With cybercrime being a growth industry around the world, one of the best tools for evaluating a company’s performance is an IT security audit. As part of information security services, regular audits will reveal vulnerabilities, help discover threats and provide actionable items to pursue both in the short and long term to enhance security procedures.
What Is a Security Audit?
A security audit, also known as a cybersecurity audit, is a comprehensive assessment of your organization’s information systems. This assessment measures your information system’s security against an audit checklist of industry best practices, externally established standards or federal regulations. A comprehensive security audit assesses an organization’s security controls, including:
- Physical components of servers and the environment in which the information system is housed.
- Applications and software, including security patches implemented by systems administrators.
- Details of any network vulnerabilities, including public and private access and firewall configurations.
- Determination of any “people problems,” including how employees collect, share and store highly sensitive information.
- The organization’s overall security strategy, including security policies, organization charts and risk assessments.
How Does a Security Audit Work?
A security audit works by testing whether your organization’s information systems are adhering to a set of internal or external criteria regulating data security, network security and infrastructure security. Internal criteria include your company’s IT policies, procedures and security controls.
External criteria include federal regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), and standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the National Institute for Standards in Technology (NIST).
Using a blend of internal and external criteria typically yields the best benefits for organizations performing these types of audits. A security audit compares your organization’s actual IT practices with the standards relevant to your business model and will identify areas that need work and upgrading. Auditors will review security controls and identify breaches, and make recommendations to remediate any challenges.
The audit will result in a report with observations, recommended changes and other details about your security program. The audit report may describe specific security vulnerabilities or reveal previously undiscovered security breaches. These findings can then be used to inform your cybersecurity risk management approach. Typically, auditors will rank their findings in order of security priorities. Company leaders will have to determine if those priorities align with the business’s strategies and objectives.
What Is the Main Purpose of a Security Audit? Why Is It Important?
A security audit identifies weaknesses: Where is your organization meeting industrywide security criteria and where is it missing the mark? Security audits are crucial to developing risk assessment plans and mitigation strategies for organizations dealing with sensitive and confidential data.
Some security audits may also serve as formal compliance audits, completed by a third-party audit team for the purpose of certifying against ISO 27001 or receiving a SOC 2 certification.
Security audits also provide your organization with an impartial assessment of IT security strategies. Having your company’s security policies scrutinized can provide valuable insights into how to implement better controls or streamline existing processes. With cyberattacks coming from every angle and some threats originating internally, having a multi-faceted view of cybersecurity prepares a company to respond and thwart security threats.
Security Audits vs Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessments
A security audit is broader in scope than penetration testing or vulnerability assessments, although both strategies can also be included.
- Penetration testing involves having ethical hackers attempt to attack your systems in order to uncover any vulnerabilities.
- Vulnerability assessments identify any known vulnerabilities.
- When performed regularly, all three security mechanisms can be effective weapons in an organization’s cybersecurity strategy.
Security audits should also test the strength of firewall configurations, malware and antivirus protection, password policies, data protection measures, access controls, authentication, change management and many other categories of controls that contribute to an effective security strategy.
What Does a Security Audit Consist Of?
As part of information security services, security audits take many forms but there are some common steps. A security audit consists of a complete assessment of all components of your IT infrastructure, including:
- Operating systems.
- Digital communication and sharing tools.
- Al applications.
- Data storage and collection processes.
- Third-party providers and more.
Some of the common steps to take when conducting a security audit are:
- Establish criteria. Determine which internal and external criteria you want or need to meet and use these to develop your list of security controls to analyze and test. Keep a record of your organization’s internal policies, especially those related to cybersecurity as they will typically be examined as part of a security audit. If your organization is pursuing a security audit that doubles as a compliance audit, like for SOC 2, ISO 27001 or CMMC, ensure that the right processes are in place to satisfy those standards
- Assess staff training. The more people who have access to highly sensitive data, the greater the chance for human error. Make sure there is a record of which staff members have access to sensitive information and which employees have been trained in cybersecurity risk management. Part of your information security services should involve establishing schedules to train those who still require training.
- Review logs and responses to events. Audit logs can provide valuable information for performing incident response and root cause analysis. They should be retained according to the organization’s security policies.
In our experience with offering information security services, monitoring logs is not sufficient if an incident or anomalous event occurs. If monitoring personnel or software flags an issue, response teams should be prepared to act. Having templates and standard operating procedures in place for common events can be an easy way to streamline compliance and IT security audits.
- Identify vulnerabilities. Before conducting a penetration test or vulnerability assessment, your security audit should uncover some of your most glaring vulnerabilities, like whether a security patch is outdated or employee passwords haven’t been changed regularly. Security audits should also identify routine failures in security controls.
- Implement protections. Once the organization’s vulnerabilities are reviewed and staff is trained and following the proper protocol, the organization should employ internal oversight to prevent fraud, like limiting users’ access to sensitive data. Check that wireless networks are secure, encryption tools are up-to-date and that the proper antivirus software has been installed and updated across the entire network.
Organizations performing annual security audits will want to review and approve their security policies regularly, and company leaders should verify that sufficient documentation is in place to show that controls are working as intended.
Why Do Companies Need Security Audits?
Companies need regular security audits to make sure they are properly protecting their clients’ private information, complying with federal regulations and avoiding liability and costly fines. To avoid penalties, companies need to keep up with ever-changing federal regulations like HIPAA and SOX. Periodic security audits are necessary to make sure your organization is up to speed with any new requirements. Additionally, certifications like ISO 27001 and certifications such as SOC 2 require periodic renewals and accompanying external audits.
How Do You Perform a Security Audit?
How you perform a security audit depends upon the criteria being used to evaluate your organization’s information systems. A full security audit often involves auditors both internal or external to the organization, and the steps depend on the external security compliance measures your organization must meet.
A security audit will also involve interviews with stakeholders to understand the sensitive data contained within IT systems (and even physical locations, like data centers), the security controls in place to protect that data and how the IT infrastructure works together. These interviews might also cover the wider IT environment, including perimeter firewalls, and any previous data breaches. These interviews are called “walkthroughs.” Some auditors may also want to observe controls being executed in real-time.
In a security audit, expect the audit team to request certain documents and logs to review, including relevant security policies, checklists, diagrams or tickets. They will inspect these records to determine if security practices are being carried out according to policy.
Auditors may even opt to run penetration tests or vulnerability scans during the audit, or leverage automated technology or AI to perform certain audit procedures for them.
There are a number of computer-assisted audit techniques (CAATs) on the market designed to automate your audit process. CAATs regularly run through the steps of an audit, seeking out vulnerabilities and automatically preparing audit reports.
Security audits, depending on the organization’s objective, can be performed by an internal audit function or by an external audit firm. When pursuing certifications, a third-party compliance audit is typically required. There are benefits to the internal and external cybersecurity audit approach.
External auditors tend to have an outsider’s point of view and can bring unique insights to the table. Internal auditors, meanwhile, have deep familiarity with the organization, controls and systems, enabling them to build relationships with key stakeholders and optimize processes. These considerations are all topics to discuss with the MSP providing your information security services.
How Often Should Security Audits Be Performed?
There are no hard or fast rules here. The frequency of security audits will depend on current threats specific to a particular industry, the size and scope of your organization or by the regulatory requirements of the standards the organization has decided to meet, or is required to meet by law.
Typically, security audits are conducted at least once per year, but many organizations adopt a more frequent schedule. A data breach can have serious consequences to the business, including reputation loss, liability and even criminal charges.
Solid Information Security Services: BrightDefense
At BrightFlow Technologies we are known for our cybersecurity expertise. We have developed a multi-ingredient secret sauce or “cyber stack” of highly sophisticated digital tools designed to send the bad guys packing. Our cyber stack wraps a forcefield around your resources and your data from all angles. To learn more about BrightDefense, just give us a call. We’re ready to fight the Evil Empire for you.