What is IT compliance?

At first glance, IT security and IT compliance seem interchangeable.

Both focus on protecting information.

So why do we differentiate between the two?

The truth is that IT compliance utilizes IT security practices but takes it to another level. IT compliance is not simply a recommendation of best practices. In many cases, it’s a legal matter that can deeply affect your business, reputation, and revenue.

WEBIT Services has helped clients reach their IT goals for over 25 years. While WEBIT specializes in managed IT services and security, it’s been in the industry long enough to learn the importance of IT compliance.

We compose this article to help educate our clients so they can avoid the pitfalls of noncompliance, which can lead to heavy fines and litigation if not addressed.

By the end of this article, you’ll know what IT compliance is, why it’s important, and how it differs from IT security.

Defining IT Compliance

IT Compliance is the practice of following IT standards of procedure. It is often determined by a third-party regulatory organization (i.e., the market, privacy laws, international laws, etc.). These standards are legally enforced.

Certain industries have compliance standards for all businesses within the industry. These standards must be followed for companies within the industry to do business with each other.

However, even unregulated companies often set internal IT compliance for their business. Internal IT compliance focuses on IT best practices for employees as a “code of conduct.”

Why compliance matters

IT compliance can help prevent data breaches. Unfortunately, these breaches can cause financial losses and damage a company’s reputation.

Other losses include:

  • Customer trust
  • Brand authority
  • Future revenue
  • Stock value

Breaking compliance standards can also lead to legal fees and other fines.

Compliance also helps build a company’s reputation with clients and employees. People are more likely to patron a business that cares about privacy and does everything it can to protect it.

Kinds of IT compliance

IT compliance can be broken into two different branches: third-party and internal.

Third-party IT compliance

An industry regulatory body creates third-party IT compliance.

Third-party IT compliance determines which cybersecurity practices must be followed within that industry. It also creates standards for how the industry compiles, stores, and accesses data.

For instance, HIPAA works to protect patient confidentiality in the healthcare field. On the financial side, PCI DSS ensures all credit cardholder data is encrypted for customer protection.

There must be evidence of the standards being read, understood, and followed. Everything is recorded according to compliance standards and reviewed in an annual audit.

Legal action will be taken if these frameworks are not followed. The offending business must pay significant fines for violations.

Internal IT compliance

Unlike third-party IT compliance, internal IT compliance is not set by a regulatory party. Internal IT compliance determines best practices for an individual company.

These standards are set by company leadership and may be called a “code of conduct” rather than “IT compliance.”

Internal IT compliance will be a collection of best practices and rules to help protect data and decrease the risk of cyber threats.

For example, an internal IT compliance policy may say that employees cannot use office computers as personal devices. This helps keep office computers off insecure networks, decreasing cyber-attack risk.


The difference between IT compliance and IT security

Good IT security is a big part of IT compliance, but they are not synonymous.

Security is the practice of implementing effective technical controls to protect company assets. Compliance applies that practice to meet a third party's regulatory or contractual requirements.

In other words, cybersecurity is a collection of tools and practices to help protect your company from data breaches.

Compliance chooses which cybersecurity practices to follow and how they should be followed. Compliance takes cybersecurity from a suggestion to a rule, making it foundational to your company’s IT practices.

IT security vs. IT compliance - example

For instance, cybersecurity recommends using complicated passwords or login tools like multi-factor authentication or biometrics to protect accounts.

Third-party compliance will have a legal obligation for that industry. It requires a specific kind of login protection and proof of its implementation.

An individual business’s leadership determines internal IT compliance. It may require that all employees use a company-approved app for login protection.

When do I need to worry about compliance?

You need to meet compliance standards if your business is in a regulated industry. If you do not follow IT compliance standards, your business will likely face legal action and substantial fines.

Otherwise, all businesses should have internal IT compliance or “code of conduct” to help protect against data breaches.

Cybercrime is a growing threat to businesses of all sizes and industries. If a company does not have compliance standards, they are at an increased risk for cyberattacks.

What are some examples of compliance requirements?

Third-party IT compliance example:

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) requires that all network activity, including attempts to access protected customer data, be tracked and recorded.

Internal IT compliance example:

Employees must use their work email addresses to send files. They cannot use personal email addresses to send work documents. Personal email accounts do not have the same firewalls as professional email accounts.

Sending confidential files through personal emails creates a security risk.

Can I pay someone to make my business compliant?

Yes, there are IT providers who specialize in compliance who can help.

However, this is not a one-time project. Compliance is something that should regularly be monitored and assessed for risk. Then, risks should be addressed.

Compliance is an organic process that continues to grow and change as your company or industry grows.

How often do audits come into play with compliance?

In a regulated industry, audits are typically performed annually.

You can still be audited for compliance even if you are not in a regulated industry. For example, if your organization accepts credit cards as a form of payment, your payment processor will likely require you to prove you are compliant with PCI standards. This can take place in the form of an audit.

Next steps towards IT compliance

IT compliance is essential in keeping your business and customers safe from cyber threats. It’s a collection of actionable, strategic practices to prevent data breaches and breaking industry standards.

Failure to comply with third-party IT compliance regulations can result in legal action, fines, reputation damage, and financial losses.

Some IT providers specialize in third-party IT compliance and can help bring businesses within compliance standards. If your current IT provider does not cover compliance services, they can likely make recommendations and connect you with an IT compliance specialist.

If you’re looking to build internal IT compliance practices, you can follow these steps:

    • Create your company standards of conduct
      This code of conduct must apply to employees of every level. If leadership does not follow the code, they cannot expect employees to do so.
    • Bring in a compliance professional
      They will evaluate your business’s risks and recommend appropriate compliance standards to decrease risk.
    • Have effective training
      Training will make everyone aware of the standards and how to follow them.
    • Create open communication
      Allow employees to communicate with the compliance officer and vice versa. This will ensure that the standards are understood and followed.
    • Monitor for compliance
      Have systems in place to verify the standards and procedures are followed. Keeping records is also encouraged.
    • Enforce standards and promptly respond to issues
      Addressing risks or noncompliance head-on will decrease risk.

These steps will help you move your company towards internal compliance and add another layer of practical protection for your data.

WEBIT Services has helped clients reach their IT goals for over 25 years. In this time, WEBIT Services has built many connections in different areas of IT provider expertise.

If you’d like recommendations regarding IT compliance, schedule a thirty-minute evaluation with WEBIT.

To learn more, read our article on the differences between Managed IT services, IT security, and IT compliance.