Cyber security audit of a company - A complete guide
Even as cyber-attacks and threats were growing at an alarming rate crippling businesses world-over, the awareness of the need for stringent cyber security measures rose considerably. But it is not sufficient to just secure your network and data from hacks, it is equally important to regularly audit the measures taken for it to remain effective. With the pandemic came the necessity of work-from-home culture which only worsened the situation calling for strict audit rules and regulations.
What is a cyber security audit?
An extensive analysis of the infrastructure, data, firewalls, and security network of the company against a predetermined set of rules to determine faults and expose vulnerabilities is referred to as a cyber security audit.
Usually, an internal cyber security team takes care of all the security needs of the company, whereas an audit is conducted by an external and independent third-party organization recognised by the government authority. Their main job is to identify any potential areas of threats the organization can face.
What are the reasons to go for a cyber security audit?
The top indicators are:
- Outdated technology that is not catching breaches or threats leaving the system vulnerable. Not just technology but also policies and practices if not updated can cause problems.
- Fear of new threats - Experimenting with new technology and coming up with innovative solutions is the way forward. Fear of exposure to new threats often prevents organizations from adopting new technologies.
- Assuming the size of the business is not large enough for an audit. Irrespective of size, all businesses big and small are in need of a cyber security audit to be conducted on a regular basis.
What are the benefits of a cyber security audit?
- Validation from external audit teams as to the effectiveness of the existing security infrastructure.
- Suggestions and measures to make the security system even more robust and safe.
- With evolving attack strategies, the audits help bring the security system at par to effectively thwart any hacks.
- It helps find loopholes and vulnerabilities such that immediate remedial action can be taken to fix them.
- An audit helps build confidence in the company, its shareholders, clients, owners, and employees even. It further helps bring in new clients.
- It brings to the notice the advantages of using advanced technologies and encourages the company to invest well in good stringent cyber security methods.
- A cyber security audit helps meet compliance standards. These standards set by the government help secure companies from threats, breaches, and intrusions arising from the use of online transactions and help minimize risk.
What extent does the cyber security audit cover?
As the audit is an exhaustive one, it extends wide and deep into the infrastructure and network. It covers the entire security infrastructure and takes into account the risk aversion plans as well.
- It begins by reviewing the company’s physical infrastructure and hardware apparatus and its protection from natural disasters such as rains, floods, theft etc.
- It checks if the data is safe from being leaked into unwanted hands or from being corrupted. For this purpose, it analyses the existing data encryption techniques.
- It segregates data based on its critical nature and identifies vulnerabilities in the system.
- It checks the company’s firewalls, VPN network, email security etc. for any loopholes that can lead to a potential leakage of data.
- It checks if the company has a system of software updating. For instance, an updated version of antivirus software will provide protection against the latest threats.
What is the time frame within which the security audit must be conducted?
There is no fixed time frame as such, as it depends entirely on the company, its infrastructure, complexity of the systems, budget allocated etc. An ongoing audit can only specify the efficiency of the cyber security at that point in time and not predict the future of the cyber security management.
Budget is also key to determine how often audits can be conducted in an organization. Assessing security and performing vulnerability scans have to be done in detail to understand the weak areas and potential threat entities. Once identified, software patches have to be done and rescan done to check its viability. This process is time consuming and involves a lot of money. Thus, if there are budget constraints then audits can be performed twice a year.
One must remember that the cyber world is fraught with dangers and with more sophisticated attacks being developed all the time, it is prudent for the company to remember that it is far better to curb the threat at its budding stage rather than face the onslaught of a full-blown attack. Hence the recommendation of a biannual audit strategy.
What are the cyber security audit best practices?
The client and the third-party auditor must work in synergy to achieve the singular goal of creating an effective cyber security system. Some of the best practices suggested are:
- First and foremost, the auditor must understand the company’s policies before signing any contract. The confidentiality, integrity and security of the clients are of utmost importance. These should be considered and rolled into the cyber security strategy.
- Once the audit team is signed on, they must be apprised of the compliance standards of that particular sector in order for the auditor to understand what parameters to look out for while conducting the audit.
- The auditor must be made aware of any known existing loopholes and vulnerabilities so that it helps the auditor to determine the extent of damage it can cause and what remedial actions should be taken.
- Collaboration between the heads of departments and the audit team is essential for a satisfying outcome as they will be called upon to provide relevant documents, evidence etc. A prior appointee to coordinate with the audit team will smoothen the process.
- The audit team must be informed about the scope of the audit so as to determine which areas need to be audited, what is the budget allocated for it, and within what timeframe it must be completed.
- Finally, these best practices will pay off only if they are conducted on a regular basis. It is recommended that audits be conducted at least twice a year because of the rate at thich new threats are evolving.
What are the factors to be considered while conducting a cyber security audit?
Different companies have different needs based on their overall security requirements.
Analyze how the company’s data is being used about how, when and why the data is handled the way, it is. It should contain details about data confidentiality as to who has access and who should be denied access. Data integrity determines how accurate the data maintained is. Data availability determines who are the authorized users who can access different sets of data. Furthermore, a framework is designed by the IT team to keep data online in case of a cyber-attack. Some other factors to be considered are:
The company’s data policies and compliance requirements which have to be made clear right from the start.
A disaster recovery and continuity plan must be kept ready in case of an attack.
Ensure complete visibility across the network and security controls.
In case of remote workforce, what are the protocols in place for their security? How secure is the VPN network? Do they have full access or partial access to company’s data?
Check whether compliance requirements are met such as PCI DSS, COPPA, HIPAA, GDPR (mainly for Europe) etc.
Do a thorough check of all smart appliances in touch with the company’s network.
The IT team being the backbone of the entire business, it is wise to have the auditors check the proficiency and understanding of the employees with regards to current security measures and to necessitate any further learning opportunities, if need be.
How to develop a cyber security assessment framework?
- Identifying the right audit professionals is crucial for a fair assessment. An experienced auditor with the right expertise and tech knowledge is an asset. Knowledge of the current risk environment and being well versed with the cyber world can be indispensable skills to the organization.
- The framework should be whole and cover all aspects of the organization, the current stage of the security network, gaps/loopholes to be addressed, the futuristic vision of the organization, and the minimum cyber security practices expected.
- The review should be extensive and in-depth and require extensive testing.
What is the methodology used by cyber security auditors?
Cyber security auditors have different approaches when it comes to performing an audit. Many factors such as size of the company, complexity of the systems, sensitive nature of the data etc. largely determine the type of auditing that can take place.
- Penetration test - Commonly referred to as pen test, it is a form of ethical hacking that allows an authorized team to perform a simulated attack on the system. It is performed to identify weaknesses through the system. Two forms of testing are external testing and internal testing. External testing targets the visible assets of a company such as domain name servers, emails, websites etc. Internal testing acts as an insider threat with access to applications behind the firewall.
- Compliance audits - it performs a comprehensive check on all of the company’s policies, internal rules, regulations, decisions, procedures etc. It will test for the company’s resilience and security policy, while checking its risk management policies and observing user access controls. Compliance audits cover both internal audits and operational audits.
- Risk assessment process - It constitutes the identification stage and responding stage. Identification further consists of inquiry, inspection, observation and analytical procedures. It is usually performed in high-risk areas. Responding stage constitutes designing audit tests, and forming an audit team.
- Vulnerability assessment test - It helps identify, quantify and prioritize the vulnerabilities in a system. Vulnerability testing is done on operating systems, application software’s, and the entire network to spot irregularities and loopholes and patch them before they are exploited.
- Due diligence audit - An extensive audit that looks into the financial aspect of a company to ensure no liabilities exist that can be exploited. It identifies legal and financial risks associated with a company.
What is a cyber security audit checklist? How is it useful?
A cyber security audit checklist consists of guidelines that helps the organization focus on the important aspects to be covered while performing an audit. This checklist gives an idea of the current state of security in the company and sets an ideal goal to be attained.
- Does the company have cyber security procedures and policies in place?
- Assess the security of the firewall installed, does it adequately protect the internet?
- Is a cyber security awareness program available to educate employees and staff?
- Is access control configured on devices with sensitive information?
- Are regular audits part of the company’s policy?
- Is sensitive data that is being transmitted encrypted?
- Does the company have a cyber incident response team to respond in case of an attack?
- Are all the systems protected using complex passwords?
- Is vulnerability testing done on a regular basis?
- Are the vulnerabilities prioritized based on the risk level they indicate?
- Are all devices such as laptops and mobiles password protected?
- Is multi factor authorization (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) used for remote access?
- Is backup available for all virtual systems?
- Does administration have only administrative privileges with no other access to sensitive information?
- Is the patch management system part of the operating systems and other applications?
Breaches and attacks are commonplace now and becoming more sophisticated and advanced day-by-day. The only way to deal with this crisis is to adopt cyber security safe practices and ensure audits are done on a regular basis. Audit also helps with adhering to compliance standards. Apart from technical issues it also helps to stay within defined legal parameters.
Encrypted data sent to auditors helps them assess the security of the system and generate detailed reports with suggestions to enhance security and/or report vulnerabilities to be looked into and further patched. A comprehensive audit combined with regular assessments and tests helps keep the organization secure from cyber criminals. Last but not least, the audit team hired to conduct the audits must be knowledgeable and have sufficient experience in dealing with cyber space in order to provide an effective service