout the software development lifecycle. This can help organisations ensure that their applications and systems are secure and compliant.
- Data privacy: Monitor compliance with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR. This can include monitoring for data breaches, ensuring data protection, and providing appropriate access controls.
Achieving Continuous Compliance in the Public Cloud
To achieve continuous compliance in the public cloud, organisations can implement the following practices:
- Regularly assess their cloud infrastructure and applications for compliance with relevant regulations and standards.
- Implement automated tools and processes for monitoring and enforcing compliance.
- Regularly update security policies and procedures to reflect the latest regulatory requirements.
- Conduct regular security training for employees to ensure compliance with best practices.
- Regularly review and update their incident response plan.
The major cloud providers, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure, keep security at the forefront of their data centres. However, they only provide the tools and services to enable continuous compliance and do not abstract the use of these tools away from customers who are still responsible for their data and cloud infrastructure resources. This is also known as the Shared Responsibility Model, where customers are responsible for what’s ‘in’ the cloud, but the provider is responsible for security ‘of’ the cloud. Using a combination of people, processes, and technology, organisations can enable the following:
- Secure configurations.
- Complete visibility over assets in the cloud.
- Enable automated validation, remediation, monitoring and report of mandated compliance standards.
- Incorporate cyber asset attack surface management.
- Continuously monitor resources and configurations to prevent vulnerabilities.
- Machine learning and analytics for threat detection and incident response.
Continuous Compliance Use Cases
The following are example use cases where continuous compliance can help bridge the gap between the desired state and the actual state.
Avoid Cloud Misconfigurations
When it comes to cloud infrastructure, continuous compliance helps to avoid misconfigurations by providing ongoing visibility into the cloud environment and alerting IT teams to potential security risks and non-compliant configurations. Here are some specific ways in which continuous compliance can help avoid cloud misconfigurations:
- Automated monitoring: Automate the monitoring of cloud infrastructure, making it easier for IT teams to identify any misconfigurations that could pose a risk to the environment.
- Real-time alerts: Real-time alerts to IT teams when a misconfiguration is detected, allowing them to address the issue promptly.
- Compliance checks: Run regular compliance checks against established policies and regulations to ensure that the cloud environment remains compliant at all times.
- Remediation: Automatically remediate misconfigurations, reducing the risk of human error and improving the speed at which issues are resolved.
By implementing continuous compliance, organisations can ensure that their cloud infrastructure is continuously monitored and compliant with established policies and regulations. This can help prevent misconfigurations leading to security breaches or other operational issues.
Azure Policy can be used to avoid cloud misconfigurations. Azure Policy can be used to set guardrails throughout your resources to help ensure cloud compliance, avoid misconfigurations, and practise consistent resource governance.
Improve Security Posture Management
Continuous compliance can be an effective way to improve security posture management for an organisation. Posture management refers to defining, enforcing, and maintaining security and compliance policies for an organisation’s IT infrastructure. Here are some ways in which continuous compliance can help with posture management:
- Real-time monitoring: Real-time monitoring of an organisation’s IT infrastructure, including cloud resources, to identify security threats and compliance issues as they occur. This allows IT teams to take corrective action quickly, minimising the impact of any security incidents.
- Compliance reporting: Generate compliance reports that provide an overview of an organisation’s compliance posture. These reports can help IT teams identify areas that require attention and track progress toward achieving compliance goals.
- Automation: Automate compliance checks, reducing the burden on IT teams and ensuring compliance policies are enforced consistently across the organisation.
- Integration with other tools: Integrate with security and compliance tools, such as vulnerability scanners and security information and event management (SIEM) systems, to provide a more comprehensive view of an organisation’s security posture.
By using continuous compliance as part of their posture management strategy, organisations can ensure that their IT infrastructure is secure and compliant at all times. This can help to minimise the risk of security incidents and improve overall security posture.
Microsoft Defender for Cloud can be used to improve your security posture management. It is capable of the following:
- Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM): Gives organisations visibility on their security posture via the secure score, detection of security misconfigurations, asset inventory, and more.
- Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP): Uses advanced security analytics-based intelligent protection and detection capabilities for your Azure and hybrid cloud workloads. It also helps you track your compliance with regulatory frameworks and compliance standards (like PCI DSS, NIST, ISO 27001, etc.).
Monitoring PCI DSS Controls
Continuous compliance can be an effective way to monitor PCI DSS controls to ensure ongoing compliance with the standard. Here are some ways in which continuous compliance can help monitor PCI DSS controls:
- Automated monitoring: Automatically monitor PCI DSS controls to ensure they are always in place and operating effectively. This can include checks for firewall rules, encryption, access controls, and other requirements.
- Real-time alerts: Send real-time alerts when a control is not operating as intended or when a vulnerability is detected. This allows IT teams to take corrective action promptly and minimise the impact of any security incidents.
- Compliance reporting: Generate compliance reports that provide an overview of an organisation’s compliance with PCI DSS controls. These reports can help IT teams identify areas that require attention and track progress toward achieving compliance goals.
By using continuous compliance to monitor PCI DSS controls, organisations can ensure that they remain compliant with the standard at all times.
AWS Audit Manager can be used to audit your AWS usage to manage PCI DSS controls effectively. It can be used to create audit-friendly assessments for reporting and monitor active assessments for non-compliance resources that need to be remediated.
Compliance as Code
By using compliance as code and integrating it into continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines you can ensure that all of your application code, infrastructure as code, and deployed resources are compliant from the start of the development lifecycle. Compliance as code has the following benefits:
- Automation: Automate the implementation, validation, remediation, monitoring, and reporting of an organisation’s mandated compliance standards across the whole organisation’s ecosystem.
- Integration: It can be applied and integrated throughout the whole compliance lifecycle process and validate the implementation of various controls during the early design and implementation phase.
- Monitoring: It can also be utilised for ongoing monitoring and resolution of possible problems.
Integrating compliance as code into your CI/CD pipelines, developers will be notified of the compliance status for each commit and will make changes as needed. As a result, the final version of any application or infrastructure code will be compliant. Compliance as code is necessary because it allows for continuous auditing and reporting of compliance status. Integrating compliance as code into a CI/CD pipeline also assists the security team in identifying issues early on. In addition, the development team can make changes early, resulting in on-time delivery and allowing both teams to complete their tasks more quickly.
In conclusion, continuous compliance in the public cloud is essential for organisations to protect their sensitive data and maintain the integrity of their systems. By implementing the right combination of people, processes, and technology, organisations can reduce the risk of data breaches and security incidents and avoid costly fines and penalties. For example, using the built-in risk and security management platforms provided by the major cloud providers, organisations can meet regulatory compliance requirements by following benchmarks and best practices. Compliance as code can be used for continuous auditing and reporting of compliance status, and ensuring that application code or new cloud resources are compliant during development and deployment in a CI/CD pipeline.