Whether it's a self-assessment or an official audit or examination, evidence collection is central to how you evaluate your organization's compliance with security frameworks or policies.
Compliance evidence is proof the individuals across your company – yourself included – are doing what they are supposed to in order to meet the requirements of an industry or third-party standard. The scope of a compliance or security framework stretches across your daily operations regarding how you store and protect critical data.
How you collect evidence has a direct impact on how disruptive the compliance process will be on your organization.
Traditional Method: Gathering Evidence
Most organizations complete the audit process by gathering evidence. Gathering, in this sense, means going from no evidence to evidence, or beginning from scratch. In order to collect evidence using the gathering method, security and compliance teams must go out and fulfill all of the requirements for an auditor.
Gathered evidence is collected in folders and spreadsheets. The data is centralized, yes, but maintaining a spreadsheet repository is tedious and not exactly living – something we will cover in our final point. Not only that, managing versions, access and editing to this essential hub can be difficult, though it can be up to the task.
Impact on the Organization
Gathering evidence for compliance can be disruptive to your company's day to day operations because the data needed is distributed across different resources and accounts. Finding the information involves connecting with various teams for each compliance audit or assessment throughout the year to get the most up to date picture on what is going on.
When you are gathering evidence, you are grabbing a snapshot in time. Unfortunately, the time and effort spent gathering evidence has little future value because the data can quickly become out of date. Any change to your critical resources has a reverberating impact across your organization as well, making this approach especially fragile.
Next Generation Compliance: Compliance-as-Code
By enabling security- and compliance-as-code in your business operations, organizations can speed up the compliance process and reduce headaches by already having evidence. This goes beyond a checklist-driven, snapshot approach to make compliance a part of day to day operations.
With compliance-as-code, evidence collection is automated. There is, however, a required investment of time on the frontend of the compliance process to ensure your organization's assets and configurations are mapped to compliance requirements. But once that is completed, evidence can be collected at any time and the data is reliable and up to date.
Compliance-as-code automates aggregating data into a centralized repository. Because aggregation is done in code, the data is easily searchable and there are no longer concerns with versions or access.
Impact on the Organization
Compliance-as-code requires front end engineering from your security, compliance or DevOps team to ensure the data is flowing. It's an investment that normally takes 1/10th of the normal time to complete the audit, and only needs to be completed once for all future reassessments. Not only that, but this approach can be highly leveraged for other assessments and audits – or security reviews.
Using compliance-as-code, the entire audit process is minimally disruptive to your organization, involving only the security/compliance team.
Where gathering evidence is limited in its future value, compliance-as-code is not impacted by changes in your environment or time. This is where a code-driven approach thrives. The latest data and details can automatically be fetched after changes occur and all of the data will be up-to-date without your team needing to lift a finger.
Your team is also collecting data from the source, meaning it is no longer prone to error or misinterpretation.
Collecting evidence is essential for compliance audits. But keeping pace with changes in your environment as well as numerous audits or self-assessments throughout the year for manually gathering evidence is simply unrealistic.
Organizations need to begin investing time on the frontend of the process to leverage compliance-as-code. Ultimately, the pay off is automating the tedious parts of the compliance process while also creating an approach that can be leveraged for multiple purposes (security reviews, self-assessments, monitoring security policies, etc.).
It's time compliance teams build the robot rather than become the robot.