Why security compliance is no longer a nice to have for UK startups

by owner

Security compliance (and particularly ISO 27001) is like the project in school you had the whole year to complete — and ended up starting in a panic the night before.

Given the time, resources, and complexity of completing the certification, it’s one of the things startup founders are most likely to put off for a later date in favour of growth-focused tasks like sales and product development.

What many don’t realise is that security compliance not only has a big impact on your company’s resilience to security breaches and data leaks but also your bottom line.

If you’re experiencing these signs, it might be time to start building your own security compliance programme:

1. You’re unable to close deals

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According to the UK’s Cyber Security longitudinal survey, it’s not the potential for cyberattacks that’s driving SMEs to obtain security compliance. Instead, more and more are finding that it’s become a contractual requirement to work with public sector bodies and large companies.

With cyberattacks on the rise across the UK, established brands are becoming much more vigilant about who they decide to do business with. In some cases, meeting security compliance criteria is essential just to bid on a contract.

More mature organisations will often require potential vendors and partners to be compliant with some of the main cybersecurity standards. As your business begins targeting larger enterprise deals, sales teams will often face difficult security questions and closed doors when expectations aren’t met. This can block your business from the revenue boost it needs to move from startup to fast-growing scaleup.

2. You aren’t following common best practices

Have you noticed your security practices differ greatly from your competitors and partners? Organisational inertia, process friction, and complexity make it difficult to introduce change once your business is already established. That’s why implementing the right processes from the start will save you a lot of time, headaches, and ultimately money.

3. Increasing regulatory or social pressure

Security regulations are continuously changing. If you’re in violation of a security standard, you could be at risk of being hit with a significant fine. Not only will this impact your finances, it could also slow down your business operations until changes can be made.

This is particularly the case if you’re in a field or area that’s highly contentious, high risk, or potentially viewed with a high level of scepticism. Keeping up to date with security compliance measures ensures you’re also up to date with the latest regulations.

4. You’re unable to answer security questionnaires fully or transparently

Whether you’re communicating with current or potential customers, not being able to answer questions about your security is a sign of business immaturity and a red flag for prospects.

At the same time, having a strong security programme in place is becoming a new selling point for UK startups, helping them to fend off cyberattacks and build trust with new customers.

Making security compliance your competitive advantage

According to the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), ransomware attacks and data leaks are on the rise with UK businesses suffering major losses.

While it was long thought that large enterprises were the main target of cyberattacks, the UK’s startups are experiencing a rapid uptick in security concerns and data breaches. According to a study by Vodafone, more than half (54%) of SMEs in the UK had experienced some form of cyberattack in 2022, up from 39% in 2020.

Despite the worsening security landscape (and the potential for fines), a government survey found only 32% of UK businesses have one or more security certifications.

Break down of standards or certifications adhered to by organisations in the UK
Source: The Cyber Security Longitudinal Survey 2022

As larger enterprises feel the pressure to introduce strict security measures to keep customer data safe, startups that want to land growth-driving deals will need to prove they can be trusted.

And with so few startups on the market with compliance certifications, those that do prioritise security can gain a competitive advantage.

Similarly, startups looking to expand to new markets could benefit from adopting local security practices. For example, SOC 2 is a standard that’s become common business practice in North America.

The main factor holding startups back from security compliance from the start is the perceived complexity.

Many don’t know the difference between some of the most common security frameworks, like ISO 27001 and SOC 2, and which are most relevant for them. Others aren’t sure how to get started building a strong security programme.

Luckily, trust management platform Vanta created a handy guide for UK startups including:

  • How to determine which security framework is right for you
  • Steps for starting a security compliance programme
  • How to take advantage of compliance automation

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