And How To Make Them Easier, With or Without Compliance Automation

There are a lot of steps in creating an information security program or passing a security audit that are just really annoying. It’s okay, you can say that. We know this. It’s actually the reason Tugboat Logic founders created our compliance automation platform, to make these processes less awful for people.

In this piece, we’ll go over some of the most tedious parts of information security like:

We’ll give you a few strategies to make each of these easier, with or without compliance automation. Keep reading to get some step-by-step plans of action, straight from our information security experts.

Before we get into these strategies, let’s go over some compliance automation basics.

What Is Compliance Automation?

Compliance automation is when you use technology to maintain continuous compliance. It is the process of maintaining security compliance requirements with automation. Automated compliance can usually be found within some kind of SaaS tool (more on that later).

What Is Continuous Compliance? 

It’s having the right strategy, tools, people, and culture in place to ensure you’re always meeting your security requirements and protecting your critical data assets.

Note the “always.”

Maintaining continuous compliance is actually a requirement to pass an audit for these popular InfoSec frameworks:

  • SOC 2
  • ISO 27001
  • NIST 800-172
  • CMMC 2.0
  • ITGC
  • Microsoft SSPA
  • NIST 800-171
  • GDPR
  • NIST 800-53
  • CCPA

Why Is Continuous Compliance Important? 

Continuous compliance is required to have a security program that meets the audit requirements for the frameworks listed above. Without a continuous compliance strategy, you also put both you and your customers at risk of a data breach.

What Are Compliance Automation Tools?

Compliance automation solutions automates most of the tasks you need to do to pass that audit finish line successfully and maintain continuous compliance for you.

Many companies use compliance automation because it completes those traditionally manual (and usually not-so-fun) security compliance tasks for you.

Learn more about why companies choose compliance automation tools in this video from our “Securing the Startup Tech Stack” webinar with Blake Brannon (Chief Strategy Officer at OneTrust), Cailin Sullivan (Security Engineer at Appcues) and Joe Sullivan (Chief Security Officer at Cloudfare).


OK, now that we have covered all things compliance automation, let’s get into some strategies. How do you make completing everything you need to achieve continuous compliance easier (and less annoying)?

1. Managing Employee Access Management: On-boarding and Off-boarding

Gaps in an organization’s employee on-boarding and off-boarding processes are a huge security risk and is unfortunately extremely common. It’s why a company’s greatest security risk is actually their own employees.

Learn more about what employee access management: on-boarding and off-boarding is here.

How to Securely On-board and Off-board Employees:

Without compliance automation, the process is very manual and requires a lot of spreadsheet management. This is why many companies use compliance automation or a specialized tool from a 3rd party vendor to complete this process.

If your going to tackle this on your own, here is how you start:

  1. Start an excel sheet with all your employees’ personal details and information.
  2. Determine application owners and what level of permission every staff member needs.
  3. Note the application permissions and level of access they need for their specific role in the excel sheet.
  4. Provide the employee with the proper permissions and access level, along with any required software.
  5. Give the employee appropriate login credentials.
  6. Complete security awareness training. Learn more about security awareness training here.
  7. Continuously check this document to make sure all employees only have a level of access to applications and data required for their current role. Failing to do this is how most data breaches happen.

Expert quick tip: Make sure application owners are different from those requesting access to the application (usually people managers). This is called “separation of duties” and is regarded as best practice by security auditors.

 Here’s how to securely off-board employees:

  1. Remove employee access from any systems or applications that process sensitive information.
  2. Revoke all digital certificates.
  3. Ensure all tokens or smart cards issued are returned.
  4. Ensure that keys and IDs provided to them during their employment are returned.
  5. Remove all physical access to the facilities.
  6. Ensure that all devices, hardware and other material provided to them are returned.

What about compliance automation?

Compliance automation automates this process for you, making the required manual work extremely minimal. It also ensures nothing is missed for your audit. How, you ask? Tugboat Logic’s On-boarding and Off-boarding Module automates:

  • Uploading your employee information into a secure location from an internal document or integration with any of 28 employee population applications in your tech stack like Bamboo HR, Okta or Trinet.
  • Assigning application owners who can provide varying levels of application access to employees. You can filter employees by department, title or location and change permissions.
  • Providing timely reminders for your quarterly reviews of both your applications and employees.
  • Updating employee information if any changes are made in integrated applications.
  • Monitoring your employee permissions and level of access.
  • Notifying you when any issues occur or evidence tasks need to be completed for your next audit.

2. Completing Risk Assessments

Risk Assessments are not only mandatory for passing security audits. They additionally protect your business from serious threats.

Learn more about what risk assessments are here.

How to Successfully Complete a Risk Assessment

To get started on your risk assessment you can:

  • Create a list of the risks associated with your business in a spreadsheet.
  • Note what controls are necessary to mitigate those risks.
  • Attach a piece of evidence to each control to show they are working as intended (usually in the form of screenshots).

As I am sure you can imagine, it can be challenging to think of, and account for, every risk that could impact your business without any kind of guidance. This is why incomplete risk assessments are one of the top reasons for delays in achieving security certifications like SOC 2 and ISO 27001. 

When you miss risks in your assessment you unfortunately won’t pass your audit.  Also, missing risks can come with fines. If an organization falls out of compliance with HIPAA, for example, the fine can go as high as $50,000.

To complete risk assessments, some compliance automation tools use an onboarding interview to determine the risks associated with your business. Tugboat Logic uses a risk identification survey to build your risk register and dashboard from our library of risks.

Once your risk survey is complete, the tool will automatically:

  • Provide you with a prebuilt library of risks tied to your company’s specific objectives
  • Recommend how to mitigate those risks
  • Track the compliance status of your mitigating controls
  • Provide evidence of the risk assessment for your audit
  • Create a report for risk management to share with your management or customer


3. Assessing All Your Vendors

Knowing who your vendors are and how they manage their risks is a crucial piece of your information security program. If a breach happens to your vendor, your organization is at risk and could possibly be fined.

Learn more about what vendor risk assessments are here.

How to Successfully Complete a Vendor Risk Assessment

To complete a vendor risk assessment without compliance automation you’ll have to:

  • Create a vendor questionnaire in a document. It should include questions that account for any perceived risk associated with the vendor.
  • Send the questionnaire to your contact at the vendor.
  • Review their responses and ask for more information if you need it.
  • Approve or reject the vendor.
  • Keep all documentation and evidence of your communications with the vendor in a secure location for your audit, this is mandatory.

Expert quick tip: be sure to reassess your vendor every year, it’s mandatory for security audits.

The Vendor Management Module within Tugboat Logic’s platform allows you to complete and document this entire process in one place. This takes the pain out of managing vendor risk and sharing evidence with your auditor. You’ll also receive notifications for scheduling your re-assessments directly through the platform which helps you maintain continuous compliance.

See the graphic below for more on how compliance automation automates this process for you:

vendor assesment compliance automation

4. Version Management and Evidence Collection

How you keep track of your evidence, documentation and manage version control are big priorities for information security in general and security audits. For example, to pass your SOC 2 audit you must show evidence that you have reviewed and updated risk assessment at least annually.

“You need to track everything for SOC 2 (or any InfoSec audit). Without compliance software, this tracking is not automatic. So, if someone makes an update and forgets to note it, it's very challenging to go back and say who made that change, when and why.”

Whenever you create, change or update anything in your InfoSec program, compliance automation will get evidence of that and attach it to the right control.

“One of the ultimate goals of compliance automation is evidence and tracking. In any security audit, your greatest challenge is not just creating a security program that meets requirements, but getting the right evidence that shows everything is working as intended. Compliance automations will execute those workflows for you. “

5. Answering Security Questionnaires

It’s extremely common for potential customers to send you security questionnaires to assess your security processes. Especially enterprises. These questionnaires can be pages long with more than 100 questions.

You’ll have to hunt through previously answered questionnaire spreadsheets to find the right answer without compliance automation. Or, if you’re new to the security questionnaires game, your IT team will have to complete each questionnaire from scratch.

You may think to make up answers but don’t do that. It will be made clear to your potential customer that your answers don’t comply with your InfoSec program of record eventually. This can lead to not only loss sales, but also liability issues.

You can also put your potential client’s questionnaire into a compliance automation platform like Tugboat Logic. The tool will recommend answers to each question, in seconds. You’ll then see suggested answers for each question based on your current security program, your previously answered questionnaires and our database of pre-built policies and controls.

Your suggested answers are further personalized based on your readiness projects, scoping survey and risk register.


Tugboat Logic And Compliance Automation

We know that even with the best automation, information security isn’t exactly the most exciting project to tackle. But with these strategies we hope the worst parts will be a little less annoying. Still have questions? Our team of experts is always here to help.

If you want to see how compliance automation works in real time, grab a free trial of our platform.

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