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How StackHawk Meets Compliance Requirements
for Highly Regulated Industries with
Security Compliance Automation


StackHawk|May 22, 2023

In this blog, we break down what security compliance means across various industries and how StackHawk helps highly-regulated industries meet the guidelines of security compliance.

In today's fast-paced digital landscape, meeting compliance requirements has become increasingly crucial for most organizations. This is especially true when operating in highly regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, and retail. As a result, businesses are looking to solutions that automate security compliance, in an effort to prioritize their security posture and reduce the risk of data breaches or regulatory penalties.

By focusing on building a strong application security, or AppSec, program, your organization can strengthen and solidify its overall security posture. Making sure the overall health and efficiency of the AppSec program is in a good spot, factors such as compliance requirements will fall into place. By building the cornerstones of a solid AppSec program, almost all requirements for compliance will be met by default.

But how does one go about actually building a strong AppSec program to ensure that these needs are met? This is where StackHawk comes in to help. By providing businesses with the tools they need to automate and scale while simplifying their security compliance processes, StackHawk can help to identify and assist developers in remedying compliance gaps. In this blog, we will explain what security compliance is across various industries, the consequences of not adhering to these standards, and how StackHawk can help to improve security outcomes when it comes to highly-regulated industries trying to meet the guidelines of security compliance. We will not only delve into StackHawk's innovative approach to dynamic application security testing and its relevance to security compliance automation but also showcase how it can help companies across various sectors stay ahead of the compliance curve.

By building the most robust dynamic application security testing tools in the industry and a deep understanding of industry-specific regulations, StackHawk is transforming the way organizations address not only their security challenges and drive their compliance goals. We will explore the key features and benefits of StackHawk's platform and demonstrate how it can be customized to suit the unique requirements of your business. This approach helps to ensure that your sensitive data remains secure and your organization remains compliant in an ever-changing regulatory landscape.

So, whether you're a seasoned compliance expert or just starting to explore the world of regulatory requirements, join us as we uncover the power of StackHawk's applications security automation and learn how it can help your organization effectively manage compliance while enhancing your overall security posture.

Understanding Security Compliance in Highly Regulated Industries

The first step to ensuring you’ve met the compliance needs of your industry is to fully understand them. Of course, there’s only so much we can cover in a single blog so further research is recommended, however, below we will cover the basics. Compliance requirements are essential for maintaining security and privacy standards in highly regulated industries. As such, below we will discuss some of the most common regulations and compliance standards, such as HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, and SOX. Ensuring that your company is complying with these standards makes sure that sensitive data is protected as necessary and avoids the legal penalties that can come with non-compliance. Let’s dig into some of the most common standards and the details surrounding them.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

One of the most talked about regulations in the US is achieving HIPAA compliance. HIPAA is a US regulation that aims to protect the privacy and security of patient medical records and other health information and has been in force since 1996. It applies to healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses, as well as their business associates. In a technical forum, this can encompass how services are hosted, how data is encrypted in transit and at rest, and access control. In some settings, it may even affect how code is written.

Some key requirements for HIPAA compliance include:

  • Implementing administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect electronic protected health information (ePHI)

  • Establishing access controls to prevent unauthorized access to ePHI

  • Regularly monitoring and auditing systems to detect potential security incidents

  • Ensuring secure transmission of ePHI across networks

By following these requirements and guidelines, you can avoid some of the hefty penalties that would come with non-compliance. From a civil perspective, a breach of HIPAA compliance could lead to fines ranging from $100 up to $50,000 per violation up to $1.5 million per year for each violation category. The exact amount fined depends on the company's level of culpability and efforts to correct the violation. When it comes to criminal penalties, individuals who knowingly and willfully violate HIPAA regulations can face fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

A more recent regulation, GDPR has had a major impact on technology and data since 2018 when it started being enforced. GDPR is a comprehensive data protection regulation that applies to organizations operating within the European Union or processing the personal data of EU residents. Its main objectives are to enhance privacy rights and provide better control over personal data. For companies that do any type of business with EU residents, GDPR is a big deal.

Some of the key points of enforcement within the GDPR regulation include:

  • Ensuring lawful, fair, and transparent processing of personal data

  • Limiting data collection to what is necessary for the specified purpose (data minimization)

  • Implementing appropriate security measures to protect personal data against unauthorized access, disclosure, or destruction

  • Reporting data breaches to the relevant supervisory authority within 72 hours

  • Obtaining explicit consent from data subjects before processing their data, unless another lawful basis applies

When it comes to non-compliance, fines are tiered, with the maximum fine being up to €20 million or 4% of the organization's global annual turnover, whichever is higher, for the most severe violations. Lesser violations can result in fines of up to €10 million or 2% of the organization's global annual turnover. Aside from the monetary penalties, data protection authorities can also impose other corrective measures, such as warnings, reprimands, and orders to comply with specific GDPR requirements. Non-compliance is taken very seriously, as seen in the penalties listed above.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) (H3)

Since 2004, PCI DSS has been the global security standard used to protect cardholder data in the payment industry. The standard came out of the need to standardize the different practices in place to protect cardholder information. Various standards at MasterCard, American Express, Visa, JCB International, and Discover Financial Services led to the creation and development of the PCI standards used today. PCI DSS applies to all entities involved in payment card processing, including merchants, processors, acquirers, and service providers. 

Some key requirements of PCI DSS include:

  • Implementing strong access control measures to restrict access to cardholder data

  • Regularly testing and monitoring network resources and cardholder data environments for vulnerabilities

  • Maintaining a secure network by installing and configuring firewalls and routers

  • Ensuring the secure transmission of cardholder data across public networks

  • Implementing robust encryption methods to protect stored cardholder data

The fines that come with a breach or non-compliance with PCI DSS can range from $5,000 to $100,000 per month for non-compliant merchants. The exact fine depends on the level of non-compliance and the duration of the violation. The more significant consequences are potentially increased transaction fees, damage to the organization's reputation, and even the revocation of the organization's ability to accept card payments.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX

The last compliance standard we will look at is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, usually shortened to SOX. SOX is a US federal law enacted to protect investors from fraudulent accounting activities by corporations. SOX applies to all publicly traded companies and also applies to their auditors. While SOX primarily focuses on financial reporting and corporate governance, it also has implications for IT security and operations. 

A few key SOX requirements include:

  • Establishing and maintaining internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR)

  • Regularly assessing and testing the effectiveness of ICFR

  • Ensuring the secure storage and retention of electronic records and audit logs

  • Implementing access controls to prevent unauthorized access to financial data and systems

  • Protecting sensitive data through encryption and other security measures

The consequences of non-compliance with SOX include both civil and criminal penalties. 

Civil penalties include significant fines, with CEOs and CFOs personally liable for financial statement inaccuracies. The fines imposed for violations can range from $1 million to $5 million.

Criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly and willfully violate SOX regulations can face imprisonment for up to 20 years, depending on the specific violation.

Understanding and complying with these common regulations is crucial for organizations operating in highly regulated industries. By implementing the necessary security measures and best practices, businesses can safeguard sensitive data, maintain customer trust, and avoid costly penalties.

In addition to the fines and penalties discussed above, organizations that fail to comply with regulatory requirements may also suffer reputational damage, loss of customer trust, and potential legal action from affected parties. For large and publicly exposed infractions, the damage could lead to an organization completely going under and dissolving. Consequently, organizations need to prioritize compliance with these regulations to avoid costly consequences and maintain a strong security posture. Most companies who fall under these regulations publicly declare their compliance to instill trust within their customer base.

StackHawk's Security Compliance Automation Features

StackHawk's various features for improving application and API security via automation provide organizations with the tools they need to efficiently manage and maintain compliance with various regulatory requirements. By automating security compliance checks and monitoring, StackHawk streamlines the process of identifying and addressing vulnerabilities. By implementing a dynamic application security testing (DAST) tool, StackHawk automatically tests APIs and applications to that organizations maintain a strong security posture.

Key features of StackHawk that can be used as part of security compliance automation include:

Continuous Testing

StackHawk’s platform offers dynamic application security testing for web applications and APIs offering automated and continuous testing during the development stages to identify security vulnerabilities in real-time and prior to deployment. This proactive approach helps organizations address potential vulnerabilities and compliance issues as well as requirements such as PCI 6.6. By doing this, companies can reduce the likelihood of data breaches and security incidents that could lead to non-compliance with regulatory requirements.

Automated Reporting

StackHawk generates detailed and comprehensive reports of its security scans, providing a clear record of the application vulnerabilities detected and level of severity which may affect security and compliance. These automatic reports not only help organizations maintain a clear view of their security posture but also serve as valuable evidence during audits. When a vulnerability is remedied and code is committed, StackHawk will scan the application again to ensure the vulnerability is fixed. This functionality can help organizations demonstrate their commitment to maintaining compliance and creating secure applications.

Integration with CI/CD Pipelines

StackHawk takes DAST and security testing automation to the next level by integrating directly into a CI/CD stack. StackHawk is designed to fit seamlessly into existing Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, embedding security testing within the software development process. By adding StackHawk as a step in the CI/CD pipeline, development teams can automatically run security scans on their applications whenever code changes are pushed into a repository. This ensures that vulnerabilities are detected and addressed early in the development lifecycle when the code is first created and added to the application. This “shifting left” of security puts the onus on developers to make the fixes and create secure code, minimizing the risk of non-compliance and reducing the time and effort required to remediate issues.

Customizable Scans

The ability to customize scans is another feature that makes StackHawk a great way to ensure you are covering all the bases during development. By configuring the platform to meet the unique security and compliance requirements of their industry, organizations can ensure that their applications and infrastructure adhere to the relevant regulations. Customizing the scans is easy to do and allows organizations and developers to dial in their automated testing efforts to ensure security requirements are met, no matter how complex or obscure.

Developer-Centric Insights

StackHawk is built with developers in mind, providing clear and actionable insights that enable quick remediation of vulnerabilities. By empowering developers to address security and compliance issues within their existing workflows, StackHawk helps organizations maintain compliance more efficiently and effectively. Within every vulnerability report, there are suggestions and links to aid developers in understanding, reproducing and fixing found vulnerabilities easily. Developers can move from testing to understanding, to fixing.  Issues that can be fixed later can be added to a ticket for tracking in their favorite tool, such as Jira. By easily integrating into familiar developer workflows, StackHawk offers developers an augmented security experience on their home turf.

Integrating StackHawk with Existing Systems and Processes

As mentioned in the previous section, StackHawk is designed to easily integrate with existing systems and processes. This ability makes it a seamless addition to an organization's security and compliance workflows. StackHawk’s platform has been built with developers in mind and offers integrations with popular developer tools, compatibility with various programming languages and platforms, and the ability to fit into existing CI/CD flows. This makes developers love our product since it ensures that StackHawk can enhance security practices without disrupting established processes. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these areas.

For a tool to be easily adopted, it needs to fit into the current architecture and tooling that an organization is using. The StackHawk API exposes an OpenAPI specification that can be referenced for automation or research purposes. StackHawk's API allows organizations to easily integrate the platform with their existing systems and applications for ultimate flexibility. 

Beyond the API, StackHawk offers out-of-the-box integrations with popular tools like Jira, Slack, and GitHub. These integrations enable streamlined workflows and improved collaboration between development and security teams. The result allows organizations to address vulnerabilities more effectively and maintain their compliance most efficiently within their common workflows.  As StackHawk and the developer landscape evolve, StackHawk continues to build integrations with tools the developers love to make sure developers get the best experience possible, making DAST accessible and effective.

Compatibility with Various Programming Languages and Platforms

StackHawk is agnostic to web programming languages and platforms, ensuring that organizations can use it regardless of their technology stack. This flexibility enables businesses to leverage StackHawk's security testing capabilities without needing to make significant changes to their existing infrastructure or development processes. In the vulnerability reports that StackHawk generates, fix guides are also provided in a variety of languages to help users identify and implement fixes quickly.

Integration with Existing CI/CD Flows

The key differentiator for StackHawk’s modern DAST solution is the ability to fit nicely into existing CI/CD workflows. StackHawk is designed to fit seamlessly into existing Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, allowing organizations to embed security testing within their software development process. By adding StackHawk as a step in the CI/CD pipeline, development teams can automatically run security scans on their applications whenever code changes are committed and pushed to a repository. 

Setting up StackHawk within a CI/CD pipeline is simple and generally only requires a few steps. At a high-level, integrating StackHawk into a CI/CD pipeline looks like this:

a. Install StackHawk's scanner (HawkScan) in your CI/CD environment.

b. Configure the scanner by creating a `stackhawk.yml` configuration file, specifying the application details, target environment, and relevant security tests.

c. Add a step to your CI/CD pipeline to run HawkScan whenever code changes are pushed, using the configuration file created earlier.

d. Monitor the results and integrate them into your existing notification, issue tracking, and reporting processes.

For more details on this integration, check out our in-depth docs or contact our team.

StackHawk's flexibility and compatibility make it an ideal solution for organizations looking to enhance their security and compliance processes without disrupting existing workflows. Its API, integrations with popular tools, support for various programming languages and platforms, and seamless integration with CI/CD pipelines ensure that StackHawk can be easily adopted and implemented by development and security teams, fostering a proactive approach to security and compliance management.

StackHawk's Role in Simplifying Compliance Audits

StackHawk plays a pivotal role in simplifying compliance audits for highly regulated industries, such as those subject to HIPAA, PCI DSS, and other regulatory frameworks. Its automated documentation and reporting features, along with its proactive approach to ensuring compliance requirements are met, help streamline the audit process. By helping to ensure compliance and application security, organizations will benefit from the reduced chances of penalties and fines. StackHawk can help with supplementing compliance audits with the following ways:

Automated Documentation

StackHawk's platform generates detailed and comprehensive documentation of its security scans, providing a clear record of the vulnerabilities detected, remediation efforts, and any outstanding issues. This automated documentation not only helps organizations maintain a clear view of their security posture but also serves as valuable evidence during audits, demonstrating their commitment to maintaining compliance.

Reporting Features

StackHawk offers user-friendly reporting features that make it easy for organizations to review, analyze, and communicate their security findings. These reports can be tailored to the specific requirements of different regulatory frameworks, helping organizations present relevant information clearly and concisely during audits. Additionally, these reports can be easily shared with auditors, further streamlining the audit process.

Ensuring Compliance Requirements Are Met

StackHawk's continuous monitoring capabilities allow organizations to proactively identify and address vulnerabilities in real time, reducing the likelihood of data breaches and security incidents that can lead to non-compliance. By continuously testing applications and APIs, StackHawk helps organizations ensure they adhere to the security requirements set forth by regulations like HIPAA and PCI DSS.

Customizable Scans

As mentioned previously, StackHawk's platform can be customized to meet the specific security and compliance requirements of different industries and regulations. By configuring the platform to focus on the relevant security controls and standards, organizations can ensure that their applications and infrastructure meet the stringent requirements of their respective regulatory frameworks.

Real-World Examples of StackHawk in Highly Regulated Industries

By continuously testing web applications for potential security vulnerabilities, StackHawk can effectively minimize risks and ensure compliance with industry-specific regulations. DAST tools can be utilized by almost every application to uncover vulnerabilities. The wide applicability of StackHawk means that it can have a positive impact on the security of applications across many different verticals. Here are some real-world scenarios in which StackHawk’s DAST tool can be effectively utilized:

Financial Services Industry

Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions must adhere to strict regulations such as GDPR, GLBA, and PCI DSS, including PCI 6.6 which emphasizes security for web applications. StackHawk can automatically and continuously monitor web applications and API code for security vulnerabilities. By adding StackHawk into the development process, the protection of sensitive customer data and maintaining regulatory compliance at the code and application level can be ensured.

Healthcare Industry

As we saw earlier, healthcare providers must comply with regulations like HIPAA and HITECH to protect patient information. StackHawk can automatically test Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems and patient portals for security issues and identify these to the developers building the applications. This means that by the time the system hits production security vulnerabilities are remedied and confidential patient data remains protected.

E-commerce and Retail Industry

Although we tend to see a lot of breaches in this sector, online and brick-and-mortar retailers must comply with PCI DSS to protect customer payment information. Automated testing and reporting through StackHawk can identify vulnerabilities in e-commerce platforms and payment gateways. This automation can help businesses maintain compliance, protect customer data, and retain customer trust which can be shattered by a single breach.

In each of these scenarios, StackHawk can provide continuous testing to identify security vulnerabilities, helping organizations in highly regulated industries scale application security compliance via automation. By integrating StackHawk into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and existing workflows, these industries can efficiently address security concerns, minimize risks, and stay compliant with ever-evolving regulations.

Ensuring Ongoing Compliance with StackHawk's Continuous Testing

Since applications are forever changing and new code is committed daily, even hourly, continuous testing through automated DAST testing is essential. Continuous testing of application code is essential for maintaining compliance in the face of an ever-evolving regulatory landscape. Many companies view testing as something done when applications hit production but when it comes to security, this is often too late. By testing and reporting on the security of an application, as it is being built, potential security issues at the application level can be handled immediately. The importance of the continuous testing of applications with StackHawk can be highlighted through the following key points:

Detecting Vulnerabilities in Real-Time

By continuously testing an application’s security as it is being built, organizations can promptly identify security vulnerabilities in their applications. This proactive approach enables them to address these vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Proactively identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they hit production helps reduce the likelihood of data breaches and ensures ongoing compliance with regulatory requirements that can be verified through StackHawk. Layering StackHawk with other security testing tools such as a static application security testing tool, like Snyk, and monitoring tools, such as Sentry, can help to build a well-rounded security framework.

Adapting to Changing Regulations

As regulations evolve to address new security threats and technological advancements, organizations must adapt their security practices accordingly. Continuous testing allows businesses to stay informed about changes in regulatory requirements and adjust their security posture as needed, ensuring ongoing compliance and reducing the risk of non-compliance penalties. With StackHawk, if regulations change, testing can be customized to meet the new requirements. Once the customization is live, future code flowing through the CI/CD pipeline will be tested to meet these new requirements.

Supporting DevOps and Agile methodologies

Modern software development processes, such as DevOps and agile methodologies, emphasize rapid deployment and continuous improvement. Continuous security testing, including StackHawk’s DAST tool, aligns with these processes by providing real-time feedback on potential vulnerabilities through robust reporting and integration with other tools like Jira and Slack. With this approach, development teams are enabled to address issues quickly and maintain compliance throughout the software development lifecycle. By implementing a “shift left” approach to security testing and integrating it into automated developer workflows, StackHawk can ensure that applications are compliant earlier in the development lifecycle.

Demonstrating Due Diligence

By implementing continuous testing, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a robust security posture and adhering to regulatory requirements. This not only helps avoid fines and penalties but also builds trust with customers, partners, and other stakeholders. With StackHawk, reports are generated with every scan so the security of an application and the development efforts to improve it are well documented. This security due diligence, especially being applied early in the software development lifecycle before code hits production, helps assure customers that an organization takes data security and regulatory compliance seriously.

Streamlining Audits and Reporting

As mentioned previously, continuous testing generates a wealth of data on an organization's security practices and compliance status. This information can be invaluable during audits, simplifying the process of demonstrating compliance to regulators and reducing the time and resources needed to complete the audit. StackHawk’s reports are retained as long as your StackHawk subscription is active, giving the customer flexibility to delete scans and report data at their leisure. This retention period also offers an audit trail for security compliance that can easily be traced back even if audits dig deep into an application’s security history. Generating a report to outline the current status of an application is done upon every commit so seeing trends from the past up until the most recent commit is easy to do.

To wrap up this section, continuous testing is crucial for organizations looking to maintain compliance in a constantly changing regulatory environment. By implementing security testing tools like DAST, businesses can effectively and efficiently identify and address application vulnerabilities, adapt to new regulations, and demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a strong security posture.


In conclusion, security testing automation is a critical aspect of maintaining a robust security posture and adhering to regulatory requirements in highly regulated industries. StackHawk, with its innovative approach to dynamic application security testing and the ability to continuously test for vulnerabilities in an application as it’s being built, offers a powerful solution for organizations looking to streamline their application security processes and stay ahead of potential compliance issues.

By leveraging StackHawk's platform, businesses can benefit from run-time vulnerability detection in their code as an application is being built. Through seamless integration with CI/CD pipelines, developer-centric insights, comprehensive API testing, and streamlined reporting and auditing, StackHawk helps companies stay secure and compliant by “shifting left” the burden of application security. These features not only help organizations meet the stringent compliance requirements of regulations like HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS, and SOX but also reduce the risk of costly fines, reputational damage, and legal consequences. By detecting vulnerabilities early, applications are also more secure out of the gate and cost less to build and maintain.

With its focus on security compliance automation and adaptability to the unique needs of highly regulated industries, StackHawk empowers organizations to build secure applications, safeguard their sensitive data, and maintain customer trust. To try out StackHawk for yourself, sign up today for a 14-day free trial to “shift left” and get a jumpstart on meeting compliance requirements through automation.

StackHawk  |  May 22, 2023

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