Getting Started with SOC 2

You may have heard of various compliance standards and frameworks, and you may have wondered why you need a certification, or which one is right for your organization. The driver could be that a prospect or customer inquired or maybe your organization wants to assess and improve its practices. SOC2 Type II is a great place to start. The governing body, AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) does not specify any hard and fast requirements. At its core, this certification is helpful in demonstrating that your organization has implemented the necessary controls to keep data secure. However, it is not prescriptive. Each company must determine and implement suitable controls.

What does it mean to keep data secure? A company’s data must be protected from unauthorized access and use including deletion, misuse, alteration, and disclosure. Additionally, the company must prevent unauthorized use of its systems and assets. Vendors must be properly vetted. Changes must be authorized and managed while risks must be identified and mitigated to minimize potential disruption.

There is value in proving to your customers and partners that you will handle their data responsibly. If you’re ready to get started on the path to SOC2 certification, this article will give you an overview of what to expect.

If you’ve decided to pursue the SOC certification, it’s important to have a plan. You’ll need to determine what type of SOC, which criteria, and whether to cover the whole company or a subset. SOC2 Type II is the most common report. But there are other types with slightly different objectives. Of the five Trust Services Criteria, Security is required. But you may also have a need for privacy, confidentiality, processing integrity, or availability. Depending on the type of business and your org structure, SOC2 may apply to a limited subset of systems or groups.

Achieving and maintaining certification requires a commitment. Identifying a team of stakeholders who can lead and advocate throughout the process will help ensure success. Participants will likely be members of the technology, infrastructure, security, human resources, and legal teams – as well as a project owner and executive sponsor(s).

You may also want to engage an experienced external consultant or partner who can guide your organization through the preparation and remediation phases. This partner is different from the auditor who will eventually perform the certification. Their unbiased insights can overcome any reservations the team may have about exposing and addressing any shortcomings.

Once the team is mobilized, it’s important to educate your employees on what to expect as they may notice some changes in their day-to-day tasks. While the initial preparation could take 3-6 months, the team will need to follow best practices on an ongoing basis. Two important next steps will be determining which controls to implement and documenting any existing policies and procedures. These actions will help identify any gaps that exist and new tools or processes that might be necessary.

From there, develop a plan to address any missing or deficient areas. Prior to your audit, conducting a readiness assessment is recommended. Your external partner can help so that you will have complete confidence that your audit will have a positive outcome.

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Essential Privacy Skills for 2023

In today’s fast-paced digital world, a year’s time can bring on a number of developments. This holds doubly true to the quickly blossoming realm of data privacy, where discourse for best and fair practices is still active, new developments bring novel problems and solutions, and regulations seem to change by the quarter. While this change is for good reason, (as privacy, in many regards, has become a cornerstone of trust between businesses and their customers) it does have the side effect of appearing overwhelming. Whether you’re a business leader, IT practitioner, or privacy professional, it can be a serious effort to keep up. This post aims to help ease that strain by breaking down which privacy skills are the most important and significant in 2023.

Understanding Privacy Laws and Regulations

The first and foremost asset in a privacy skillset is the understanding of privacy objectives, which happen to be largely set by the frameworks established to meet privacy law and regulation requirements. The foundational regulation for most of these frameworks is GDPR (this is worth attaining familiarity with on its own). But additional thought should be given to newly inspired regulations such as California’s CPRA, Brazil’s LGPD, and some emerging state-specific laws like Virginia’s VCDPA. Many of these regulations can shift and adapt over time as well. So, it’s best to regularly read up on and subscribe to sources covering these changes to avoid being caught off-guard. This understanding can take real effort to get and maintain, but it’s foundational to applying many other privacy skills effectively.  

Embracing the Concept of Privacy-by-Design

An essential addition to your privacy toolkit is the understanding and application of the privacy-by-design concept. If you’re new to it, this philosophy advocates for privacy to be considered from the inception of a project or a system, rather than as an afterthought. By integrating privacy into the early stages of system design, one ensures that protections are woven into the fabric of the system rather than tacked on later. This not only leads to more robust privacy safeguards- but can also prevent costly retrofitting and potential regulatory backlash. To effectively embrace privacy-by-design, it’s important to establish a culture that values privacy within your organization that fosters collaboration between various stakeholders, along with making yourself capable of communicating how and why to incorporate new safeguards. Additionally, it pays to be knowledgeable of what safeguards are available to incorporate. Staying abreast of emerging privacy-enhancing technologies and techniques becomes key to implementing this concept successfully.

Mapping the Journey of Your Data

Just as a navigator charts a course through unfamiliar waters, businesses need to map the journey of their data to navigate and refine their routes through the seas of data privacy. Understanding where and how data flows through your organization is not just a compliance exercise, it’s an integral aspect of risk management. Data mapping involves identifying all sources of data input, how data is processed, where it is stored, who has access to it, and how it’s being transferred or shared. This visibility allows the organization to pinpoint any vulnerabilities in its data handling processes and makes informed decisions about where to implement controls. Effective data mapping requires a blend of technical knowledge, analytical skills, and an understanding of your organization’s operations. Remember, data privacy is not a static state but a dynamic process; as your data landscape changes, so should your map. Routinely updating your data map and keeping it in line with the realities of your data processes is key to maintaining robust data privacy practices.

Ensuring the Validity of Consent

An undeniable cornerstone of data privacy is the concept of consent. Consent management is not just a tick-box exercise; it is a fundamental respect for individual autonomy and personal choice. Ensuring that consent is validly obtained involves clearly informing individuals about what data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, and how you’re going to use it. But it doesn’t end there, validity extends to giving individuals a real choice in whether to provide this consent and providing the means for them to withdraw their consent at any time. This goes together with the principle of data minimization (the idea of collecting and processing only the data that is absolutely necessary for the purpose at hand). Also crucial to this process is the technical capability of responding to and fulfilling consent requests. This is greatly assisted by the aforementioned skills of incorporating privacy principles by designing and maintaining a data map. Altogether, consent validity not only reduces the risk of data breaches. It also fosters trust by respecting individuals’ privacy rights, which makes it an area worth learning about and striving for.

Harnessing Collaboration and Effective Communication

It’s worth remembering that privacy is ultimately not a solitary pursuit but an organization-wide endeavor. The goals and controls outlined here are only effective if the whole of an organization adopts them – this means that collaboration across departments, functions, and teams is crucial. From IT to marketing, legal to operations, privacy must be a shared responsibility and an ingrained part of the organizational culture and policy. Effective collaboration requires clear and effective communication. Just as privacy laws and principles must be understood, they must also be communicated in a way that everyone in the organization can understand and act on. This means breaking down complex privacy concepts into comprehensible insights and actionable steps. Therefore, the role of a privacy leader is not just to “understand privacy”; but to articulate it effectively to others, translating privacy needs and goals into business needs and goals. This collective understanding and action can create an environment where privacy is respected and protected at all levels, making harnessing collaboration and effective communication essential for privacy leadership skills.

To close, it’s true that these skills can be tricky to master, but keep in mind that in the end data privacy is more than just protecting information – it’s about cultivating trust, protecting your business, and fostering resilient growth. By understanding key privacy laws, embracing privacy-by-design principles, mapping data journeys, validating consent, and promoting effective collaboration and communication, businesses can turn the challenge of data privacy into a strategic asset. It’s this holistic approach that transforms data privacy from an intimidating task into a driving force for enduring success.

Could you use some help keeping up with privacy in your business? At CyberData Pros, we understand the complexities of data privacy and can guide your business through this challenging landscape. Our proven track record in protecting our clients’ data speaks volumes about our commitment to privacy. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation.

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What is a SIEM & Does Your Business Need One?

Cyber attacks are without a doubt one of the most serious threats to modern industry and business. A single security breach can cost a company millions of dollars in lost revenue, damaged reputation, and legal fees – and that’s just scratching the surface of the true extent of the damage they can cause. That is why security posture, or cybersecurity readiness, is such an important part of an organization’s infrastructure that warrants heavy prioritization and investment. While there are lots of ways to do this, each with their own pros and cons, it takes layers of defense, strategy, and planning to build a resilient and reliable perimeter that you can depend on to protect your business and your customers.

One of the most ubiquitous and effective layers of that perimeter is the implementation of a SIEM tool. SIEM stands for Security Information and Event Management, and it is a software platform that collects, stores, analyzes, and reports on security logs from across your network. This data can include things like firewall logs, web server logs, and intrusion detection system (IDS) alerts. The SIEM solution uses this data to identify potential threats and security incidents. This can be done by looking for patterns and correlations in the data or by comparing the data to known threat intelligence. Once a threat is identified, the SIEM solution can generate alerts, send notifications, or even take automated action to mitigate the threat.

Why do you need a SIEM?

There are many reasons why businesses need a SIEM solution. Here are just a few:

  • Increased visibility: A SIEM solution gives you a comprehensive view of your security posture. This information can be used to identify potential threats, investigate security incidents, and altogether boost your security visibility.
  • Reduced risk: A SIEM solution can help reduce your risk of a security breach. By identifying and mitigating threats early on, you can drastically limit the extent to which they can cause damage to your business.
  • Improved compliance: A SIEM solution can help you meet your compliance requirements. By collecting and storing security logs, you can demonstrate to regulators and customers alike that you are taking steps to protect your data.
  • Reduced costs: A SIEM solution can help reduce your security costs. By centralizing your security logging and analysis, you can save money on hardware, software, and personnel.

How to choose a SIEM solution

There are many different SIEM solutions available on the market. When choosing a SIEM solution, you need to consider the following factors:

  • Your budget: SIEM solutions can range in price from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You need to choose a solution that fits your budget.
  • Your needs: Not all SIEM solutions are created equal. Some solutions are better suited for small businesses, while others are better suited for large enterprises. You need to choose a solution that meets your specific needs.
  • Your requirements: Some SIEM solutions come with a variety of features and functionality. Others are more basic. You need to choose a solution that meets your specific requirements.

A SIEM solution is a valuable tool for any business that wants to improve its security posture. By collecting and analyzing security data from across your network, a SIEM solution can help you identify potential threats, investigate security incidents, and improve your overall security posture. While there is no such thing as a single solution for cybersecurity, as part of an otherwise robust, and well managed security infrastructure, a SIEM solution provides an unparalleled level of control and insight that will allow you to take your security posture to the next level.

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Outsourcing HIPAA Compliance

If your organization deals with any sort of healthcare-related data, chances are that you have heard of HIPAA at some point, and for good reason. HIPAA is a cornerstone US law that governs the protection and privacy of health information, and non-compliance can entail notoriously eye-watering penalties enough to warrant close attention. One catch with HIPAA compliance, however, is that the standards for compliance aren’t necessarily as cut-and-dry as other compliance frameworks, based more on the reasonability and appropriateness of measures rather than their existence or lack-thereof. This goes to make HIPAA compliance a strong option to outsource, for a number of reasons we’ll run through shortly.

Before we dive too deep into HIPAA’s minutiae, let’s quickly refresh ourselves on what constitutes HIPAA. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law in the US that aims to protect the health information of individuals (hereby known as PHI, or Protected Health Information) when said information is used by organizations. In terms of protection HIPAA generally looks to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to avoid unintended disclosures, appropriate privacy considerations are in place to define what a fair disclosure is by patient standards, and appropriate planning and notification structures are in place to ensure a timely and effective response if privacy or security standards do get breached.  

As to why HIPAA is so critical to pay attention to, there are two major reasons. One is that non-compliance comes with a heavy price – this can range from civil penalties like suspension of processing activities, corrective action plan mandates, or per-record-violation fines of up to $50,000, all the way to criminal penalties leading to separate, higher fines or even prison time. This makes HIPAA compliance a serious concern for finances, reputation, and legal liability. The second major aspect to pay attention to is how broad the scope of who is considered to be a processor (or in HIPAA’s terminology, “covered entity”) under HIPAA, being healthcare providers, plan-handlers, clearinghouses, and as of the 2013 Omnibus rule, any subcontractors of the aforementioned parties. This can make applicability more common than many organizations would think, so if healthcare data is touched at all caution is advised.

Given the nature and criticality of HIPAA compliance, it’s clear that in most every case where applicable the process of attaining compliance is worthy of investment and high prioritization. And while a good option in this case would be hiring, training, and tasking internal staff/resources toward HIPAA compliance specialization, oftentimes companies find outsourcing these compliance checks to be a more cost-effective solution. This trend is due to a number of factors, such as:

  • Specialization – Full HIPAA compliance can be complex to identify and implement, thus making staff training a slower and more error-prone process than hiring a company that specializes in said compliance implementations. Additionally, compliance firms generally hold a keener awareness of other relevant compliance requirements that may be special to your organization.
  • Objectivity – It can be tough for internal staff to fully gauge the reasonability and appropriateness of HIPAA controls when only viewing their company’s environment in isolation, be it for lack of extra-organizational context for determining effectiveness or a reluctance to report major issues to management. A compliance firm can view your company in context of the many others that have aimed for the same controls to best make fitted-decisions and as a business-best interest are known to be straightforward and detailed in reporting.
  • Cost – When pushing toward a new compliance effort many companies underestimate the cost involved with getting internal resources ready to handle the process – between additional training, labor-hour requirements, compliance software, and the inherent risk cost for expensive HIPAA errors, the price for internal compliance checks can add up fast. An external compliance firm, on the other hand, comes with all the training, software, and experience required, and will only need to be staffed for whatever hours are required for your audit interval. For many companies, this only amounts to a handful of hours a year, making outsourcing relatively cheap in contrast to internal training in many instances.

Altogether it’s fair to say that if there’s a chance HIPAA applies to your company then there’s a guarantee that you want to get it right. And if you’re looking to ensure a quick, efficacious, and cost-effective compliance process then outsourcing HIPAA compliance is an option worth due consideration. 

Looking for an expert in HIPAA compliance to outsource to? Or could you use some assistance directing and refining an existing team? Either way, CyberData Pros’ analysts have audited systems, remediated errors, and trained staff for HIPAA compliance many times over. Contact us now for a free consultation and to learn more about our services.

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Outsourcing SOC 2 Readiness

If you happen to have read through our previous blogs or follow CyberData Pros on LinkedIn, then you may be familiar with SOC 2. For those who aren’t, we’ll recap with a brief summary of what a SOC 2 report is and the benefits it provides for your organization. We’ll then discuss some of the reasons why it makes sense to outsource this service and how CyberData Pros is positioned to help you achieve success.

A System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 report is received following a successful audit by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in adherence to the standards published by the AICPA. Achieving this designation serves to provide assurances about the controls in place at your organization, as the audit process focuses on some or all of the principles of security, confidentiality, privacy, availability, and processing integrity. 

There are a variety of reasons why a business might pursue SOC 2. It is widely recognized and signals to partners, vendors, and customers that they are dealing with a reputable and secure organization. It provides trust and assurances that bolster your reputation, leading to new business opportunities and sales. It can save time and resources by cutting down on the business interruptions that come with constantly undergoing individual audits and responding to security questionnaires. Finally, it might even be required by certain industries and regulations.

Whatever the reason, going through a SOC 2 assessment requires a commitment of time, involvement, and resources. It can be a complex journey, and it’s imperative that you have experts on the subject in your corner. While it is possible to prepare for and undergo the audit process with only in-house staff, it’s usually not recommended. Ideally, you want an impartial party reviewing your policies and processes to identify gaps and weaknesses so that they can be remedied before the audit. In-house staff may bring a biased-approach, such as not wanting to call out a particular risk out of fear of putting themselves or other coworkers in jeopardy or throwing someone under the bus. Second, staff may be unfamiliar or not have any experience with the SOC 2 process, which could lead to less than desirable results. That said, from a business and HR standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to create a new full-time position just for achieving SOC 2 compliance, either. Additionally, because of the major undertaking and work required, it places a huge burden on staff which hinders them from performing their regular duties.

By working with CyberData Pros as your SOC 2 compliance consultants, all the issues mentioned above can be alleviated. While we are external partners, our goal is to work as a team to help you achieve success. We’ll provide unbiased expert advice, even when that sometimes means having difficult conversations, so that you’ll be ready and prepared for anything an auditor may ask. Our team has helped many organizations successfully through the audit process, so we bring the expert knowledge and real-world experience you need. By outsourcing SOC 2 services, you free up focus and lessen the burden on staff by allowing us to take on the heavy lifting. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

If you’re interested in pursuing SOC 2 designation, reach out to us now for a free consultation and see how CyberData Pros can open up new opportunities for growth and success for years to come. 

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Why Ongoing Audits are Good for Business

If you browse cybersecurity literature long enough you’ll find the benefits a business can derive from a privacy or security audit are generally well understood and regarded, but lesser-known are the perks of ongoing audits. This is largely due to a generalized concern some businesses hold that subsequent audits may be redundant – which is a prudent question of cost-efficiency. What’s often misunderstood in this concern is that the benefits of continual audits are at the same time greater and different than those of singular audits, with the difference being seen largely in the distinction between proactive and reactive action. Let’s take a quick dive into this distinction, and discuss a few key benefits continuous audits will bring.

A simple way of highlighting the key point of utility of continual audits is by considering the audits like you might consider a medical check-up – after all, an audit essentially is a health check for your information security system, so this makes for an apples-to-apples analogue. If you’re feeling very sick you might well schedule a one-off check-up. From there a doctor will run tests, make a diagnosis, and create a treatment plan to get you back into good shape. This check-up is generally the role an isolated audit will perform, and it definitely is a step in the right direction. But it’s worth remembering that if routine re-visits aren’t made then afterward you’re liable to miss otherwise detectable signs of illness and become sick again. And although it’s true that you can schedule another appointment at that point, the fact you’re sick to begin with is damaging to the body, and the recovery process can be drawn-out, challenging, and expensive. It’s oftentimes a lot more efficient for both your health and wallet to mitigate the risk of sickness consistently by making check-ups a routine, which represents the emergent perks of continual audits. 

It’s likely you can see how this same concept applies with information security audits – the best way by far to handle incidents is to take measures to avoid them entirely, and these measures are directed by continual audits. With that in mind, let’s look at a few specifics of how exactly these ongoing audits keep your business healthier than ad hoc audits:

  • Layered Net: A single audit might not always detect all risks present – some issues only become apparent in trends between multiple audits. A continual audit process ensures that most every detectable risk present in a system is identified, not just those apparent at a single point in time.
  • Remediation Review: Following the conclusion of an audit should come the process of addressing the identified risks. A common issue with said process is that the remediation efforts are not always fully effective, leaving the organization exposed still to a risk they believe is mitigated. Subsequent audits will review remediation efforts to assess their efficacy and provide guidance on how to improve them. 
  • Currency & Compliance: More frequent audits mean less room exists in-between for organizations to unknowingly diverge from emerging regulations and best practices. This not only simplifies the maintenance of compliance by way of lending more time to react to and prepare for new requirements, but also lends a competitive edge by allowing for quick adoption of new security and privacy best practices. 
  • More Recent, More Value: Over time your organization and the risk landscape it’s exposed to changes, and thus audits lose relevance with time. This makes recency a large variable in the value an audit brings, both internally and externally. For instance, externally it’s often found that potential partners or clients only accept audits from the last year or six months, with more recency generally preferred. Internally, timely findings in developing systems are oftentimes extremely beneficial, as it’s far easier to adjust for security early in that system’s implementation than attempting to retrofit it far afterward.

Altogether, the benefits listed above are most apparent in (if not exclusive to) a continuous audit process. And these points don’t even account for the human benefits of the process, such as improving staff’s understanding of your organization’s risk posture over time or demonstrating your organization’s commitment to cybersecurity and data privacy to prospects. It’s worth remembering that security and privacy are not problems to fix, but an ongoing process of improvement – in that sense, with audits an increase in quantity often boosts the quality of the process altogether.

Is your business interested in the benefits of a new audit? Whether you’re looking to establish an audit process or conduct your first audit ever, CyberData Pros are experts in the process and can walk you through it – from scoping to a polished report. Contact us now for a free consultation and to learn more about our services.

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The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Within the realm of cybersecurity, there are a multitude of steps your organization can take to help better secure your infrastructure, network, and applications. While it might sound easy to go with an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach, a particularly important component of a strong security posture involves digging to uncover weaknesses before they become a real security incident. Oftentimes discerning what these various tests, scans, and reports are in the first place can leave one confusingly scratching their head, let alone recognizing which option might be best suited for your business. Two of the more common techniques that often get lumped together are penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, but while there can be some overlap, it’s important to distinguish and understand the differences between the two. 

Both penetration testing and vulnerability scanning can be beneficial to an organization in their own way. Depending on a multitude of factors and circumstances, one might be chosen over the other, i.e. if there are budget limitations, or perhaps one is required by a standard, regulation, or contractual agreement. While on their own both options carry great value, the strongest results come from a combination of the two as both methodologies complement each other to form a comprehensive approach. To briefly define, vulnerability scanning is a process that uses automated tools to search for and identify known vulnerabilities across an organization’s devices, systems, and networks. Penetration testing, often referred to as ethical hacking, takes a more manual approach by attempting to actively exploit any weaknesses that exist, in order to simulate what damage could be done by a real attacker. 

Aside from the core definition, there are benefits and comparisons between the two that are important to discuss when you are considering implementing either or both options. When a vulnerability scan is completed, the results are generated into a report that identifies, categorizes, and scores each found vulnerability. Since there is no attempt to actively exploit, the purpose here is primarily informative. It requires manual analysis to sift through the false positives and carry out the remediation steps to mitigate the risks associated with the findings, prioritizing  the most critical findings first. Vulnerability scans are performed more frequently than penetration tests (ideally quarterly) and are useful to compare to previous scans to monitor progress. Due to their more lightweight nature, vulnerability scans are much quicker and cost-friendly than penetration tests. 

By contrast, as the goal of a penetration test is to think like the “bad guys”, they are significantly more detailed and thus require substantially more time and effort. Because of the thorough and in-depth nature, a penetration test takes days to weeks to complete. Naturally, the cost associated with a penetration test is higher than a vulnerability scan, but it’s worth noting that a retest is frequently included in the cost. Additionally, they do not need to be conducted as frequently as vulnerability scanning; annually is the most common interval. 

Pages could be written diving into the details of each, but the aim here is to give you a short synopsis and explanation of these often confused terms, and hopefully by doing so allow you to have a better understanding of the real world applications of each. Each carries its own value, but the best approach combines the advantages of both to take your company’s security strategy to the next level. 

Here at CyberData Pros, our team is proud to offer these services to our clients, and we encourage you to contact us to discuss how vulnerability scanning and penetration testing can help your ability to strengthen your company’s security. The best defense is a good offense.

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