It’s a common security compliance scenario: Teams are typically ready and willing to meet InfoSec program requirements to complete audits on schedule and without surprises. And why not? Safeguarding against cybersecurity threats is hugely rewarding and positively impacts operations.
In time, however, as security responsibilities scale, an organization’s resources can spread too thin. Being tasked to collect evidence for every audit and business scope — on top of core job responsibilities — is a quick road to audit fatigue.
In this article, we cover the basics of audit fatigue, its leading causes, and proven ways to prevent fatigue in your organization.
What is audit fatigue?
Audit fatigue (also known as compliance fatigue) is the feeling of constant exhaustion, tiredness, or general lack of energy that someone experiences when they’re repeatedly pulled away from their core work to help satisfy an audit or assessment.
While typically used in reference to a single person, audit fatigue can also be an organization-wide occurrence that drains overall time and resources.
Some tell-tale signs of audit fatigue include:
Left unaddressed, audit fatigue will not only lower employee performance and motivation, but leave organizations more exposed to cyber risks, data breaches, and other potential damage.
A common compliance scenario
One look at the security compliance process, and it’s easy to see how teams can get fatigued.
Take SOC 2, for example, one of the most requested InfoSec frameworks in North America. While SOC 2 Type 2 has no prescriptive controls, it checks for compliance across key trust service categories, from privacy and security to processing integrity.
Audits are conducted every year, during which external auditors perform spot checks to verify continuous compliance throughout the 12-month observation period. This single framework alone can take a minimum of three to six months and significant resources to prove compliance.
Now multiply that by the number of security frameworks your organization needs. Without proper planning, security programs can prove to be ineffective, or worse, a source of strain and resentment among teams.
5 causes of audit fatigue (and proven remedies)
If you see signs of audit fatigue in your organization, the next step is to look at what might be draining your team’s energy. Here are some of the causes behind audit fatigue:
1. Leaving security as an afterthought behind other business objectives
One of the major causes of compliance fatigue is not having controls scoped in line with business operations. Without proper guidance or communication, organizations will easily deviate from the security best practices that don’t suit their objectives, which leads to reactive remediation practices any time an audit is on the horizon.
The result? A chaotic work environment where tasks are assigned haphazardly and teams are working overtime to complete tasks — or re-implement controls — on a tight schedule.
While an ad hoc approach is to be expected when getting a program off the ground, staying at this level of security compliance maturity for too long will likely lead to compliance fatigue.
Remedy: Set a clear InfoSec compliance strategy
The first step to combat compliance fatigue is making sure your entire organization understands the importance of its InfoSec compliance program.
“If you’re just trying to check a box here, check a box there, and you don’t understand the larger picture or vision of why we’re trying to comply with this framework or regulation, then it does get a little harder,” says Tim Carrington, Information Security Compliance Manager at CSC Global. “You need to make sure the organization understands its importance… and that culture comes from the top.”
Establishing a clear InfoSec strategy and risk-based culture goes a long way in helping organizations engage their teams to take ownership and make InfoSec compliance by-design across operations.
2. Keeping information in organizational silos
It’s natural for various business units to work using their own tools and technologies. Without an easy way to access information and find synergies across functions, however, organization-wide compliance is nearly impossible.
Operating in silos prevents sharing information and creates an overall lack of visibility throughout the compliance process, which can quickly lead to unchecked inconsistencies in how controls are implemented across different business scopes.
Even after audits are completed, many organizations working within siloed environments struggle to establish and measure their operations across a consistent compliance baseline. This limits the potential benefits that can be gained from applying insights and remediation efforts throughout the organization.
Remedy: Centralize compliance data and reporting
InfoSec compliance is an organization-wide effort and providing stakeholders with visibility into security controls, collected evidence, and required protocols is critical to its success.
By consolidating relevant information across business dimensions and frameworks, InfoSec teams can significantly reduce the time spent pooling together disparate data and gain a better understanding of their current audit progress and security posture across various scopes.
A centralized compliance management tool makes it easier to notify the entire organization when new requirements and regulatory changes are being adopted and reinforce InfoSec governance and best practices across different areas of the business, effectively maintaining consistency throughout the process.
3. Sticking to manual audit processes
For most teams, manual evidence collection is the most painful part of an audit. It’s a tedious and time-consuming endeavor, and the amount of evidence required for even one audit can be daunting.
Even organizations that use automation for certain functions often still have manual stopgaps when it comes to sharing or consolidating information between teams.
When the majority of compliance and data management tasks are manual, this adds unnecessary work for teams and prolongs audit readiness.
Remedy: Apply automation across workflows
Achieving a continuous state of compliance is impossible without automation. For any organization to scale its InfoSec program while preventing compliance fatigue, it needs an IT security management platform to integrate directly into its tech stack, automate routine manual tasks, and streamline existing workflows.
Leading companies apply automation across several InfoSec processes, including collecting and verifying evidence, tracking regulatory compliance changes, and mapping risks to controls. Not only will automation lighten the team’s workload, it also accelerates the organization’s time spent preparing for internal and external audits.
Certification Automation can automate as much as 50% of your evidence collection and reduce the work by up to 60% across each additional product or business unit. Click here to learn more.
4. Doing duplicative work
In proving compliance for multiple frameworks, teams are often asked to submit the same evidence and requirements several times a year. And given the ongoing nature of security compliance, this type of duplicative work can quickly add up every year.
Repeating the same exact work is not only exhausting for InfoSec professionals managing various frameworks, but also for the entire organization that’s being asked to produce the same information over and over again. It’s an inefficient use of time and gets in the way of teams fulfilling their other core activities.
Duplications are also not easily reconciled, especially when using legacy tools, which leaves a stockpile of redundant reports and massive data sprawl. Even with subscriptions to common control content providers, there can often be a significant disconnect between the control language and your internal control operations.
Remedy: Find common controls and reduce redundancies
Most organizations don’t realize that different security frameworks have a number of controls and requirements in common.
For example, the PCI DSS 4.0, a security standard that ensures all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment, shares a 56% overlap with ISO 27001:2013 and a 45% overlap* with HIPAA compliance. So if an organization demonstrates full compliance with PCI DSS 4.0, it can then use the same evidence to satisfy either the ISO 27001:2013 or HIPAA framework.
Identifying these overlaps and effectively mapping evidence across control requirements to test once, comply many saves time, increases efficiencies, and reduces the likelihood of duplicative work.
5. Limiting evidence collection to point-in-time external audits
It’s common for one organization to comply with many frameworks and schedule audits throughout the year. To prepare for any type of audit, teams of security professionals and control owners have to dedicate significant time and effort to collect all the necessary evidence.
However, these efforts are typically reported within external auditor systems. Once a particular audit is complete, teams move on to the next audit, oftentimes collecting the same evidence for common controls and requirements. This creates a never-ending treadmill of duplicative security compliance tasks that eventually lead to burn-out and frustration.
Remedy: Work toward continuous improvement
One way to move beyond point-in-time external audits is to leverage your own system of record to hand-off evidence requests, action findings, and other audit inquires during the project. By maintaining your own system of record, evidence can be reused across relevant frameworks.
Beyond short-term efficiencies, your organization can also leverage year-over-year insights to benchmark program performance, analyze any auditor bias, and operationalize your compliance program as a means of continuous improvement.
Security compliance is increasingly critical to an organization’s ability to do business. However, it's not as simple as setting up an InfoSec program and considering yourself compliant.
Organizations need the right security strategy and systems in place that will prevent duplicative work, strained resources, and overall compliance confusion.
By knowing the signs and causes of audit fatigue, as well as the best ways to safeguard against them, you can ensure your InfoSec teams and control owners are set up for security program success.
Learn more about how OneTrust Certification Automation can help you build, scale, and automate your security compliance program.