Being compliant in today’s accelerated cloud-led innovative environments has become a massive challenge that impacts not just small businesses but big enterprises alike. A successful digital business majorly depends upon enforcing a set of compliance rules that abide by industry standards and are followed at scale. Failure to follow compliance regulations leads to major financial losses. A breach of regulatory compliance typically costs organizations close to $15 million.
Managing compliance manually is not feasible anymore with businesses growing at such a fast pace. By adopting an engineering mindset, enterprises can look at automating compliance, also known as compliance as code.
In this blog, we will try to understand what exactly compliance as code is, its benefits and a few leading tools that can help enterprises stay compliant on the cloud.
What is Compliance-as-Code?
Compliance-as-code is a group of tools or programmatic solutions that facilitate automation of compliance controls across implementation, validation, remediation, monitoring and reporting on the cloud. Automation comes in the form of code and is integrated into the code knowledge bank used by developers and engineers. Thus, codification of compliance rules enables adherence, application and remediation to function in auto mode where it –
- Prevents non-compliance by checking automatically whether planned changes are complaint,
- Detects non-compliance by auto-scanning of infrastructure and alerting on discrepancies if any and
- Remediates non-compliance by making necessary changes to the infrastructure to ensure maximum compliance levels are met.
The ability to be used and integrated throughout the whole compliance lifecycle process is the most notable benefit of employing Compliance-as-Code. It can be used in the early design and implementation phase to validate the implementation of various controls. It can also be used for keeping a check on the compliance status of the CI/CD pipelines it is integrated with. Embracing compliance-as-code enables monitoring of real-time changes, validating the desired vs actual compliance standards and reporting the compliance status.
Code-based compliance policies are kept in a source code version control system. A compliance policy may consist of one or more rules. Developers carry out the functional policies that stakeholders or external authorities define. Developers can write policies with the use of specialized software solutions that are available in the market.
The configuration language and format used to create the Compliance as Code policy depends on the Compliance as Code tool you use. Some tools have their domain-specific language (DSL), while others use standardized file types such as JSON.
Unfortunately, implementing compliance as code is not as seamless as “implementing GDPR compliance.” Instead, the controls are finer. An example of a common policy is to force encryption of the data stored in the cloud provider’s object storage or to ensure that all users are configured for multi-factor authentication.
However, many compliance tools have a predefined set of policies that make it easy to activate industry-standard checks. The most commonly offered one is the AWS CIS benchmark.
Compliance as Code Benefits
- Standardization: Teams define and write compliance rules as a code that can be implemented consistently across an organization. This brings uniformity and standardization into the organizational setup irrespective of the size of the infrastructure to be monitored.
- Visibility: Conducting regular compliance audits, tracing violations if any, keeping a record of risk acceptances and determining which processes fail to adhere to the set compliance requirements help collectively offer a holistic view of the compliance status across the software development lifecycle.
- Scalability: With the growth in IT, scaling compliance is a must, and this is possible with compliance as code. By converting the compliance requirements to a code, the entire setup can be audited and evaluated for maximum compliance adherence. Compliance code can be easily bundled and integrated where needed and automated checks can be conducted on the security and development teams for enhanced compliance status.
- Cost-effectiveness: Automation of compliance checks leads to better compliance results and efficient cost management. Monitoring the entire ecosystem with compliance as code enables enterprises to remain compliant at all times and reduce the risk of fines and data exposure significantly.
- Keep abreast with regulatory changes: Compliance rules change frequently, and new regulatory frameworks can be introduced at any given time because of which existing compliance policies and rules have to be updated. If these updates and changes happen through compliance as code, it is easier for enterprises to detect the areas of non-compliance and provide immediate remediation to cause minimum disruption to the monitoring process.
- Continuous compliance: With automated checks via compliance as code, it is possible to continuously identify as well as prevent non-compliance on cloud. It enables auto-scanning of a live cloud set up, ensures pending changes are aptly implemented and non-compliance is averted on a continuous basis.
Compliance as code Tools
Let us have a quick look at the tools offered as compliance as code by the big 3 cloud providers.
AWS Config is the first-party compliance product offered by Amazon. With CIS, PCI DSS, and Well-architected framework control sets that can be quickly deployed across AWS estates, it performs detection and remediation functions and offers a framework for putting in place bespoke controls.
If you’re utilizing CloudFormation as your infrastructure as code vehicle, then CloudFormation Guard can assist in bringing compliance into your delivery pipelines from a preventive point of view.
For Azure, the core of compliance services is driven by Azure policies. Azure Security Centre is an additional service offered; that can be combined with Policy to offer a comprehensive picture of your cloud infrastructure and apps in order to implement best-practice standards. Azure has over 400 built-in policy definitions that enable you to assign frequently used policies to your management groups, subscriptions, or resource groups with only a click of a button or with a few lines of your favored IaC language.
Azure policies aren’t just for the cloud. With the recent introduction of Azure Arc, which enables onboarding and management of workloads outside the Microsoft cloud, you can also extend your Azure policies to the outside world. The Azure policy has multiple prototypes for monitoring, denying, or modifying the infrastructure during deployment. Similar to AWS, there is a pre-packaged standards-based policy set that can be used for CIS L1 and L2, PCI DSS, HIPPA, FIS, UK OFFICIAL, and other popular information security benchmarks.
Azure policies are a powerful tool for driving organizational code compliance, but when used in combination with other native options such as Azure Sentinel SIEM and Azure Monitor, they provide a comprehensive software-defined target operating model.
For Google Cloud, compliance is driven by Cloud Asset Inventory. You can use it to identify and troubleshoot compliance issues. Currently, there is no first-party compliance framework for Deployment Manager templates.
The RCaC solution helps create predefined templates to automate compliance checks. Automation via Policy as Code enables to establish preventive controls for security & compliance practices.
When running infrastructure using Terraform, Hashicorp offers Hashicorp Sentinel as compliance as code initiative across the product portfolio. As cloud-native security solutions like the Palo Alto Prisma mature, compliance-as-code features will be soon introduced as part of the solutions.
Compliance as code ensures that your business meets your compliance goals, puts a stop to unintended setbacks and scales a dev-first security strategy to warrant cost optimization in the long run. It helps your business not just run smoothly but also stay compliant at all stages of the software delivery process.
By integrating compliance as code at the very beginning of the development process, both the risk and development teams can work collaboratively towards defining policies and rules to ensure they can function at an accelerated pace with zero delays from their side. These defined policies can be used as standards and templates across the organization that provides greater visibility on the various rules validated at different stages of the software development lifecycle. With the right set of tools, compliance as code can automate the core compliance activities of preventing, detecting and remediating, to facilitate an audit trail and improve the overall monitoring process.