Finding a good place to start on developing a program on Compliance Mandates begins with the industry standards.
Security compliance often reads like a bowl of alphabet soup. After a while, the different acronyms start looking the same. If you’re starting to put together a compliance program, you need to understand the fundamentals. Nearly every regulation in the US ties back to one of a few standards, and those standards have many similarities. So to start maturing your compliance program, the best place to start is with the industry standards.
The High-Level Compliance Mandates
Nearly every compliance requirement looks to reduce risk, but a lot of them seem the same. Many of them try to create best practices for a specific industry or supply chain.
Some examples of these mandates include:
- Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity: Issued on May 12, 2021, it has a goal of improving vulnerability detection, establishing cyber evaluation criteria, and standardizing a set of best cybersecurity practices used by federal agencies.
- Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM): Developed in 2012, it sets out a risk-based framework for network and data security by continuously monitoring configuration settings and network traffic behavior patterns.
- Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC): A Department of Defense (DoD) directive standardizes cybersecurity protocols for private sector contractors that handle sensitive federal information.
Who is NIST?
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the non-regulatory federal agency tasked with creating standards that drive best practices and metrics across all the sciences.
As you start to build out your compliance program, you’ll find that NIST Special Publications (SPs) act as the foundation underlying most US laws and mandates.
Why does NIST matter?
NIST sets cybersecurity best practices, establishing standards and frameworks for building a solid security foundation and identifying compliance gaps. Most importantly, NIST implementation provides an industry-standard baseline for compliance because critical mandates reference NIST SPs.
NIST SP 800-53: The Foundation of Security
NIST SP 800-53 control families apply to every component of an information system that stores, processes, or transmits federal information, meaning NIST SP 800-53 compliance builds the framework for subsequent CMMC, CDM, and Executive Order compliance. However, organizations struggle with implementing their baselines.
Often, the required configuration settings are embedded within the security control categories. These categories then break down into subcategories that include specific controls and requirements. To meet these requirements, organizations need to set and continuously monitor baseline controls.
Using Checklists and Baselines
Security baselines are low-level controls that meet high-level CMMC, CDM, and Executive Order requirements. Checklists, such as those from the NIST’s Checklist Repository, provide secure baseline configurations. These checklists are updated regularly in response to new vulnerabilities that threat actors can use to gain unauthorized access to systems, networks, and applications.
Hardening systems means updating secure configurations. Since attackers can exploit security flaws, system hardening enhances security and helps protect sensitive information. Using established checklists such as those from the NIST, organizations can effectively mitigate the ongoing risk of security threats.
Security Technical Implementation Guidelines
Security Technical Implementation Guides (STIGs) are security configurations that allow organizations to secure their environments. Manufacturers update these secure configurations to prevent attacks on their products, infiltrating devices, systems, networks, and software.
However, many organizations struggle to manage these Individual low-level technical controls manually. Often, changes to one configuration can have an impact on technologies within the IT stack. These conflicts can lead to system outages that reduce productivity, ultimately reducing revenue. Additionally, manually documenting configuration changes to meet compliance mandates can create issues like having multiple versions and not knowing which one to provide auditors, increasing audit costs.
CIS Benchmarks are another way organizations can implement best practices to configure their systems securely. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Benchmarks are user-originated, consensus-based best-practice security configuration guides developed collaboratively by the federal government, businesses, and academic researchers.
These benchmarks also meet the NIST definition of a security configuration checklist for verifying that a product is configured appropriately for its operational environment. CIS Benchmarks consist of more than 100 configuration guidelines for more than 25 vendor product families, allowing organizations to build a high-level IT infrastructure on a secure low-level technical configuration foundation.
While beneficial to ensure secure technology configuration, CIS Benchmark management comes with the same challenges as STIGs. Unfortunately, this means that organizations often struggle to maintain secure configurations manually.
SteelCloud: Automate System Hardening to Get and Stay Compliant
Although hardening systems is the foundation of your security and compliance program, the process is often easier said than done. For example, your IT team needs to run scans, review conflicts, maintain uptime, and document processes.
SteelCloud’s patented ConfigOS automates system hardening and documenting processes, all without any downtime. In addition, our easy-to-use technology eliminates the need for specialized technical skills so that you can do the important work of security with the people you already have.
With SteelCloud, you can get compliant quickly but – more importantly – stay compliant.