What is Cyber Security Compliance ?

Cyber security compliance refers to following the set of rules and regulations regarding how organizations should handle and protect sensitive data. Compliance is important for any company that collects, processes or stores personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), financial data or other sensitive information.

Some of the major regulations that organizations must comply with include:

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which protects PHI. Healthcare organizations and their business associates must comply with HIPAA.
  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which protects PII of individuals in the European Union. Any company that markets to or collects data from people in the EU must comply with GDPR.
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) which applies to any organization that accepts credit card payments. They must comply to ensure customer payment data is protected.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) which applies to publicly traded companies in the U.S. SOX compliance ensures accurate financial reporting and internal controls.

Complying with these and other cyber security standards is important to avoid potential legal issues and penalties. Non-compliance can lead to hefty fines and damage to an organization’s reputation.

To achieve compliance, organizations must implement technical controls like data encryption, access management, and network security. They must also have appropriate policies and procedures in place, conduct risk assessments, and train employees on security best practices. Compliance frameworks like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can help guide organizations in building a robust cyber security compliance program.

Major Compliance Frameworks and Standards

There are several major regulatory requirements for cyber security compliance that that organizations need to understand:

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

The PCI DSS applies to any organization that processes, stores or transmits credit card payments. It consists of 12 requirements related to building and maintaining a secure payment card data environment. Organizations must validate PCI DSS compliance annually through an assessment.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA establishes requirements for protecting sensitive patient health information. It applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers. HIPAA requires administrative, physical and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information (ePHI).

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR is a European Union regulation that protects the personal data of EU citizens. It applies to organizations that collect or process personal data of individuals in the EU, regardless of whether the organization is based in the EU. GDPR requires transparency, consent, data minimization, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity, confidentiality and accountability.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

SOX establishes requirements for financial reporting accuracy and reliability for publicly traded companies in the US. Section 404 requires management to annually assess and report on the effectiveness of internal controls over financial reporting. SOX compliance aims to prevent accounting fraud and protect shareholders.

Other Frameworks

Additional cyber security standards include:

  1. NY-DFS Part 500: A regulation from the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) that sets cybersecurity requirements for financial institutions and services companies in New York. Implemented in March 2017, it aims to protect customer information and IT systems from cyber threats by mandating covered entities to assess their cybersecurity risk and implement a plan to mitigate these risks.
  2. PCI-DSS 4.0: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard version 4.0 is the latest update to security standards for organizations handling branded credit cards. It focuses on protecting cardholder data and ensuring secure payment environments, emphasizing continuous monitoring and adapting to new threats.
  3. NIS2 Directive: A proposed EU regulation to replace the existing NIS Directive, aiming to increase security requirements for digital services, expand critical sectors, and enforce stricter supervisory measures and information sharing among EU member states.
  4. Digital Operational Resilience Act: Part of the EU’s strategy to strengthen cybersecurity in the financial sector, ensuring that all participants have safeguards in place to mitigate cyberattacks and other risks.
  5. MAS Cybersecurity: The Monetary Authority of Singapore’s cybersecurity framework outlines guidelines for financial institutions in Singapore, emphasizing robust security measures, risk assessments, and cybersecurity governance.
  6. Essential Eight: Cybersecurity strategies recommended by the Australian Cyber Security Centre, providing baseline cyber defense strategies for organizations. It includes strategies such as application control, patch applications, and multi-factor authentication.
  7. UK Telecommunications Security Framework: Sets enhanced security requirements for UK telecommunications providers to strengthen the security and resilience of public telecommunication networks and services against disruptions and cyber threats.
  8. Cybersecurity Code of Practice for Critical Information Infrastructure 2.0: Designed to protect critical information infrastructure in various sectors, outlining best practices and standards for securing digital assets against cyber threats.
  9. UK Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus: UK government-backed schemes to help organizations protect against common cyber attacks. Cyber Essentials focuses on basic cyber hygiene controls, while Cyber Essentials Plus involves higher assurance through independent testing of cyber security measures.

Staying up-to-date with compliance standards relevant to an organization’s industry and geography is crucial for cyber security professionals to understand. Compliance violations can lead to legal penalties, financial loss, and damage to an organization’s reputation. Proactively building a compliance program and validating compliance through audits and assessments is key to mitigating these risks.

Responsibilities in Cyber Security Compliance

Compliance helps reduce risk, enforce security standards, and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and IT systems. The key responsibilities in cyber security compliance include:

  • Conducting risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities, threats, and their potential impacts. Risk assessments examine an organization’s sensitive data, critical systems, and security controls to determine the likelihood and severity of cyber threats. The results are used to prioritize risks and implement appropriate safeguards.
  • Developing and enforcing security policies, standards, procedures, and controls. These cyber security frameworks establish rules around data protection, access management, security monitoring, incident response, and other areas. They must align with legal, regulatory, and contractual obligations. Continuously reviewing and updating policies and procedures is necessary to account for changes in technology, regulations, business operations, and the threat landscape.
  • Monitoring networks, systems, and user activity for security events and compliance violations. Continuous monitoring helps quickly detect compromises, data breaches, unauthorized access, malware infections, and other issues. It requires using log analysis tools, security information and event management (SIEM) solutions, data loss prevention (DLP) systems, and other technologies to collect, analyze, and alert on security data.
  • Responding to security incidents like data breaches, ransomware infections, insider threats, and advanced persistent threats (APTs) to minimize damage and restore normal operations. Incident response plans detail the steps for detecting, containing, eradicating, and recovering from cyber attacks. They specify roles and responsibilities, communication protocols, and procedures for forensic analysis, damage assessment, and remediation.
  • Providing regular cyber security awareness and training for employees. Educating end users about security policies, safe computing practices, and the latest cyber threats is essential for compliance. Security awareness programs aim to change risky behaviors and make individuals vigilant and responsible in protecting the organization’s data and systems.
  • Conducting audits to evaluate compliance with cyber security standards and identify areas for improvement. Both internal and external audits are performed to examine security controls, review policies and procedures, check for vulnerabilities, and ensure legal and regulatory compliance. The audits result in reports with recommendations to remediate any gaps and strengthen the overall security posture.

Steps for Achieving Compliance

Achieving cybersecurity compliance requires planning and diligence. Organizations should take a systematic approach to establishing and maintaining a compliance program. The following steps provide an overview of how to achieve compliance:

Develop a compliance policy

The first step is to establish an official policy that outlines the organization’s commitment to cybersecurity compliance. This policy should define the scope of compliance activities, assign responsibilities, and gain executive approval. With leadership buy-in established, organizations can move on to assessing their compliance obligations.

Identify applicable regulations

Organizations must determine which industry regulations apply to their operations. Common regulations include HIPAA for healthcare, GDPR for data privacy, and PCI DSS for payment security. Organizations should regularly review new and updated regulations to ensure ongoing compliance.

Conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment identifies cyber risks and vulnerabilities that could impact compliance. It provides the foundation for a compliance program by revealing where controls need to be implemented. Risk assessments should be performed periodically to account for changes in technology infrastructure and compliance requirements.

Implement controls and procedures

With risks identified, organizations can deploy appropriate controls and update procedures to safeguard systems and data, meeting key compliance mandates. Standard controls include access management, encryption, monitoring, and security awareness training. Procedures should be thoroughly documented, with records maintained to demonstrate compliance.

Monitor and audit compliance

Regular monitoring and auditing are required to maintain continuous compliance. Monitoring tools can track controls, detect violations, and generate reports. Both internal and external audits should be conducted, with results analyzed to identify and remediate gaps. Compliance is an ongoing process that requires continuous improvement.

Train employees

People play a key role in compliance, so ongoing security awareness and compliance training for all employees is critical. Training should be required, with completion tracked to ensure all personnel understand their responsibilities. Compliance fundamentals and any recent changes to regulations or controls should be covered.


Ensuring compliance with cyber security standards and regulations is a crucial responsibility for organizations today. As cyber threats become increasingly sophisticated, governments and industry groups have established guidelines to help protect sensitive data and critical infrastructure.

Compliance may require ongoing assessments, audits, training, and adaptation to new laws and standards. While compliance does not necessarily equate to security, following regulatory guidance and frameworks helps establish a robust security posture, builds trust with customers and partners, and avoids potential legal consequences of non-compliance.