SOC 2, ISO, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and FedRAMP Certifications From the DevOps Perspective 

SOC 2, ISO, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and FedRAMP Certifications From the DevOps Perspective

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Non-compliance can be extremely expensive. Fines, penalties, and fees can be incurred, and a damaged reputation can be hard to recover from. For example, in 2020, Morgan Stanley was fined $60 million for data privacy violations. However, staying compliant is more challenging than ever before, with many standards to be met. 

Fortunately, we have numerous successful projects in highly regulated industries under our belt. So we know that with the right approach and suitable solutions at hand, it’s possible to not just overcome these challenges but also make compliance processes much more efficient. How? We’ll talk about that later in this article.

For now, let’s take a step back and do a quick overview of software compliance.

Staying compliant in software development

Software compliance refers to software products abiding by the relevant regulatory standards. The majority of these are dedicated to a product’s security—so being compliant usually means your system has no security vulnerabilities and sensitive data is protected from unauthorized access. Since these are positives, even businesses that are not obligated to meet them tend to show off any certifications they have. 

Here are the most common software certifications:


  • The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is the US government-wide initiative to secure cloud services used by the United States federal government in a standardized way. So, if you are looking to offer IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS solutions to US government agencies, you are obliged to comply with FedRAMP.

  • SOC 2 is a voluntary standard designed for service providers that store client data in the cloud. SOC 2 compliance confirms that a cloud vendor or a SaaS provider has all the necessary security controls in place to protect customer data and ensure its integrity, availability, confidentiality, and privacy.

  • ISO sets standards for a variety of products, services, and processes, and IT security is on its list. ISO 9001 (Quality Management), ISO 27001 (Information Security, Cybersecurity, and Privacy Protection), and ISO 14001 (Environmental Management) might apply to your IT projects. While ISO is not a legal requirement, its standards naturally align with other regulations across industries. For example, ISO 27001 can help you advance in your GDPR compliance journey.

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) protects debit, credit, and cash card transactions, as well as cardholder data. All card brands require PCI DSS compliance from businesses and entities that deal with cardholder data. So, if you are, say, an e-commerce business that accepts and processes customer payments, be sure to have your PCI DSS compliance in place. 

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is designed to secure protected health information (PHI), which is any health data that can be used to identify a person. It sets standards for how an organization must collect, store, and share PHI. The key elements of HIPAA are the Privacy Rule (specifies who may access PHI, in what cases, and in what manner), the Security Rule (regulates the security measures for electronic PHI), and the Breach Notification Rule (outlines a set of actions in the case of PHI breach or leakage.)

Though all these standards differ based on the industry and coverage, you’ll face similar challenges adhering to them in today’s software development projects. Let's take a closer look at these challenges and where they stem from.

New tech, new problems: Why compliance is tough in 2022

Software compliance has never been easy. Nuanced spreadsheets, endless checklists, and cross-functional teams conducting myriad long meetups to understand how processes, policies, and workflows are actually executed—all at the end of the development cycle—were an integral part of compliance procedures. It was a long and cumbersome process, and quite often, teams ended up making changes in “non-compliant” parts of code. 

However, businesses put up with all these inconveniences of the given approach. Why? It worked—until the end of the epoch of on-premise hosting and monolith architectures. Today, modern development teams face new compliance challenges stemming from the advent of new technologies, such as cloud computing and microservices. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Cloud computing

While there are many reliable, compliant cloud solutions nowadays, you need to understand where the cloud provider’s responsibilities end and yours begin in terms of security and compliance. For example, research reveals that misconfiguration is the second-most widely spread reason for data breaches in cloud environments.

Ironically, another challenge stems from the attempts of cloud providers to help businesses achieve compliance. For example, Amazon provides separate cloud environments for businesses that abide by FedRAMP and other regulatory standards. To access such environments, you need to pass a screening process. Which adds to your compliance challenges. 

Microservices and containers 

Together with cloud computing, microservice architecture and the subsequent advent of containers—as one of the most popular ways to implement microservices—have made the life of developers easier. Individual software elements can be easily deployed independently without affecting the rest of the system. This allows developers to move fast. 

Sounds optimistic, right? Well, it isn’t so if you have to deal with a complex system consisting of thousands of containerized microservices while staying compliant. This adds roadblocks to your compliance journey. For example:

  • It’s hard to map traffic flows and runtime dependencies between microservices and identify a compliance gap.
  • It’s challenging to bridge compliance gaps without causing cascading failures and—as a result—downtime.
  • If development teams in your organization are free to choose any languages and frameworks for each microservice, managing security and compliance risks across microservices built using different tech stacks is a nightmare.
  • Multiple microservices make the attack surface huge. You need to secure each endpoint according to the best cybersecurity practices and regulations you are subject to. 

Additionally, container orchestration tools, if not managed properly, can pose another cybersecurity and non-compliance risk. 

The three compliance challenges of modern tech businesses

With the introduction of new technologies and practices into the development process, regulatory requirements didn’t become less strict: the over 300 sub-requirements of the PCI standard aren’t going anywhere, for example. And if you are a business that directly deals with credit card data, you need to comply with them all, across a myriad of microservices and containers. 

Clearly, the traditional way of approaching compliance—pushing it to the very end of the development lifecycle—doesn’t work anymore. Also, we can’t forget about compliance after product release and successful certification until the reassessment. Modern products are changing rapidly (otherwise, a business won’t survive the competition), and so are regulatory requirements. 

Besides this, sometimes continuous monitoring is a legal requirement standard. FedRAMP, for example, requires covered organizations to monitor their systems continuously to ensure the required risk posture.

As a result, modern companies that are subject to regulatory standards have three main tasks to resolve: 

resolve tasks

  1. Rolling out a secure software product that complies with all the applicable standards, regardless of its hosting type and the level of architecture complexity. 
  2. Monitoring the entire system’s compliance 24/7 post-release and preventing compliance gaps before they occur.
  3. Detecting and bridging compliance gaps before they have any effect.

And that’s where DevSecOps and continuous compliance come into play.

How to address compliance challenges with DevSecOps and continuous compliance

DevSecOps is an offshoot of DevOps. But unlike the latter, this approach integrates security initiatives at every stage of the software production pipeline and after the product release. That is, instead of stepping in only after all the coding is finished, security professionals participate in the product implementation, coordinating their efforts with development and operation teams from the very beginning. 

Continuous compliance is one of the key practices of DevSecOps. Aiming to weave the information security element into the entire product lifecycle, continuous compliance starts with defining compliance standards, security policies, and practices. After that, the company aims to fully achieve compliance. And finally, it maintains compliance on an ongoing basis. 

Let’s see how we can use DevSecOps and continuous compliance practices to achieve compliance within the cloud and microservice architecture setup. 

Shift left 

Checking security and compliance after all the development is done doesn’t work anymore. Instead, embrace the “shift left” approach, which implies taking care of security and compliance as early as possible. Ideally, rather than adjusting a ready-made solution to regulatory requirements, you should build your product based on these requirements. 

Besides, inserting regular static tests into the development process will allow you to check your code for security and compliance before executing it. 

Document and share 

The DevOps approach of documenting everything along the way and sharing it with everyone involved in the process also applies to DevSecOps and continuous compliance. Using solutions like Git, you can consolidate and track the documentation of those who release changes (ops) and those who implement them (devs).

GitLab, for example, takes documentation and process transparency in their SOC 2 compliance efforts to the next level: they make all the information about the product and how it is built available to everyone. If there’s information that needs to be kept confidential, they provide justification as to why this information can’t be public. 

They applied the same self-serve approach when undergoing the SOC 2 audit: they enabled auditors to self-serve as much information about their practices and procedures as possible, which helped them make things easier and faster for everyone involved in the process.

Embrace automation all the way 

Automation lies at the heart of DevOps, and the same applies to DevSecOps and continuous compliance. Automate everything that needs to and can be automated. For this purpose, it’s advisable to continuously monitor the software market for new solutions and weave the most efficient ones into your process. Basically, you should automate the entire continuous compliance pipeline, including:

  • Prevention. Prevent non-compliance by establishing rules. For example, to prevent defective Dockerfiles from entering your system, you can validate their compliance with your security policies using tools like OPA/conftest and a Dockerfile linter like Hadolint. Or you can secure your container orchestration solution, you can enforce some policies-as-code, such as “do not run untagged container images,” “run container images only from trusted sources,” and so on.

  • Monitoring. Monitor your system with customized compliance checks 24/7. With a robust automated solution, you can keep track of system logs, configuration, user access and identity management, adherence to regulation and best security practices, and beyond. If you are running containers, you can periodically check container images stored in your registry or monitor what’s going on in a cluster of containers managed by your container orchestration solution.

  • Detection. Use a solution that alerts you on every non-compliance incident, visualizes all the incidents, and sorts them by the relevant standard. 

  • Remediation. Wherever possible, enable automatic remediation of issues. For example, you can use self-healing practices for ensuring data integrity—a requirement of many regulatory standards. Here is how it usually works: two copies of the same data set are stored on two different storages synchronously, and a content-related hash value is assigned to each data set. Using the hash values, the system then continuously checks the integrity of all records. Once a flawed data set is identified, it’s automatically replaced with the valid one. 


Armed with DevSecOps practices, companies can efficiently address the main compliance challenges. The key requirement here is to enforce these practices wisely—otherwise, you risk wasting your budget on things that don’t work. 

If you don’t have the needed expertise in-house, ALPACKED is here to help you. Well-versed in FedRAMP, PCI DSS, SOC 2, and some of the other most required security certifications, our engineers will help you weave the DevSecOps element into your compliance journey, enabling you to stay 100% compliant at all times.

Final thoughts

With the introduction of cloud and microservices technologies, achieving full compliance with FedRAMP, PCI DSS, SOC 2, HIPAA, and other certifications has become a daunting task. The old way of taking care of compliance after the development process and forgetting about it until the next reassessment doesn’t work anymore. 

Instead, businesses need to integrate compliance processes into every stage of the product life cycle. They also need to continuously monitor a software product’s compliance and make real-time fixes whenever it’s necessary. And the wise enforcement of DevSecOps practices can help businesses achieve this level of control, speed, and flexibility in their compliance efforts.

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