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What is CIS Compliance? (and How to Apply CIS Benchmarks)


CIS provides best practices to help companies like yours improve their cloud security posture.
You’ll protect your systems against various threats by complying with its benchmark standards.
This post will walk you through CIS benchmarks, their development, and the kinds of systems they apply to.

We will also discuss the significance of CIS compliance and how Prevasio may help you achieve it.

What are CIS benchmarks?

CIS stands for Center for Internet Security. It’s a nonprofit organization that aims to improve companies’ cybersecurity readiness and response.

Founded in 2000, the CIS comprises cybersecurity experts from diverse backgrounds. They have the common goal of enhancing cybersecurity resilience and reducing security threats. 

CIS compliance means adhering to the Center for Internet Security (CIS) benchmarks.
CIS benchmarks are best practices and guidelines to help you build a robust cloud security strategy.

These CIS benchmarks give a detailed road map for protecting a business’s IT infrastructure. They also encompass various platforms, such as web servers or cloud bases.
The CIS benchmarks are frequently called industry standards. They are normally in line with other regulatory organizations, such as ISO, NIST, and HIPAA.

Many firms adhere to CIS benchmarks to ensure they follow industry standards. They also do this to show their dedication to cybersecurity to clients and stakeholders.
The CIS benchmarks and CIS controls are always tested through on-premises analysis by leading security firms.  This ensures that CIS releases standards that are effective at mitigating cyber risks.

How are the CIS benchmarks developed?

A community of cybersecurity professionals around the world cooperatively develops CIS benchmarks.
They exchange their knowledge, viewpoints, and experiences on a platform provided by CIS. The end result is consensus-based best practices that will protect various IT systems.

The CIS benchmark development process typically involves the following steps:
1. Identify the technology:
The first step is to identify the system or technology that has to be protected. This encompasses a range of applications. It can be an operating system, database, web server, or cloud environment.

2. Define the scope:
The following stage is to specify the benchmark’s parameters. It involves defining what must be implemented for the technology to be successfully protected. They may include precise setups, guidelines, and safeguards.

3. Develop recommendations:
Next, a community of cybersecurity experts will identify ideas for safeguarding the technology. These ideas are usually based on current best practices, norms, and guidelines. They may include the minimum security requirements and measures to be taken.

4. Expert consensus review:
Thereafter, a broader group of experts and stakeholders assess the ideas. They will offer comments and suggestions for improvement. This level aims to achieve consensus on the appropriate technical safeguards.

5. Pilot testing:
The benchmark is then tested in a real-world setting. At this point, CIS aims to determine its efficacy and spot any problems that need fixing.

6. Publication and maintenance:
The CIS will publish the benchmark once it has been improved and verified. The benchmark will constantly be evaluated and updated to keep it current and useful for safeguarding IT systems.

What are the CIS benchmark levels?

CIS benchmarks are divided into three levels based on the complexity of an IT system.
It’s up to you to choose the level you need based on the complexity of your IT environment.

Each level of the benchmarks offers better security recommendations than the previous level.

The following are the distinct categories that benchmarks are divided into:
Level 1
This is the most basic level of CIS standards. It requires organizations to set basic security measures to reduce cyber threats. 
Some CIS guidelines at this level include password rules, system hardening, and risk management.

The level 1 CIS benchmarks are ideal for small businesses with basic IT systems.

Level 2
This is the intermediate level of the CIS benchmarks. It is suitable for small to medium businesses that have complex IT systems.

The Level 2 CIS standards offer greater security recommendations to your cloud platform.

It has guidelines for network segmentation,  authentication, user permissions, logging, and monitoring. At this level, you’ll know where to focus your remediation efforts if you spot a vulnerability in your system.

Level 2 also covers data protection topics like disaster recovery plans and encryption.

Level 3
Level 3 is the most advanced level of the CIS benchmarks. It offers the highest security recommendations compared to the other two.
Level 3 also offers the Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) profiles for companies. 

STIG are configuration guidelines developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency. These security standards help you meet US government requirements. 

This level is ideal for large organizations with the most sensitive and vital data. These are companies that must protect their IT systems from complex security threats.

It offers guidelines for real-time security analytics, safe cloud environment setups, and enhanced threat detection.

What types of systems do CIS benchmarks apply to?

The CIS benchmarks are applicable to many IT systems used in a cloud environment.

The following are examples of systems that CIS benchmarks can apply to:

  • Operating systems:

CIS benchmarks offer standard secure configurations for common operating systems, including Amazon Linux, Windows Servers, macOS, and Unix.

They address network security, system hardening, and managing users and accounts.

  • Cloud infrastructure:

CIS benchmarks can help protect various cloud infrastructures, including public, private, and multi-cloud. 

They recommend guidelines that safeguard cloud systems by various cloud service providers. For example, network security, access restrictions, and data protection.
The benchmarks cover cloud systems such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM, Oracle, and Google Cloud Platform.

  • Server software:

CIS benchmarks provide secure configuration baselines for various servers, including databases (SQL), DNS, Web, and authentication servers. The baselines cover system hardening, patch management, and access restrictions.

  • Desktop software:

Desktop apps such as music players, productivity programs, and web browsers can be weak points in your IT system. 

CIS benchmarks offer guidelines to help you protect your desktop software from vulnerabilities. They may include patch management, user and account management, and program setup.

  • Mobile devices:

The CIS benchmarks recommend safeguarding endpoints such as tablets and mobile devices. The standards include measures for data protection, account administration, and device configuration.

  • Network devices:

CIS benchmarks also involve network hardware, including switches, routers, and firewalls. Some standards for network devices include access restrictions, network segmentation, logging, and monitoring. 

  • Print devices:

CIS benchmarks also cover print devices like printers and scanners. The CIS benchmark baselines include access restrictions, data protection, and firmware upgrades.

Why is CIS compliance important?

CIS compliance helps you maintain secure IT systems. It does this by helping you adhere to globally recognized cybersecurity standards.

CIS benchmarks cover various IT systems and product categories, such as cloud infrastructures. So by ensuring CIS benchmark compliance, you reduce the risk of cyber threats to your IT systems.
Achieving CIS compliance has several benefits:
1. Your business will meet internationally accepted cybersecurity standards
The CIS standards are developed through a consensus review process. This means they are founded on the most recent threat intelligence and best practices.

So you can rely on the standards to build a solid foundation for securing your IT infrastructure.

2. It can help you meet regulatory compliance requirements for other important cybersecurity frameworks.

CIS standards can help you prove that you comply with other industry regulations. This is especially true for companies that handle sensitive data or work in regulated sectors.

CIS compliance is closely related to other regulatory compliances such as NIST, HIPAA, and PCI DSS.  By implementing the CIS standards, you’ll conform to the applicable industry regulations.
3. Achieving CIS continuous compliance can help you lower your exposure to cybersecurity risks. In the process, safeguard your vital data and systems.
This aids in preventing data breaches, malware infections, and other cyberattacks. 

Such incidents could seriously harm your company’s operations, image, and financial situation.
A great example is the Scottish Oil giant, SSE. It had to pay €10M in penalties for failing to comply with a CIS standard in 2013.

4. Abiding by the security measures set by CIS guidelines can help you achieve your goals faster as a business. The guidelines cover the most important and frequently attacked areas of IT infrastructure.
5. CIS compliance enhances your general security posture. It also decreases the time and resources needed to maintain security. It does this by providing uniform security procedures across various platforms.

How to achieve CIS compliance?

Your organization can achieve CIS compliance by conforming to the guidelines of the CIS benchmarks and CIS controls.

Each CIS benchmark usually includes a description of a recommended configuration. It also usually contains a justification for the implementation of the configuration.

Finally, it offers step-by-step instructions on how to carry out the recommendation manually. While the standards may seem easy to implement manually, they may consume your time and increase the chances of human errors.

That is why most security teams prefer using tools to automate achieving and maintaining CIS compliance.

CIS hardened images are great examples of CIS compliance automation tools. They are pre-configured images that contain all the necessary recommendations from CIS benchmarks. 

You can be assured of maintaining compliance by using these CIS hardened images in your cloud environment.

You can also use CSPM tools to automate achieving and maintaining CIS compliance.

Cloud Security Posture Management tools automatically scan for vulnerabilities in your cloud. They then offer detailed instructions on how to fix those issues effectively.

This way, your administrators don’t have to go through the pain of doing manual compliance checks. You save time and effort by working with a CSPM tool.

Use Prevasio to monitor CIS compliance.

Prevasio is a cloud-native application platform (CNAPP) that can help you achieve and maintain CIS compliance in various setups, including Azure, AWS, and GCP.  

A CNAPP is basically a CSPM tool on steroids. It combines the features of CSPM, CIEM, IAM, and CWPP tools into one solution. This means you’ll get clearer visibility of your cloud environment from one platform. 

Prevasio constantly assesses your system against the latest version of CIS benchmarks. It then generates reports showing areas that need adjustments to keep your cloud security cyber threat-proof.

This saves you time as you won’t have to do the compliance checks manually.

Prevasio also has a robust set of features to help you comply with standards from other regulatory bodies. So using this CSPM tool, you’ll automatically comply with HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR.

Prevasio offers strong vulnerability evaluation and management capabilities besides CIS compliance monitoring.
It uses cutting-edge scanning algorithms to find known flaws, incorrect setups, and other security problems in IT settings.

This can help you identify and fix vulnerabilities before fraudsters can exploit them.

The bottom line on CIS compliance

Achieving and maintaining CIS compliance is essential in today’s continually changing threat landscape.
However, doing the compliance checks manually takes time. You may not also spot weaknesses in your cloud security in time.

This means that you need to automate your CIS compliance. And what better solution than a cloud security posture management tool like Prevasio?

Prevasio is the ideal option for observing compliance and preventing malware that attack surfaces in cloud assets.

Prevasio offers a robust security platform to help you achieve CIS compliance and maintain a secure IT environment.
This platform is agentless, meaning it doesn’t run on the cloud like most of its competitors. So you save a lot in costs every time Prevasio runs a scan.

Prevaiso also conducts layer analysis. It helps you spot the exact line of code where the problem is rather than give a general area. In the process, saving you time spent identifying and solving critical threats.

Try Prevasio today!

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