Last updated at Thu, 30 Nov 2023 19:20:26 GMT

Meeting compliance standards as a financial services (finserv) company can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Finserv has some of the highest regulatory bars to clear out of any industry — with the exception, perhaps, of healthcare.

That said, these regulations exist for good reason. Even beyond being requirements to operate, meeting compliance standards helps financial services companies gain customer trust, avoid reputational damage, and protect themselves from unnecessary or unprofitable risk.

But as I'm sure just about everyone reading this will agree, meeting regulatory compliance standards does not necessarily mean your organization is fully secure. Often, it's difficult for government agencies and legislators to keep up with the pace of changing technologies, so regulations tend to lag behind the state of tech. This is often particularly true with emerging technologies, such as hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

On top of all of that, the cost of not having a well-rounded security portfolio is particularly massive here — the average cost of a data breach in financial services is second highest of all industries (only healthcare is more expensive).

Needless to say, financial services organizations have a complex relationship with compliance, particularly as it relates to business-driven cloud migration and innovation.

Here are four ways finserv companies can embrace the love-hate relationship with cloud security and compliance while effectively navigating the need to maintain pace with today's rapid rate of change.

1. Implement continuous monitoring

Change seems to be the only constant when it comes to multi-cloud environments. And there's virtually no limit to where these changes can occur — all clouds and regions are fair game. In addition, new compliance regulations are continuously taking shape as cloud security best practices continue to progress. Lawmakers around the globe are tasked with implementing these new and updated rules to protect data in every industry to effectively address the rapidly changing vulnerabilities.

A key component to remain compliant with these rules and regulations is knowing who is responsible for making changes and maintaining compliance. To do this, you'll need visibility to distinguish between normal changes to infrastructure, applications, or access made by your development team and the changes that occur at the hands of a threat actor.

But the reality is that many data points can make distinguishing threats difficult for security professionals. After all, financial services organizations are an irresistible target for those with malicious intent because there's a direct line to the dollar value.

Clearly, information security statutes provide necessary oversight. Since assessing data in real time is essential for success in this industry, continuous monitoring can help you stay compliant at every stage of development. This can also be useful during an audit to show your organization has taken a proactive approach to compliance.

2. Automate security processes

Many regulations require organizations to act fast in the wake of a security breach. The European Union (EU)'s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is setting the standard for privacy and security laws globally, requires supervisory authorities (and at times individuals) to be notified within 72 hours of becoming aware of a data breach. And these correspondences must provide extensive information about the breach, such as how many individuals were impacted, the consequences of the breach, and perhaps most importantly, what the next steps are for containment and mitigation.

While not every jurisdiction has laws that are as strict as the EU's GDPR, many countries are using GDPR as a baseline for their own guidance in how they hold organizations responsible and accountable for protecting consumer information. Industry regulations and cloud governance frameworks, such as PCI DSS, SOC 2, ISO 27001, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, are just a few of the many standards with which finserv organizations need to ensure compliance. Organizations that do business globally not only need to be aware of these guidelines but also how they impact the way they do business. For example, if a consumer lives in a country protected by GDPR, their data is protected by GDPR guidelines. This is necessary even if the organization doesn't operate directly in that country.

The best-case scenario is to catch misconfigurations before they go live and cause a breach, so you can safeguard customer data and avoid going through the lengthy disclosure process and the ensuing loss of customer trust. That's exactly what automation helps you do.

Relying on manual efforts from your team to ensure that owners of noncompliant resources are notified and remediation takes place can be a time-consuming and involved process. Plus, it's too easy for potential threats to fall between the cracks. By automating continuous auditing of resources, misconfiguration notification, and remediation, organizations can address noncompliance before issues escalate.

3. Improve organizational culture by sharing context

Large teams that leverage multiple platforms can commonly experience information breakdowns. After all, not everyone can understand security jargon. When misunderstandings occur, it can often lead to an unintentional lapse in compliance among employees. Implementing a simplified reporting structure can help security professionals communicate more effectively with resource owners and other immediate stakeholders. Isolated data points from multiple threat alarms can make it confusing and time-consuming for cloud resource owners to understand what happened and what to do next.

Finding a platform that empowers product and engineering teams to take responsibility for their own security, while also providing thorough context about the violation and the necessary remediation steps is essential. This can help set a standard by challenging teams to measure security compliance daily, while minimizing a lot of the friction and guesswork that comes from shifting security earlier in the development lifecycle.

Not only does this help with compliance legalities, but showing these ongoing, team-wide security compliance checks can also satisfy squeamish boards. Gartner predicts that security concerns will continue to be a top priority for board members in the wake of sensational security breaches that are occurring with startling regularity. Ransomware, for example, has gone mainstream, and boards have taken notice. Cybersecurity is seen as a potentially major vulnerability, which means the expectations placed on CISOs are mounting.

Though a lot of focus goes into updating frameworks and systems, corporate culture is the third piece of a powerful security strategy. It must not be overlooked.

4. Gain greater visibility

Robust, multi-cloud environments can make visibility challenging. Enterprises need to govern their clouds using Identity and Access Management (IAM) and adopt a least-privileged access security model across cloud and container environments. But that's not enough. They also need a strategy that enables them to see vulnerabilities across multiple environments and devices. This is especially important as more insiders gain access to the cloud who also have the ability to make changes and add assets — and do all of this at a startling pace.

This visibility is a significant part of remaining compliant because rapid changes can have unintended results that can be missed without an overarching view of the cloud environment. What might look like harmless or anonymized data could still cause privacy and compliance concerns. For example, knowing simply gender, zip code, and birth date is enough information to identify 87% of Americans. To protect consumers, legislation such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) stipulates that toxic data combinations, or data that can be viewed as a whole to reveal personal identities, must be avoided.

In order to remain compliant, organizations must have a system in place to spot toxic data combinations that could run afoul of regulators. This is especially important as data-sharing agreements become more commonplace.

Next steps: Embracing the complex relationship

Finserv organizations must embrace the complex relationship with cloud security and compliance. It is, realistically, the only way to survive and thrive in a world where the cloud is the go-to method of innovation.

Taking steps for improvement in each of the four areas outlined above can feel overwhelming, so we suggest getting started by focusing on these three key actions:

  • Innovate quickly. Innovation is crucial in today's finserv landscape. Organizations in financial services are competing for attention, which requires continuous digital transformation. The cloud allows these innovations to happen fast, but CISOs must ensure a secure environment for advancements to effectively take place. Is your organization striking the right balance between innovation and safety?
  • Automate aggressively. There are too many data points in today's multi-cloud environments for security teams to track successfully without automation. Ongoing hygiene practices and internal audits are made possible using automation best practices. Do you have the right controls in place to launch an automation strategy that supports — and enhances — your security processes?
  • Transform culture. Never forget that people are at the center of your security and compliance strategy. Improving communication, education and consistency across teams can upgrade your organization's compliance strategy. And remember: Your compliance strategy will be under increased scrutiny from executives and boards in the coming years. Does your team understand the “why" behind the security best practices you're asking them to support?

Let's navigate the future of cloud security for finserv together.

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