What is a Security Audit? [+ The Best Times to Run One]

Today’s organizations depend heavily upon their IT networks to deliver both products and services. For many of them, their network is their primary means of interacting with customers, vendors, and suppliers. With so many stakeholders involved, it’s critical for companies to have the very best cybersecurity protections and controls in place to protect data and guard against potential cyber threats. Network security audits play an important role in this process.

What is a Security Audit?

Network security audits are a vital component of an organization’s ongoing risk mitigation strategy. Whether the audit is conducted by an internal team or an external auditing firm, the process involves a detailed and measurable assessment of an organization’s security policies and controls. While the word “audit” might suggest that such assessments are unexpected, in most cases, a cybersecurity audit is carried out with the full knowledge and cooperation of the company in question.

A security audit is an exhaustive process that can take some time to complete. That’s because auditors don’t just look at the technical side of network security (such as firewalls or system configurations), but also at the organizational and human side of security policies. In addition to examining IT systems and historical data, they also need to conduct a series of personal interviews and review documentation to ensure information security procedures meet relevant compliance standards and are actually being followed on a day-to-day basis.

Why is an IT Security Audit Important?

There are several ways in which security audits bring value to an organization. In many instances, they are required to even get a viable business off the ground in the first place. If a company is unable to demonstrate that it has adequate controls in place to mitigate risk and safeguard data, it will have difficulty finding vendors willing to work with it or customers willing to entrust it with their data. In that respect, then, an IT security audit should be considered foundational in a business sense. Even after the initial audit is completed, organizations should continuously update their security audit checklist to ensure continual compliance.

But the benefits of a security audit go far beyond the “table stakes” of meeting compliance standards. Network security is a dynamic and disruptive field, and failing to keep pace with the latest developments and cyber threats can leave an organization vulnerable even if its information security policies were effective in the past. A cybersecurity audit can identify vulnerabilities and problem areas in an IT system and show where policies and controls must be changed to address them. For instance, if a software security update was made recently, but only a few people in the organization are aware of those changes and no corresponding documentation updates were made to reflect them, this lack of knowledge could potentially put data at risk.

A security audit is also important because it establishes a baseline for a company’s security posture. This foundation makes it easier to diagnose problems if they do emerge in the aftermath of an audit. If the auditing process found that policies and controls were sufficient to mitigate risk, then subsequent security incidents are more likely to be the result of someone not adhering to established procedures rather than some glaring oversight in network security.

When is the Best Time to Perform an Audit?

In a perfect world, security audits would be part of an IT department’s regular routine. Unfortunately, few organizations have the time and resources to constantly evaluate their cybersecurity protections. Given this limitation, most cybersecurity experts recommend companies run down their security audit checklist at least twice every year. Depending on the available resources and the size of the organization, it’s not uncommon for some companies to conduct cybersecurity audits on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Special audits may need to be performed on a less regular schedule. Any organization that suffers a data breach will almost certainly perform a special security audit to determine what went wrong in the wake of the incident. But special security audit checklists may also need to be used in the aftermath of less concerning situations, such as a significant system upgrade, a business merger, a period of IT growth, or a data migration.

What Questions Should You Ask an Auditing Firm?

While many special audits are relatively limited in scope and are performed by an in-house team, comprehensive security audits are typically handled by an external auditing firm. In many cases, a third-party audit is required for an organization to obtain a certificate of attestation indicating it’s compliance with various information security standards. For instance, many customers require their vendors to provide a Service Organization Control (SOC) report as part of a security audit checklist to prove that they have the proper security controls in place to mitigate risk.

Bringing in an external auditor isn’t a decision to be made lightly, however. When an organization hires a firm to perform a security audit, it is entering into a relationship that will require ongoing cooperation over a period of time. That’s why it’s important to prepare a security audit checklist and ask several questions when evaluating an auditing firm.

Security Audit Checklist Questions for Your Auditing Firm

  • Can we meet the team we’ll be working with?: The auditing process will involve extensive cooperation, so it’s important to have confidence in the knowledge, expertise, and professionalism of the auditors involved.

  • What are the communication expectations?: The purpose of any audit is to gather information. Organizations should have a clear idea of how auditors prefer to handle communications throughout the process.

  • Are you experienced with companies like ours?: Many industries face unique security requirements and compliance needs, so it’s important to find an auditing firm that knows the ins and outs of those industry-specific guidelines.

  • What is your timeline?: Some auditing firms prefer to operate quickly while others prefer a longer, more drawn-out process that provides space for greater flexibility. To ensure a good working relationship, it’s a good idea for organizations to find a firm that aligns with their internal expectations.

Conducting regular audits by following a security audit checklist is critical for staying up to date on the latest cybersecurity protections and identifying potential risks within an IT environment. By locating vulnerabilities and addressing them promptly, organizations can stay focused on the innovative services that drive their business growth rather than scrambling to deal with preventable security incidents.

Compuquip Cybersecurity’s team of qualified cybersecurity engineers and solution architects can help organizations of all sizes prepare their networks to meet the rigorous scrutiny of an IT security audit.

To learn more about how our security architecture review and implementation services could help your company, contact us today.