What is information security compliance?

Learn the basics of InfoSec compliance and how it protects your organization’s data from cyberthreats

Katrina Dalao
Sr. Content Marketing Specialist, CIPM
May 4, 2023

Two businesswomen hold a meeting in a conference room.

Think of how much information your organization handles. On any given day, there’s likely to be multiple internal emails, customer transactions, and maybe some performance reporting — all of which are critical to your business and need to be properly secured.

Information security compliance is a proven way to ensure your organization’s data is protected. It involves meeting established regulations or standards that secure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.

By setting an acceptable baseline to measure and evaluate security best practices, information security compliance helps minimize data breaches, safeguard against cyber risks, and improve your organization’s security posture.


What is information security compliance? 

Information security compliance, or InfoSec compliance, refers to the process of meeting a set of standards established by a third party that ensure an organization’s data and IT assets are adequately protected. By implementing recommended controls and procedures, organizations are able to secure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their information. 

Compliance requirements differ for every industry, location, and type of data that an organization processes or stores. For example, healthcare providers in the US are required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), while organizations that process credit card transactions must meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Through a combination of evidence collection, risk assessments, and routine audits, organizations that achieve InfoSec compliance are able to safeguard against unauthorized access, data breaches, and damage to a company's profits and reputation.


What is the difference between IT security and IT compliance?

While closely related in concept, IT security and IT compliance are distinct in their functions and purpose within an organization.

Information technology security, or IT security, refers to the actual operations or control implementations, inclusive of all the practices and measures to protect an organization from cyberattacks, data breaches, or other potential threats. This can encompass a range of activities, such as installing antivirus software and firewalls, vulnerability management, or conducting employee cybersecurity training. 

It’s important to note that IT security is the organization’s own initiative — not implemented to meet any third-party requirements. As such, IT security is usually the responsibility of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or the overall IT security team and is a continuous effort to maintain or improve. 

IT compliance, on the other hand, ensures that an organization’s IT security measures are sufficient in meeting industry standards and regulatory requirements. 

However, although IT compliance is checked according to third-party directives, not every security framework is auditable or certified by a regulatory body. For example, NIST CSF, which provides industry standards and best practices to cybersecurity risks, and CIS 18, which ensures the integrity of financial reports and business practices, are both voluntary and self-assessed through internal compliance teams.

Whether IT compliance is required or voluntary, its main purpose is to prove an organization’s information security management system (ISMS) meets industry standards and show stakeholders that it’s capable of protecting all sensitive information. 

Types of data covered by information security 

A foundational question to ask when implementing an InfoSec program is: What type of data does your organization collect, store, process, or transmit? 

Different types of data will naturally pose different types of information security risk. When it comes to security, data is usually classified according to type, risk sensitivity or vulnerability, and overall value to the organization.  

Knowing the types of data collected and stored by your organization is immensely valuable in implementing an effective InfoSec program, setting controls, and ultimately complying with industry-specific regulations.  

Most regulatory frameworks focus on varying levels of sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), or a level of confidential information such as controlled unclassified information (CUI).  

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) 

  • First and last names 
  • Address 
  • Date of birth 
  • Email  
  • Social security number (SSN) 
  • Passport number 
  • Taxpayer identification number 
  • Driver’s license  
  • Vehicle plate numbers 
  • Biometric data  


Protected Health Information (PHI) 

  • Medical records 
  • Laboratory results  
  • Health plan and insurance records 
  • Appointment history 
  • Prescriptions  
  • Hospital admission records  


Other sensitive data protected by cybersecurity compliance includes: 

  • Racial or ethnic origin 
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs 
  • Political opinion 
  • Marital status 
  • IP addresses 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Biometric data (fingerprints, facial recognition and voice prints) 
  • Financial information (bank account numbers and credit card numbers)  


Why is information security compliance important? 

Organizations typically do a good job at implementing controls and managing risk. But many struggle to efficiently document these practices through their compliance program to measure and communicate their risk posture. For some markets or segments, information security compliance is a legal or regulatory requirement that must be met in order to operate (i.e., PCI DSS). However, meeting and measuring your program against applicable compliance standards comes with several important benefits: 


Establish a consistent baseline to protect and secure sensitive data   

InfoSec compliance programs are one of the most effective strategies to protect an organization’s sensitive data over time. As data continues to be collected and stored across networks, InfoSec compliance ensures the proper controls and policies are in place across different areas of your business to safeguard against security incidents and reduce any negative impacts in case they do occur.  

Avoids noncompliance fines and penalties 

In certain industries and geographical locations, failure to meet applicable compliance regulations results in significant fines, criminal charges, or other penalties. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union data privacy and security law, fines up to €20 million or 4% of the organization’s global annual revenue for severe infringements. Apart from regulatory penalties, organizations that suffer a data breach often have to shoulder high costs for remediation and operational disruptions. 

Builds brand trust  

For any organization, information security compliance is a way to earn the trust of clients, partners, employees, and other stakeholders. A recent McKinsey survey revealed 87% of consumer respondents said “they would not do business with a company if they had concerns about its security practices.” Half of the respondents also expressed being more likely to trust companies that are able to react quickly to breaches or hacks and “actively disclose such incidents to the public.” 

Creates a competitive advantage  

Regulatory compliance management proves an organization’s commitment and willingness to invest in the security of its customer data. This is especially important in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and finance. By promoting a risk-based culture and taking a proactive stance toward InfoSec compliance, organizations are able to gain a considerable competitive advantage.  


5 steps to prove InfoSec compliance 

The path to InfoSec compliance is rarely straightforward. To help streamline the journey, here are the general steps, along with key questions to ask, to prove InfoSec compliance:  


1. Scope program and assess risk  

  • What security requirements are most applicable to your business based on: industry, geography, customer specific requirements, etc.?  


2. Perform gap analysis  

  • Where do your current operations meet standards of compliance?  
  • What areas of the business need security controls implemented?  


3. Remediate gaps  

  • What business processes and documentation do you need to fulfill compliance requirements?  
  • Who are the stakeholders you need to carry out these activities?  


4. Manage and monitor program  

  • How are you collecting evidence?  
  • What is the process to validate if controls are operational?  


5. Perform your audit  

  • How do you export or share confidential information with your internal or third-party audit team 
  • How are new requests or findings communicated?  


Learn more about how to build an information security program from scratch.  


Get started with Infosec compliance 

The benefits of proving InfoSec compliance are more than just meeting regulatory frameworks. Organizations that prioritize implementing security policies and risk management controls can reduce the threat of cybersecurity incidents, protect sensitive data, and avoid the high costs of incident response and remediation after a data breach. 

By building an InfoSec compliance program, organizations can gain a significant competitive advantage and establish trust with their customers and stakeholders.  


OneTrust Certification Automation helps businesses demystify compliance with built in content and expert guidance to scope, scale, and automate your security compliance program. Businesses using Certification Automation can reduce their cost of compliance up to 60% with efficiencies gained. To learn more, request a demo today.

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