Information Security Compliance: Which regulations relate to me?

Eric Vanderburg

This entry is part of a series of information security compliance articles. In subsequent articles we will discuss the specific regulations and their precise applications, at length. These regulations include HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, The Sarbanes Oxley Act, Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), and the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) among other acts and regulations.

Information security is often feared as an amorphous issue that only the IT department has to deal with. The reality is that companies need to be concerned with complying with information security from top to bottom. Regulations are in place that can help a company improve information security while non-compliance can result in severe fines. It may be difficult for a company to understand which laws apply and which ones do not because many different sets of laws can apply to one company and not another.

Many major companies within the United States are subject to some type of security regulation. Regulations that contain information security requirements are intended to improve the information security level of organizations within that industry and many organizations would welcome such information. The difficulty comes in determining which regulations apply and in interpreting the requirements of the regulation. The regulations are not written in a way that is easily understood by the average business person so many times a security professional is needed to understand the requirements and how to best implement them. Professionals have experience implementing systems, policies, and procedures to satisfy the requirements of the regulation and enhance the security of your organization and some have obtained credentials such as the HISP (Holistic Information Security Practitioner) that signify their understanding of the regulations. Often the requirements are given in general terms leaving the company to determine how to best satisfy the requirements.

First, companies need to assess which of the laws and acts apply to them. Then they need to organize their information security to address the boundaries put in place by the acts. This requires a set plan that outlines a consistent and effective way of alerting and dealing with threats.

A cybersecurity assessment is a valuable tool for achieving these objectives as it evaluates your organization’s security and privacy against a set of globally recognized standards and best practices. It provides a roadmap to improve data privacy and the results can be used to validate adherence to relevant standards. To learn more about cybersecurity assessments, click here.

But how do we assess which laws apply to which company?

Talking about the particular bills and which companies they apply to is slightly vague. Therefore, take for example your local hospital. This local hospital is publicly traded and not a federal agency, therefore, it is not subject to the FISMA bill. However, since the company deals with healthcare patients it is subject to HIPAA. Now it must look carefully at what sort of protections it must offer patients and place safeguards in affect in order to prevent a breach of security. On the ground level it cannot give away patient information without the express consent of the patient. From a more technological perspective, the hospital cannot allow any system that handles patient information to be compromised. This means that controls need to be in place for those systems and the equipment that allows access to the systems. Policies and procedures need to be in place to govern the activities of persons who interact with the systems and training needs to take place so that users of the systems perform their duties properly and do not intentionally or unintentionally misuse the system.

Some companies may have to comply with multiple regulations. In such cases it is best to outline all the regulations that impact the company first and then a determination can be made for which security controls to implement that satisfy the requirements of all the regulations they need to comply with. This process can reduce the amount of money the organization spends on compliance efforts because it reduces duplication of effort and the likelihood that competing systems would be put in place to satisfy the same regulatory requirement.

This table shows the different regulations and which corporations would be subject to the scope of the act.

There is an abundance of laws and bills on the books designed to protect information. However, it is not always clear to the average business decision maker which regulations apply to their company. That is where a security professional can greatly help a business make sense of such an area that grows more complex with each new regulation. Compliance is critical and it begins by understanding which regulations affect your company and then outlining the steps to bring you into compliance.

For more information:

Seven Steps to Information Security Compliance

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