The modern cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, with newer security threats emerging frequently and regulatory requirements changing to address them. As a result, tackling consistent threats is often considered one of the most effort-intensive tasks of an organization. This essentially starts with an organization’s cybersecurity team being tasked with assessing the effectiveness of existing security controls against emerging external and insider threats. To help with this, cyber security audits assess an enterprise system’s security posture, including the levels of security risk, adherence to compliance regulations, and the effectiveness of cybersecurity policies against potential threats.
This article discusses the basics of a comprehensive security audit process, various aspects of an audit plan, audit types, and best practices for continuous auditing.
What is a Cybersecurity Audit?
A cybersecurity audit provides a comprehensive assessment of information systems to evaluate compliance and identify gaps in security policy implementation. The auditing process involves closely examining the firm’s digital assets and security controls to ensure they satisfy compliance standards requirements. Besides offering insights into existing security vulnerabilities, a comprehensive audit also includes mitigation actions to mitigate cyber threats.
An effective audit plan evaluates five core aspects of security:
- Operations – Encompasses the operational framework’s cybersecurity policies, security practices, and controls. Operational security includes providing comprehensive safeguards on various infrastructure assets’ procedural, functional, and administrative functions.
- Network Security – Security posture evaluation of network resources and other systems that can be accessed from the internet. A thorough network security audit analyzes network availability, device access control, infrastructure security, and the overall performance of network assets.
- Data – Encompasses the security measures and tools involved in protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data within the business network. Data security typically includes TLS encryption, authentication & authorization controls, and security practices used to protect critical business data in transit and at rest.
- System – Refers to the level of security implementation in hardware assets, operating systems, and other critical infrastructure within the network. System security audits review the patching process, device access management, and the management of elevated permissions.
- Physical Security – Preventive actions and controls put in place to govern access to application data, software, and hardware assets. Physical security measures also protect enterprise personnel from potential threats that could result in loss or compromise of business systems. Comprehensive cyber security audits evaluate multiple aspects of physical security, including surveillance procedures, access control, and physical disk backups.
Benefits of Cybersecurity Audits
An effective cybersecurity audit program helps evaluate and improve the security of enterprise systems, networks, connected devices, and underlying data. Some benefits of performing a comprehensive audit process include:
Helps to identify gaps in security
During a cybersecurity audit, security experts probe business systems for potential risks that can lead to breaches and business disruptions. The auditing process includes continuously monitoring the entire business network to detect and identify flaws that can be exploited for an attack. Exposing weaknesses and high-risk policies helps security analysts create risk management plans and improvise an existing cybersecurity strategy.
Satisfying compliance regulations
All enterprise systems that process information are guided by security compliance frameworks and governance institutes, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COIRT). Such frameworks outline compliance audits as a statutory requirement, which help reduces the company’s legal risk. Compliance audits determine whether the organization adheres to these frameworks’ policies, rules, and guidelines.
Enforces business continuity
A comprehensive cybersecurity audit helps identify security gaps that can be exploited to orchestrate attacks and document possible mitigations for an exploit. Security professionals and operators rely on audit analytics to administer appropriate security mechanisms for regaining control of key infrastructure already compromised by malicious actors. A security audit includes backup and disaster recovery plans to ensure business systems are available during a security breach. The process ensures minimal business disruptions even in an active attack.
Improves reputational value
Cybersecurity issues damage an organization’s reputation since users avoid trusting a company if it can’t secure its digital assets. When attackers obtain user accounts or organizational data, they can access sensitive information and key infrastructure, leading to data breaches, application availability, and intellectual property theft. Through regular audits, organizations can proactively identify and fix cybersecurity threats in the business network, earning public trust. Compliance audits also evaluate how the firm adheres to regulatory requirements and security standards, featuring the company’s performance within its industry.
Powers organization-wide training and cyber security awareness
A comprehensive audit includes a catalog of the enterprise’s software and hardware assets. The inventory consists of documentation of the security posture and potential risks of all components used within the business network, enabling everyone to envisage the organization’s security threats. Audits also provide security experts with the tools and knowledge needed to improve the organization’s cybersecurity framework. In addition, the audit process provides a complete picture of the firm’s IT infrastructure and an in-depth look into business operations, allowing the cybersecurity team to optimize security controls for safeguarding business systems.
Types of Audits in Cybersecurity
Audits in cybersecurity are categorized into:
The in-house team performs internal audits to evaluate the network’s internal controls, policies, and cybersecurity processes. A robust internal audit foundation helps assess existing and required security measures while assisting the cybersecurity audit team in understanding flaws in security implementation.
Benefits of performing internal audits include:
- Cost-friendly security evaluation
- Offers more control over the auditing process
- It can be customized to suit security systems in use
In an external audit, third-party security specialists examine security controls, regulatory compliance, and security gaps within an enterprise network. As external auditors are highly trained and qualified in identifying vulnerabilities, sensitive data, and network assets, they ensure the auditing process meets the organization’s objective by helping counter continuously changing threats.
Benefits of external auditing include:
- Unbiased, experienced auditors with certifications and formal training
- More efficient since specialized security experts perform it
- Ensures complete adherence to regulatory and compliance frameworks
Best Practices for Audit Foundation
A well-executed cybersecurity audit helps secure IT assets while offering guidelines for managing security risks. Some recommended practices to ensure effective audit processes include:
State clear objectives
The audit team and security staff should start by defining the scope of the audit. This ensures unambiguous identification of audit goals and the business objectives they aim to support. Clearly defined goals and objectives also enable cross-functional teams to administer the audit process seamlessly without impacting the performance and availability of business systems.
Involving all stakeholders
Every security staff member, developer, and non-technical employee should be aware of the cybersecurity program and how it affects business activities. All concerned business units and external vendors should also be updated on the existing cybersecurity policies and their roles in maintaining the organization’s security posture. With every stakeholder understanding their role in an upcoming audit, it is easier to conveniently plan the time, money, and other resources needed to perform the audit.
Create, review and consolidate security policies
Security policies govern how data is processed, stored, and transmitted by an organization’s business systems. Creating a security policy helps the audit team analyze how sensitive digital assets are and what security controls are required to protect them. For a more straightforward auditing process, the security policies should be stored in a centralized and searchable database, giving auditors a complete picture of the network’s security posture without navigating complex workflows.
Research relevant security frameworks
Each industry has different compliance standards that govern the storage and handling of sensitive user data. Security experts should determine the relevant compliance framework that encompasses a specific industry/department to adopt only relevant data protection laws. The audit team should refer to specific requirements for each identified framework and outline the security measures that have been deployed to comply with them.
Determine the responsibilities of security personnel
When auditing the effectiveness of security measures, the auditing team should prepare a questionnaire for cyber security staff and other data administrators to understand how well network access control, underlying assets, and information are protected. In addition, to make the auditing process flow smoothly, organizations should maintain a list of security personnel and an escalation matrix to be followed in the event of a security incident.
Inventory the network assets
Organizations should provide auditors with a detailed network structure catalog and updated network diagram to help understand the network infrastructure. Including logical and physical diagrams with component identifiers such as ports, domains, mobile devices, and other network objects makes it easy to identify each digital asset, assess security posture, and take corrective actions during a breach.
How often should security teams perform audits?
A cybersecurity audit process offers a proactive approach to security risk management, where regular audits help implement a robust security posture. Each compliance framework includes guidelines on how often audits should be performed to satisfy regulatory requirements. Cybersecurity audit teams should check these guidelines when planning the audit schedule.
As a recommended practice, internal audits should be performed weekly or monthly to ensure the security team regularly assesses the effectiveness of their security measures against emerging threats and vulnerabilities. On the other hand, external audits should be performed quarterly or annually, as they often disturb working patterns.
What is the difference between cybersecurity audits and penetration tests?
A cybersecurity audit involves testing various digital assets for comprehensive risk assessments and identifying potential weaknesses. Compared to audit findings, penetration testing does a deeper cybersecurity assessment of internal systems by trying to orchestrate an attack just like a bad actor would. While doing so, a security analyst replicates various attack mechanisms used by hackers to determine whether existing security controls can prevent an attack.
How do organizations use the results of an audit?
Regular cybersecurity audits provide a prioritized list of security risks and various measures that can be used to improve the level of security within the network. Some security solutions that rely on audits as input include:
- Security training workshops
- Software patches and updates
- Network monitoring solutions
- Backup and recovery locations
A diligently implemented security audit helps with legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements while helping govern cyber risk. To support this, vulnerability scanning is often considered the first step that helps in auditing and compliance by automatically sniffing security gaps within enterprise business systems.
Crashtest Security offers several vulnerability scanners that enable development teams to comply with regulatory cybersecurity standards. To know more about how to use Crashtest Security to gain a competitive advantage using automated vulnerability scanning for compliance, try a 14-day, free demo today.