Security controls are parameters implemented to protect various forms of data and infrastructure important to an organization. Any type of safeguard or countermeasure used to avoid, detect, counteract, or minimize security risks to physical property, information, computer systems, or other assets is considered a security control.
Given the growing rate of cyberattacks, data security controls are more important today than ever. According to a Clark School study at the University of Maryland, cybersecurity attacks in the U.S. now occur every 39 seconds on average, affecting one in three Americans each year; 43% of these attacks target small businesses. Between March 2021 and March 2022, the average cost of a data breach in the United States was USD 9.44 million.
At the same time, data privacy regulations are growing, making it critical for businesses to shore up their data protection policies or face potential fines. The European Union implemented its strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules last year. In the U.S., California’s Consumer Privacy Act is set to take effect January 1, 2020, with several other states currently considering similar measures.
These regulations typically include stiff penalties for companies that do not meet requirements. For example, Facebook recently reported it anticipates a fine of more than USD 3 billion from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for shortcomings around data protection policies that led to several data breaches.
There are several types of security controls that can be implemented to protect hardware, software, networks, and data from actions and events that could cause loss or damage. For example:
Systems of security controls, including the processes and documentation defining implementation and ongoing management of these controls, are referred to as frameworks or standards.
Frameworks enable an organization to consistently manage security controls across different types of assets according to a generally accepted and tested methodology. Some of the best-known frameworks and standards include the following:
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created a voluntary framework in 2014 to provide organizations with guidance on how to prevent, detect, and respond to cyberattacks. The assessment methods and procedures are used to determine if an organization’s security controls are implemented correctly, operate as intended, and produce the desired outcome (meeting the security requirements of the organization). The NIST framework is consistently updated to keep pace with cybersecurity advances.
The Center for Internet Security (CIS) developed a list of high-priority defensive actions that provide a “must-do, do-first” starting point for every enterprise looking to prevent cyberattacks. According to the SANS Institute, which developed the CIS controls, “CIS controls are effective because they are derived from the most common attack patterns highlighted in the leading threat reports and vetted across a very broad community of government and industry practitioners.”
Organization can refer to these and other frameworks to develop their own security framework and IT security policies. A well-developed framework ensures that an organization does the following:
A security solution is only as strong as its weakest link. You should, therefore, consider multiple layers of security controls (which is also known as a defense-in-depth strategy) to implement security controls across identity and access management, data, applications, network or server infrastructure, physical security, and security intelligence.
A security controls assessment is an excellent first step for determining where any vulnerabilities exist. A security controls assessment enables you to evaluate the controls you currently have in place and determine whether they are implemented correctly, operating as intended, and meeting your security requirements. NIST Special Publication 800-53 was created by NIST as a benchmark for successful security control assessments. The NIST guidelines serve as a best practice approach that, when applied, can help mitigate risk of a security compromise for your organization. Alternatively, your organization can also create its own security assessment.
Some key steps for creating a security assessment include the following:
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