Why Compliance and Security are not the Same

By Meghan Maneval, Director of Technical Product Management at RiskOptics

Most executives think compliance is the first step to protecting their organization, but this approach is less proactive than the current threat landscape requires. With increased cloud usage, digital processes, remote work and third-party relationships, new, complex and expanded landscapes now exist that bad actors are eager to exploit. Not only does this digitized world have an enormous number of risks, but these risks are becoming more complicated and frequent.

According to RiskOptics’ 2023 Cyber Risk Viewpoints Report, the top challenges when implementing an effective cyber/IT risk management program include an increase in the quantity (49%) and severity (49%) of cyber threats, a lack of funding (37%) and a lack of staffing/cyber risk talent (36%). Information security leaders and Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) need to get in front of the constantly evolving cyber threats looming over their businesses and the compliance requirements of their industries. Understanding that being compliant does not always mean secure is vital to creating an agile and responsive risk management program.

Companies and organizations should consider taking a more proactive approach to their security in order to remain on top of threats and bad actors. This forward-looking approach to seeing, understanding and acting on risk is critical to improving the effectiveness of security and, thus, enhancing the effectiveness of cyber risk management.

The decision to take a risk-based approach to security

While compliance and risk are essentially two sides of the same coin, they have different focuses. Compliance is based on a framework of statutory, regulatory or contractual requirements that are either met or unmet. Risk, on the other hand, focuses on managing uncertainty with processes designed to achieve positive business outcomes, all measured on a continuum. Compliance is the typical starting point in protecting an organization, and should be a priority, as failure to comply can result in fines and other regulatory action. However, focusing exclusively on compliance can also leave businesses short-sighted and exposed to unseen risks.

Compliance activities are necessary to understand where the weak points and vulnerabilities are. But it is impossible for businesses to mitigate against them properly without also understanding the risk to the business. When it comes to risk management, organizations should focus on tackling uncertainty to create positive results. Because risk is measured on a continuum, and whether any amount of risk is acceptable will vary with an organization’s risk appetite.

Traditional compliance relies on too many manual processes

Current compliance processes rely heavily on human effort to ensure accordance with security regulations, privacy regulations, policies and more. This manual approach is slow, prone to human errors and often reactive, only built to address issues after they have occurred. This approach leaves organizations vulnerable and increases the risk of an attack. And by the time a problem is detected, it may have already caused significant damage.

Manual compliance makes the process of auditing inefficient too. Compliance audits are point-in-time assessments that appraise the controls already implemented by the company. They don’t focus on how well the organization is protected in real-time, making the information and data gleaned outdated before it can even be used.

Third-party vendors can oftentimes expose companies to risk due to a lack of evaluation. RiskOptics discovered that almost a quarter (23%) of respondents do not evaluate third-party vendors for risk, making them susceptible to supply chain attacks, data breaches and reputational damage.

Understanding where compliance falls short, and the need to shift from a compliance-based to a risk-based approach is vital—and looking at how uncertainty is managed is a crucial step.

The value of modern risk management solutions

Organizations should find and adapt a modern risk management program, ideally with the ability to automate processes. By updating risk programs and automating manual tasks, businesses will free up resources and give time back to employees to address more complex security issues and tasks. Not only will this reduce any manual errors associated with calculating risk, but it will increase accuracy with automated, cross-object risk scoring. A modern risk management solution can also help reduce risk by finding and addressing issues in real time before they can cause significant damage, improving overall security posture.

A risk management platform empowers information security leaders to always have a detailed view of risk appetite and the changing landscape, allowing the business to react promptly to any threats. This can help communicate the value of risk management in a way the C-suite can better understand—showing them exactly where and how their investment into proactive risk management is making the most significant impact—while simultaneously freeing managers to focus on other business-critical objectives that require more significant strategic thinking.

When it comes to effective cybersecurity programs, the days of traditional, reactive approaches are long gone. Attackers are getting more intelligent, more creative and more determined, which means businesses need security to match. The only way to do this is by adopting a proactive approach to risk. By identifying and addressing issues in real-time, those in security can stop bad actors before they cause significant damage to a company and its customers. And in doing this, organizations can build trust among employees, clients and partners while also making informed decisions that help propel the company forward and open up new business opportunities.

Meghan Maneval leads RiskOptics’ Technical Product Management team- tasked with developing and evangelizing innovative ways to solve industry problems. After more than 15 years managing security, compliance, audit, governance and risk management programs in highly-regulated industries, Meghan joined RiskOptics in 2022 to help drive product innovation and empower our customers to achieve their objectives. Meghan is a passionate security and risk evangelist, DIBs champion and home-renovation enthusiast specializing in process improvement and program iteration. Meghan enjoys giving back to the security and risk community through blogs, whitepapers, webinars, conference presentations and podcasts.

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