Compliance

Leveraging the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF): What You Need to Know

Aneta Waberska|
Leveraging the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF): What You Need to Know

When organizations must meet the requirements of multiple, ever-changing regulations and frameworks, managing them independently is inefficient — and can quickly become an impossible task to manage. Staying on top of requirements that are constantly changing and often overlapping is a significant burden for most organizations. Instead of tackling multiple compliance requirements as independent projects, implementing a standardized compliance framework — such as the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)Ⓡ — that already accounts for overlapping standards sets up a more efficient method for managing multiple requirements. 

What Is the Unified Compliance Framework (UCF)?

The Unified Compliance Framework (UCF) is the largest database of interconnected controls and compliance source documents that facilitates compliance to multiple regulations and frameworks while automatically eliminating duplicative controls and testing caused by overlapping requirements. By aggregating international, local, and industry specific standards and regulations, the UCF provides a single point of reference for a modern compliance function to leverage. 

How Can We Leverage the Unified Compliance 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. Some organizations have attempted to map all of the required regulations and frameworks on their own. They often get lost in the details and find it difficult to interpret the 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 controls much faster. 

What Should I Know Before Adopting the Unified Compliance Framework?

Technology-enabled solutions like the UCF enable forward-thinking compliance professionals to more efficiently manage the complexities of today’s compliance programs. The UCF reduces administrative time required to implement and stay up to date with multiple frameworks by providing structured content and guidance, enables cross-standard mapping, and regularly updates framework requirements so you can stay up-to-date without the effort of reviewing updates yourself. Yet, no framework is perfect, especially since these are meant to provide a consistent starting point and shared understanding of a complex concept. It is important to keep in mind that standardized frameworks are guidance — not authority — and that you’ll still need to review the mapping in the context of your specific implementation to determine actual compliance and potential gaps.  

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

Obtaining an understanding of the individual framework content and mapping your organization’s controls is cumbersome. The UCF brings in structured content from various standards, frameworks, and regulations and links them through a standardized set of common controls. For common controls that require implementation, you can easily adopt those common controls as your own and implement them in your organization. The UCF also provides guidance and considerations for standards and controls with information from the source material.  

2. Save Time with Common Controls Mapped Across Standards

It’s time consuming to implement controls, add new requirements, and perform compliance assessments for each set of requirements separately. The UCF saves significant administrative time and resources by mapping a set of recommended common controls across standards, frameworks, and regulations and identifying the overlap for you. By leveraging one set of common controls, the UCF allows you to plan your compliance program to achieve maximum efficiency. For example, suppose you are required to comply with ISO 27001, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. In that case, the pre-mapped framework identifies the overlap through common controls so you can implement your controls and perform testing once to satisfy all the requirements simultaneously.  

3. Stay Up to Date with Continuous Framework Updates

Frameworks and regulations are updated over time — especially IT and cybersecurity standards that are frequently updated in reaction to new threats. It can require significant resources to keep up with changes across multiple frameworks and update your compliance program. The UCF continuously updates their mappings to align with the latest framework variations, identifying additional controls that must be implemented to remain compliant as requirements change, so you do not have to. 

4. Review the Mapping in the Context of Your Specific Implementation

The UCF provides a set of recommended common controls with framework overlap, but no standardized framework can completely account for your organization’s unique circumstances. These are meant to be guides — not a silver bullet. You’ll still need to review the mapping to determine actual compliance and potential gaps. 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 in your environment with your systems and with your strategic objectives.

For example, you might have implemented logical access controls for certain IT environments, but you have recently implemented a new system which needs to comply with PCI DSS standards. The UCF might indicate you already have the required controls in place, but they might not actually apply to the newly implemented system. It is critical for organizations to always review the recommended UCF cross-framework mappings considering the scope of implemented controls to determine actual compliance and potential gaps. 

5. Leverage Technology to Further Streamline Your Compliance Program

Managing compliance with multiple frameworks is difficult on its own. Add in the additional complexities of your organization’s unique scope, controls, and minimal resources, can make managing your compliance program appear as an impossible task. 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 the UCF controls but still lets you tailor your environment to your specific business needs. 

Is the UCF the Right Approach for You?

Only you can assess the benefit of aligning your compliance program to a comprehensive framework like UCF. When you do, the time savings and reduction in audit fatigue by everyone involved will be a significant factor in the decision-making process. If the approach works for your organization, you may be able to ease the audit fatigue caused by redundant, manual testing. 

Aneta Waberska

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.

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