Cybersecurity audits are a potent tool in the battle against cyber threats. When conducted properly, cyber audits allow businesses to identify vulnerabilities, ensure regulatory compliance standards are met, and make sure that sensitive information is appropriately shielded from cyber criminals. Overall, it should be considered one of the fundamental security measures and critical parts of risk management, allowing companies to boost information security on several levels.
Whether you’re looking for reliable cybersecurity services that can offer professional solutions for businesses of any size or you prefer to conduct cybersecurity audits in-house, understanding what’s involved is vital. If you’re wondering, “What is audit in cyber security?” or want to know more about the processes involved, here’s a business guide to cybersecurity audits.
What is audit in cyber security and why does your business need it?
A cyber audit is a process that allows companies to ensure compliance with regulations like GDPR, PCI DSS, and HIPAA and cybersecurity frameworks like NIST. The goal is to assess whether necessary procedures, technologies, and security controls are in place to reduce cybersecurity risks, prevent data breaches, and eliminate unauthorized access to networks, devices, and more.
By conducting an audit, organizations can proactively design cybersecurity policies. Plus, it’s an opportunity to identify missing solutions that defend against hackers, fill security gaps, and create effective incident response procedures more effectively.
In most cases, auditing cyber security isn’t done in-house. Instead, an external audit team is usually preferred, such as one hired through a cybersecurity service provider. This ensures that the audit process is both thorough and conducted by a neutral party, eliminating opportunities for biased results.
However, having an internal audit regularly and combining it with regular cybersecurity audits using a third party is the most effective strategy. It ensures that the organization’s cybersecurity program is reviewed as often as possible, increasing the odds that any issues are identified swiftly.
What kind of cyber security audits are there?
Generally, there are four main types of cybersecurity and network security audits.
- First, there are risk assessments — a process that identifies risks and vulnerabilities and creates opportunities to overcome weaknesses found during the evaluation.
- Second, there are vulnerability assessments, which are similar to risk assessments. However, these focus on examining the security program that’s currently in place, reviewing the current cybersecurity posture by examining the network security, cybersecurity practices, internal controls, and similar areas to find exploitable points. Essentially, during in-depth internal or external audits of this nature, the goal is to determine which systems or solutions are at risk of leading to a data breach.
- Third, there’s penetration testing, a process that essentially involves simulated cyberattacks designed to test existing IT infrastructure, network access control, web applications, and similar targets to determine the effectiveness of current data security policies and procedures and anti-intrusion solutions. More commonly, these are combination internal and external audits, focusing on any point where hackers could exploit IT security vulnerabilities to gain access.
- Fourth, there is compliance auditing. This specifically concentrates on compliance requirements based on regulations that apply to the organization. Essentially, the goal is to determine if the company's current strategies for security-sensitive data meet legal mandates, protecting against cybersecurity threats and helping companies avoid costly penalties for non-compliance. Penalties can be financial, such as the issuance of fines. However, they can also include costs associated with stakeholders or customers losing confidence in the organization.
The benefits of such cybersecurity audits focus on proactively managing risk. Thorough assessments that examine existing systems and policies and test them for vulnerabilities allow organizations to identify vulnerabilities and address security gaps. Whether it’s as simple as the need for patching or something far more complex, regular cybersecurity audits create opportunities to take corrective action before a vulnerability is exploited.
Cybersecurity auditing vs. cybersecurity assessments
While the terms “cyber audit” and “cybersecurity assessment” sound similar, they involve two different processes.
With cybersecurity audits, an in-depth investigation occurs. The audit team examines security procedures, mechanisms, and solutions and explores a variety of potential vulnerabilities. It looks at devices, software, network components, communication systems, firewalls, and more to assess risk based on what’s in place and whether it’s protected in some manner. Compliance with required standards is also part of the equation. Some teams also cover physical security, ensuring that hardware isn’t physically accessible to outsiders.
With a cybersecurity assessment, the process is different. Generally, it’s akin to the vulnerability assessment discussed above, examining technologies in place to identify security gaps or issues that need resolving. Along with identifying what’s in use, it may assess the effectiveness of the solutions. For example, it may test the multi-factor authentication that’s in use to determine if it’s effective. As a result, remediation or improvement recommendations are more targeted.
Often, a cybersecurity assessment is a component of a broader cybersecurity auditing plan. When used together, companies get the most comprehensive look into their current cybersecurity posture, ensuring that they’re suitably safeguarded against malware, ransomware, phishing, hacking, and more.
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How do you know if a cybersecurity audit is necessary?
Generally, conducting a cyber security audit is necessary for any company. It’s designed to identify and address vulnerabilities that could put company data and systems at risk. As a result, any organization that uses technology solutions for any purpose should conduct cybersecurity audits.
However, this is especially critical for organizations that handle sensitive data, particularly those subject to regulatory requirements regarding cybersecurity and data handling. A cyber audit creates opportunities to compare existing policies and procedures to the minimum standards outlined in the regulations. In turn, organizations can determine whether their policies and procedures align with the mandates or if changes are necessary to ensure compliance.
Conducting cybersecurity audits before introducing new solutions and after they’re implemented is similarly wise. The initial audit can help companies determine the impact of any proposed changes before they’re put in place, allowing them to remain security-conscious during the design and implementation phases. Doing another audit after the implementation is complete lets organizations determine if all of the risks were identified and addressed as the change unfolded, creating an opportunity to address shortcomings related to overlooked issues.
Finally, cybersecurity audits are wise whenever there’s a cybersecurity incident. Whether broad or targeted to the systems involved in the incident, these audits allow organizations to determine what security measures fell short. In turn, it’s possible to address the previously unaddressed vulnerabilities, preventing known issues from being exploited in the future.
How often should your business run a cybersecurity audit?
One of the main challenges of cybersecurity auditing is that the information only applies to the current state of your policies and systems. New threats emerge on a daily basis, and an audit can’t account for what the future may hold.
As a result, regular cybersecurity audits are essential. Typically, one should occur at least annually. However, there are situations where more frequent cyber audits are wise.
For example, organizations in highly regulated industries that deal with incredibly sensitive data, such as banking, may benefit from more frequent audits. Generally, this applies if non-compliance would be especially costly or when the harm caused by data theft would be particularly severe.
Additionally, if there is a new regulation that applies to your organization, conducting an audit before the mandate is formally a requirement is a smart decision. It allows your company to determine if it meets what the new rules require in advance, making it easier to adjust your cybersecurity approach if the existing one falls short.
In many cases, it’s wise to conduct a cybersecurity audit after a security incident. In some cases, these can be streamlined reviews that focus on the systems targeted by the hackers, allowing the organization to determine how unauthorized access was gained and what’s required to prevent the same vulnerability from being exploited in the future.
How to perform an internal cybersecurity audit
When conducting an internal cybersecurity audit, the first step is to define the scope. This outlines precisely what’s being examined, including infrastructure, software, security practices, compliance, and any other relevant points.
Next, the goal is to identify risks. Essentially, outline the threats the organization faces, such as malware, phishing, zero-day exploits, and similar dangers. As risks are identified, determine what’s necessary to mitigate them. Then, review current policies and procedures to assess whether they’re appropriately addressed or if new solutions are required.
After that, it’s wise to look at everything from a compliance perspective. Determine if the existing protections and policies meet the minimum standards outlined in applicable regulations. If any point is out of compliance, determine what’s necessary to align with the law, allowing the shortcomings to be addressed quickly.
Finally, consider whether any incident response plans are actionable and appropriate, ensuring that the organization is ready to act should an undesirable event occur. By doing so, it’s possible to limit the impact of an incident, as well as ensure that any subsequent actions align with legal requirements.
While internal cybersecurity audits are a critical part of the equation, using a trusted external third party is a better choice for unbiased assessment and expert recommendations. At EPAM Anywhere Business, we use our expertise to ensure customers’ systems and data are protected against the latest threats. If you need a comprehensive solution, cybersecurity services from EPAM Anywhere Business are here to do the job right.
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Final notes on best practices
Cybersecurity audits are a critical part of IT security, allowing companies to proactively manage systems and address vulnerabilities before they’re exploited. When it comes to best practices, conducting audits frequently is essential. Generally, it’s best to partner with a third party to ensure unbiased results. Additionally, make use of automated tools to simplify ongoing system testing.
Before an audit, review any current data security policies and bring them together into a single document or resource, allowing the audit team to easily review what’s in place. That should include everything from network access control to business continuity and data recovery, ensuring the information is comprehensive.
Providing auditors with a detailed overview of the network structure, software solutions in place, and similar information is similarly wise. Finally, define the makeup of the current security team and the roles of each individual, ensuring the audit team knows who to contact for specific details about the company’s existing cybersecurity posture.
By following the best practices above, companies can increase the effectiveness of cybersecurity audits while making the process itself more efficient. In turn, they’ll get more comprehensive results, allowing their organizations to gather critical information to safeguard data, secure systems, and ensure compliance.