At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we move fast and continually iterate to meet the evolving needs of our customers. We design services that can help our customers meet even the most stringent security and compliance requirements. Additionally, our service teams work closely with our AWS Security Guardians program to coordinate security efforts and to maintain a high quality bar. We also have internal compliance teams that continually monitor security control requirements from all over the world and engage with external auditors to achieve third-party validation of our services against these requirements.
In this post, I’ll cover some key strategies and best practices that we use to scale security and compliance while maintaining a culture of innovation.
Security as the foundation
At AWS, security is our top priority. Although compliance might be challenging, treating security as an integral part of everything we do at AWS makes it possible for us to adhere to a broad range of compliance programs, to document our compliance, and to successfully demonstrate our compliance status to our auditors and customers.
Over time, as the auditors get deeper into what we’re doing, we can also help improve and refine their approach, as well. This increases the depth and quality of the reports that we provide directly to our customers.
The challenge of scaling securely
Many customers struggle with balancing security, compliance, and production. These customers have applications that they want to quickly make available to their own customer base. They might need to audit these applications. The traditional process can include writing the application, putting it into production, and then having the audit team take a look to make sure it meets compliance standards. This approach can cause issues, because retroactively adding compliance requirements can result in rework and churn for the development team.
Enforcing compliance requirements in this way doesn’t scale and eventually causes more complexity and friction between teams. So how do you scale quickly and securely?
Speak their language
The first way to earn trust with development teams is to speak their language. It’s critical to use terms and references that developers use, and to know what tools they are using to develop, deploy, and secure code. It’s not efficient or realistic to ask the engineering teams to do the translation of diverse (and often vague) compliance requirements into engineering specs. The compliance teams must do the hard work of translating what is required into what specifically must be done, using language that engineers are familiar with.
Another strategy to scale is to embed compliance requirements into the way developers do their daily work. It’s important that compliance teams enable developers to do their work just as they normally do, without compliance needing to intervene. If you’re successful at that strategy—and the compliant path becomes the simplest and most natural path—then that approach can lead to a very scalable compliance program that fosters understanding between teams and increased collaboration. This approach has helped break down the barriers between the developer and audit/compliance organizations.
Treat auditors and regulators as partners
I believe that you should treat auditors and regulators as true business partners. An independent auditor or regulator understands how a wide range of customers will use the security assurance artifacts that you are producing, and therefore will have valuable insights into how your reports can best be used. I think people can fall into the trap of treating regulators as adversaries. The best approach is to communicate openly with regulators, helping them understand your business and the value you bring to your customers, and getting them ramped up on your technology and processes.
At AWS, we help auditors and regulators get ramped up in various ways. For example, we have the Digital Audit Symposium, which contains presentations on how we control and operate particular services in terms of security and compliance. We also offer the Cloud Audit Academy, a learning path that provides both cloud-agnostic and AWS-specific training to help existing and prospective auditing, risk, and compliance professionals understand how to audit regulated cloud workloads. We’ve learned that being a partner with auditors and regulators is key in scaling compliance.
Having security as a foundation is essential to driving and scaling compliance efforts. Speaking the language of developers helps them continue to work without disruption, and makes the simple path the compliant path. Although some barriers still exist, especially for organizations in highly regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare, treating auditors like partners is a positive strategic shift in perspective. The more proactive you are in helping them accomplish what they need, the faster you will realize the value they bring to your business.
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