Leveraging the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)

Leveraging the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)

Faced with the requirements of a myriad of dynamic regulations and frameworks, GRC teams may find themselves feeling like they’re buried in citations and standards. HIPAA, NIST, GDPR, SOC, SOX, ISO — these are just a few of the control sets and frameworks that companies may need to comply with, whether they’re budding SaaS companies or established enterprises. Managing each framework independently is inefficient, leading to redundancies, discrepancies in risk management between business units, and a bloated set of controls. Organizations might try to tackle this problem with their own custom mappings, but since these are bespoke to the company, they do not necessarily translate organically across all types of frameworks and compliance methodologies — which can adversely affect an audit or attestation effort, like SOC. 

There’s an alternative. Instead of tackling multiple compliance requirements as independent projects, implementing a standardized compliance framework that already accounts for overlapping requirements and takes into account hundreds of different regulations— like the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) Ⓡ — offers a solution for streamlining and and meeting multiple mandates.  To learn how the Unified Compliance Framework can help your organization manage its compliance goals and obligations, read on.

What Is the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)?

The Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) is the largest library database of compliance documents in the world, including 1,000 mapped Authority Documents, and created and operated under Network Frontiers. The UCF is a commercially available Common Controls framework, and the company offers four products in their effort to “aggregate and harmonize” compliance, including:

  • UCF Common Controls Hub – Allows users to compile controls lists across various standards and generate templates aligned with the selected controls.
  • UCF Research – Allows users to search and view relationships between data elements in the Unified Compliance Frameworks, such as the connection between Authority Documents, individual mandates, and Citations.
  • UCF Mapper – Allows users to map different compliance requirements to the Common Controls framework.
  • UCF API – Allows users and developers to interact with Network Frontiers’ database through API interactions.

Image: UCF Products

The organization’s goal was to “harmonize compliance” and make it so that companies could leverage the efforts they’d put into meeting one mandate and apply it to others to the extent possible. By aggregating international, local, and industry specific standards and regulations, the UCF would provide a single point of reference for a modern compliance function to leverage.  Ideally, control redundancy would fall, and the process of scoping and maintaining compliance would simplify, reducing time and costs.  

It was important to the founders of the Unified Compliance Framework to take a systematic and semi-scientific approach to the distillation of compliance requirements, and they began with breaking them down to their core components and identifying 19 core elements that formed the foundation of the UCF. Currently, the Unified Compliance Framework provides the basis for the GRC products of companies like IBM, McAfee, HP, and RSA Archer.

How Can You Leverage the Unified Compliance Framework and the Common Controls Hub?

Use the Common Controls Framework

Any organization facing a compliance requirement can benefit from using the UCF. Having visibility into the intersections across frameworks makes it possible to eliminate redundant controls and testing caused by overlapping requirements. The UCF provides an alternative for companies that want to map all of the required regulations and frameworks to meet their needs. Bespoke mappings often get lost in the details and make it difficult to interpret requirements to find commonalities between them. The work is time-intensive and may require outsourcing to professional services companies. Utilizing a pre-mapped tool like the UCF alleviates the burden and allows you to implement optimized processes from the UCF Common Controls Hub much faster. 

Integrate Disparate Compliance Functions with Shared Terminology

The UCF kills multiple birds with one stone, and offers companies a common language, methodology, and taxonomy for managing multiple compliance frameworks in addition to reducing redundancy and duplicative efforts. Through the UCF, a professional accustomed to speaking in terms of IT compliance or information security can more clearly communicate with a professional that lives in the world of business processes or financial controls. Using the UCF, companies and teams can better integrate their GRC and security efforts.

Access Updates, Research, and Mapping

With the full suite of UCF products, users can easily access the latest compliance updates; research terms, standards, and citations; and create mappings between frameworks of interest. Network Frontiers, the company that runs the Unified Compliance Framework products, and the founders of the framework intended for the UCF to be exacting and directly tied to the Authority Documents and citations — updates to those documents are captured in the Unified Compliance Framework database and mapping occurs daily. Through UCF solutions, companies can stay ahead of regulatory changes and gain access to a repository of reliable, vetted, and up-to-date compliance information.

The InfoSec Survival Guide: Achieving Continuous Compliance

​​​​​​What Should You Consider Before Adopting the Unified Compliance Framework?

Technology-enabled solutions like the UCF enable forward-thinking compliance professionals to efficiently manage the complexities of today’s manifold compliance programs. The UCF reduces the administrative time required to implement and stay current with multiple frameworks. From providing structured content and guidance to enabling cross-standard mapping, to regularly updating framework requirements, companies can rely on the Unified Compliance Framework for accurate, well-researched data. 

Yet, no framework is perfect; they’re meant to provide a consistent starting point and shared understanding of a complex discipline. It is important to keep in mind that frameworks are guidance — not authority — and that you’ll still need to review mappings, controls design, and processes in the context of your specific implementation to meet requirements and remediate potential gaps. 

Here are a few reasons to consider the Unified Compliance Framework for your organization: 

1. Get Structured Content and Comprehensive Guidance — All in One Place

Obtaining an understanding of individual framework content and mapping your organization’s controls to the source material is cumbersome and time-consuming. The UCF brings in structured content from various standards, frameworks, and regulations (in the form of mapped Authority Documents) and links them through a standardized set of controls. Using the UCF’s common controls, you can select the right control for the specific set of compliance challenges your company faces, then obtain and follow the guidance provided through the interconnected database. Guidance from the UCF incorporates best practices from source material too, so your team can rest assured that they are meeting each individual mandate for each compliance initiative.

2. Save Time with Common Controls Mapped Across Standards

It’s not straightforward to apply one control to new requirements or additional compliance standards. To ensure that the control fully met that requirement(s), a team might be required to perform a compliance assessment, or even perform testing over the control. The UCF saves significant administrative time and resources by mapping a set of recommended common controls across standards, frameworks, and regulations and identifying any overlap for users. Instead of vetting common controls on your own, the UCF provides research-backed guidance that can support your assertions. Since the UCF is widely known and leveraged by existing GRC platforms, their control mappings have a degree of oversight and review. By leveraging one set of common controls, the UCF allows you to plan your compliance program to achieve maximum efficiency. 

As an example, companies that seek to comply with ISO 27001HIPAA, and PCI DSS have a big task ahead of them. These standards and regulations overlap to an extent, but also have requirements and citations that are unique to each. In this case, the UCF can help that organization identify the controls that overlap and the controls that are unique for these three sets of standards. Now, instead of implementing three sets of controls for three sets of standards, an organization could feasibly bundle all three initiatives into an integrated compliance program. 

3. Stay Up to Date with Continuous Updates

Frameworks and regulations are updated over time — especially IT compliance and cybersecurity standards. These must be frequently updated in response to the emergence of new threats. It can require significant resources to keep up with changes across multiple frameworks and update your compliance program accordingly. The UCF continuously updates its mappings to align with the latest framework variations and guidance. Using the UCF suite of solutions means that your organization can leverage its updated guidance instead of taking on the task internally. 

4. Review Mapping in the Context of Your Implementation

The UCF provides a set of recommended common controls that address overlapping standards , but no standardized framework can completely account for your organization’s unique circumstances. You’ll still need to review the mapping to determine that compliance requirements are being met and gaps are accounted for. Failing to do so may result in a false assertion about your compliance posture, and could negatively impact external audit or examination outcomes. Implemented controls need to fit into your environment, your systems, and with your strategic objectives.

Make Use of Technology to Streamline Your Compliance Program

Managing compliance with multiple frameworks is difficult on its own. Even the Unified Compliance Framework doesn’t provide a silver bullet for implementing and maintaining controls for a complex compliance landscape. The intricacies of your organization’s unique scope, controls, structure, and available resources can make managing your compliance program seem labyrinthine. 

Implementing the right security compliance software can help your organization streamline your compliance program and free up resources to work on value-add activities. Compliance management software gives you the flexibility to take advantage of UCF controls, while still letting you tailor your environment to your specific business needs. Collaborate with AuditBoard today and crush your compliance challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Unified Compliance Framework

What is the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)?

The Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) is the largest library database of compliance documents in the world, created to “harmonize” compliance and establish a database of common controls.

How can we leverage the Unified Compliance Framework?

Companies can leverage the Unified Compliance Framework by taking advantage of common controls to address multiple standards; integrating and centralizing siloed compliance efforts through shared terminology; and accessing and applying the updates, research, and mappings provided by the UCF.

What should I know before adopting the Unified Compliance Framework?

Before adopting the Unified Compliance Framework, your organization should consider the different standards they have to meet; the resources they have available; and how the UCF can help meet those goals and make the best use of those resources.


Aneta Waberska, CISA, leads the product strategy efforts for CrossComply. Aneta brings almost 15 years of experience across security audit and compliance domains to lead product development efforts leveraging her industry experience, managing audit, risk and compliance programs for companies of all sizes. Connect with Aneta on LinkedIn.