The Most Important Security Metrics to Maintain Compliance

By Michelle Wu

Posted on Jan 14, 2020

Consumers are increasingly sharing sensitive data with companies in exchange for convenience. For this reason, organizations have a growing responsibility to avoid breaches and safeguard user data. As a result, many laws and regulations have been established to protect the confidential information that may be stored or transferred via these systems.

Data protection regulations tend to be quite extensive and require constant monitoring to effectively ensure compliance within the organization. That’s why it’s important to establish a list of security metrics to measure effectiveness, participation, the window of opportunity, and any other information that can be used to guide future security decisions and protect data. 

Without a quantifiable security metric program in place organizations become more susceptible to attacks, which can impact revenue and reputation.

What are security metrics?

Security metrics are used to measure whether or not an organization’s cybersecurity program is accomplishing goals and maintaining compliance. These benchmarks tell you what is and isn’t working within your cybersecurity framework so improvements can be made to policies, systems, or processes, and any gaps in data security can be addressed.

While risk reduction is an important key performance indicator (KPI) for addressing the overall effectiveness of your security program, there are also different metrics that can provide insight into program performance. The metrics you choose to track should be quantifiable and hold influence over behavior and strategy. They should direct toward ongoing security efforts so you can monitor the progress of your framework over time.

Metrics also allow you to share security program insights with company executives in an objective, easy-to-understand manner. Hard numbers and benchmarks help avoid confusion and efficiently highlight areas for improvement.

What metrics help you understand your current security posture and identify any gaps?

One of the most obvious and important security metrics is dwell time, which is the amount of time a threat actor has undetected access within a network before being completely removed. This is relevant because the longer it takes for a company to contain an attack, the more it will cost. 

Consider other metrics that can be leveraged to drive change, such as:

  • The number of known vulnerabilities on internal and external systems.
  • The mean time between a security patch release and actual implementation.
  • The number of employees that have completed a cybersecurity training program.
  • Ranked vulnerabilities based on severity and priority ratings.

Metrics to track for common regulation compliance

One reason for tracking metrics is to ensure you are meeting any applicable compliance regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR. As pressure mounts for executives to make data-driven decisions, measuring security KPIs becomes more important than ever before. The metrics you choose to track need to effectively quantify your organization’s ability to maintain regulatory compliance and data security performance.

Documenting your cybersecurity program and using data to improve its efficiency can not only help you decide what steps to take next, but can also help your organization avoid fines, lawsuits, and other penalties. 

Take a look at some examples of metrics to track for the following regulations:

PCI DSS

PCI DSS compliance (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) refers to the regulations and standards a business must follow to ensure users’ credit card data is protected. 

Examples of helpful metrics for maintaining PCI compliance include:

  • The percentage of all inventoried software that is regularly and consistently evaluated for vulnerabilities and associated risk
  • The number of web servers that have been configured according to system standards.
  • The percentage of known vulnerabilities for which patches have been applied or otherwise mitigated.

HIPAA

HIPAA compliance refers to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which was created to protect patient privacy. It’s important to set security goals that demonstrate an organization’s efforts to reach industry best practices, standards, and regulations. 

Examples of metrics to track to ensure HIPAA compliance include:

  • The average time your recovery plan will take to address breaches.
  • The number of cybersecurity incidents reported by employees and stakeholders.
  • The number of recorded attempts to access data. It is a best practice to establish activity logs and regularly audit controls to record these attempts and make note of what was done with that data after it has been accessed.

GDPR

GDPR is a recent data protection law put in place by the European Union that applies to any businesses handling data belonging to EU residents, even if that business is not an EU-based company. It aims to provide users with greater transparency and power over their sensitive data. If your organization is found to be non-compliant, then it faces fines of up to 4% of annual revenue and even removal from the marketplace. 

Examples of key metrics to track for compliance include:

  • The percentage of all systems utilizing data encryption.
  • The number of breach notifications documented. It is important to note that data controllers are required to report personal data breaches no longer than 72 hours after becoming aware of the incident.

How SecurityScorecard can help

The security threats that modern organizations face are constantly multiplying and evolving, and consumers are choosing to share more data with companies than ever before. This is why continuous monitoring is crucial to a security program’s success. Security metrics are an objective, quantifiable way to track progress and compliance in order to avoid breaches and in turn, fines and lawsuits. 

SecurityScorecard makes it simple to regularly monitor compliance across your entire digital ecosystem. Within the platform, compliance mapping tracks performance and highlights any gaps within each security mandate, making it easy to identify what is and isn’t working. Security ratings additionally provide you with the tools and intelligence you need to identify security shortcomings and improve cyberhealth across your organization. The consequences of being non-compliant far exceed the challenges of meeting industry standards, which is why it’s important to set yourself and your organization up for success from the start by setting clear goals and benchmarking against security metrics.

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