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Regulatory compliance requirements for security awareness programs

Employees play an important role in achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance, explains compliance expert Mike Chapple.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Justice recently admonished financial institutions...

for not adequately encouraging employees to follow compliance regulations. What would you recommend organizations do to train employees about regulatory compliance? Are there any regulations that actually penalize organizations monetarily for not encouraging compliance?

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An organization cannot comply with any compliance obligation unless the actions of its employees are consistent with that obligation. The actions of a single employee can completely undermine the organization's security program.

For example, a retail clerk who compensates for point-of-sale (POS) terminal failures by keeping a log book of credit card transactions, including full card numbers, would be in direct violation of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Similarly, an IT staffer who disables a hospital's firewall for troubleshooting reasons may inadvertently jeopardize the organization's compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

For this reason, it is imperative to design a security awareness program that emphasizes the individual responsibilities of employees to ensure the safety of the organization's information assets. This should be tailored to the employee's job function and include both initial training for new employees and refresher training to keep security responsibilities top-of-mind. It's possible to leverage external providers and content for this training, but you alone are responsible for ensuring that employees are aware of their responsibilities.

PCI DSS includes a formal requirement for this program, stating that organizations must "implement a formal security awareness program to make all personnel aware of the importance of cardholder data security" and "educate personnel upon hire and at least annually." Organizations failing to meet these requirements are not PCI DSS compliant and may be subject to hefty fines. PCI DSS is not alone in mandating this training. HIPAA, as well as many other security regulations, also requires that organizations conduct security awareness training.

This was last published in May 2014

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