What is auditing in cybersecurity?
Every business, no matter how big or small, needs to take cybersecurity seriously. Cybercriminals are no longer restricting their targets to big multinationals with millions in the bank; they're just as happy to target small, independent businesses.
Cybersecurity audits enable businesses to identify shortcomings in their cybersecurity policies and adjust their approaches accordingly. But many organisations want to know what is auditing in cybersecurity before they commission an audit. In this item, we look at what cybersecurity audits are, what they cover, and whether commissioning an external audit is worth the money.
What is auditing in cybersecurity?
A cybersecurity audit is a comprehensive review of a business or organisation's IT infrastructure which aims to establish where vulnerabilities exist and which threats their network is most vulnerable to. By analysing the network as if they were an attacker looking for weak spots, cybersecurity professionals can identify weak links and advise against any high-risk practices that might make an attacker's job easier. Cybersecurity audits can be used to evaluate a specific component of an IT network or the entire network against a predefined standard. If the network fails to meet the required standards, the audit can help a business to understand why the network is lacking and how they can rectify any problems.
What is the purpose of conducting a cybersecurity audit?
As well as testing a network's technical resilience to attacks, cybersecurity audits can also identify issues relating to information and data security. A false sense of security is a dangerous thing for any IT network; when the internal team is unaware of issues in the way they process or handle personal data, there's a risk that they will continue with improper data practices without realising until there's a catastrophic error. A significant portion of cyberattacks today involve some degree of social engineering because hacking people is becoming much easier than hacking digital systems.
A cybersecurity audit will reveal any shortcomings in a business's current policies and procedures and give them an opportunity to address them before they suffer a serious breach.
What areas does a cybersecurity audit cover?
The purpose of a cybersecurity audit is to offer a complete 360-degree view of an organisation's cybersecurity capabilities. A complete audit should cover as many components of IT infrastructure as possible, detect vulnerabilities and weak spots, and highlight the most significant threats and risks relevant to the subject. The areas covered by a general cybersecurity audit can be broken down into the following categories:
- Data security: Data security encompasses everything relating to the collection, processing, and storage of data. An audit will review access control policies, encryption standards, and other key data security metrics. Taken together, these will offer a comprehensive overview of data security at every stage of its journey through the network.
- Operational security: Operational security covers existing cybersecurity policies and procedures and the controls that network administrators can use to prevent intentional and unintentional unauthorised access to sensitive resources and data.
- Network security: Covers antivirus measures, security monitoring capabilities, network controls, and the capabilities of the security operations centre, if one exists. The audit should reveal any shortcomings in the way IT networks are configured and the tools and software that support them.
- System security: The system security component of a cybersecurity audit assesses the patching processes and whether the software on the network is routinely updated with the latest security patches. It also looks at how privileged accounts are allocated and configured and what the procedures for granting role-based access are.
- Physical security: It doesn't matter how good a business's cybersecurity measures are if a potential attacker can gain physical access to the network and key systems. Physical security ensures that the physical components of the network are secure and that software-based security measures are backed up by multi-factor authentication where appropriate.
In addition to the primary areas described above, a security audit will also encompass peripheral concerns, such as risk management and governance, training & awareness, legal liabilities, and whether the existing security setup meets any applicable regulatory and contractual requirements.
Internal vs external cybersecurity audits
When deciding whether to commission a cybersecurity audit, knowing what auditing is in cybersecurity is only one factor in the decision-making process. Organisations also need to understand the difference between an internal and external audit.
For many businesses, conducting cybersecurity audits using in-house personnel seems to make sense. But whether your IT department consists of a few individuals or a well-funded team of experienced professionals, it is generally preferable to hire an external business to carry out cybersecurity audits. Otherwsie the IT team will be auditing themselves - and that is not optimal.
For one thing, an external auditor's judgement won't be clouded by any preconceived notions. An internal cybersecurity audit may, deliberately or otherwise, be skewed in order to produce a particular result. It may also contain assumptions that an external auditor's report wouldn't.
Businesses that provide external cybersecurity audits are staffed by trained and experienced professionals who come equipped with the tools, training, and software needed to do the job thoroughly. No matter how talented or experienced an internal cybersecurity team might be, they won't be as effective as an external auditing service unless they have specific training and experience in conducting cybersecurity audits.
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