Have you ever wondered about the existing vulnerabilities in your company's infrastructure? There may be small loopholes that act as entry points for malicious actors. It is these smaller vulnerabilities that, most of the time, cause the most damage. Afterall, the big ones can be easier to identify.
Cybersecurity audits can save you from these issues.
Every organization must follow a specific set of rules, though, to ensure that a cybersecurity audit is effective. Read on to learn how my 7 essential tips can help you plan a cybersecurity audit.
Highlighting Gaps. Marking Progress.
A strong IT governance framework helps mitigate critical threats from cyberattacks. Part and parcel of this framework is a regularly conducted risk assessment. These assessments highlight gaps between your cybersecurity policies and the actual prevailing issues. They also allow organizations to avoid massive fines from compliance and regulatory breaches.
Take for example, the recently published audit from the state of Oregon initiated by Secretary of State, Shemia Fagan. Fagan acknowledged the state could not "effectively deliver public services without sufficient IT governance and cybersecurity controls.”
The audit recognized the progress the state had made on the cybersecurity front since 2016. Furthermore, it highlighted areas for improvement. Specifically, the need to improve overall cybersecurity guidance and fully-defined expectations for agencies
Additionally, it included ten recommendation areas for improvement. Among them, the low-hanging fruit of– asking the state’s Enterprise Information Services (EIS) division to update outdated definitions; and identifying the cybersecurity officials of various departments.
Cybersecurity audits highlight to your team both its positive progress, as well as, the risks it needs to prioritize. Even so, conducting a cybersecurity audit has many implications. Comprehensive planning before conducting your cyber security risk assessment will help you not take your eyes off the “small” things.
1. Develop a Security Policy
A security policy refers to a set of internal rules and regulations required for working with the organization's IT infrastructure. This policy comes in handy for employees working with external users, tools, or simply handling sensitive data. These policies should be reviewed from time to time so that you keep up with new advancements in cybersecurity and cyberattack methods.
Some of the essential parts of a cybersecurity risk assessment policy include:
- What components require high priority security
- What items should be protected
- How to monitor data access
- How to protect collected data
As you continue to work on the internal security policy there will be additional items on this list. Its purpose is to help you personally review your security policies so you can update them as needed.
2. Prepare a List of Everything Connected to Your Network
Before you start conducting a cybersecurity audit, always make sure that you have a list of every element of your network. This checklist is necessary because, without the knowledge of connected devices in your network, you cannot start the defense process.
While doing so, you should also think beyond the conventional hardware and software. List the names of wireless devices connected to your Wi-Fi or how your employees regularly use many external storage devices.
With this information, your cybersecurity assessments can be both manageable and efficient.
3. Hire Subject Matter Experts Who Will Communicate with Auditor
A cybersecurity audit is a long and technical process. As a senior management member, your knowledge of security policies will be limited. This is why it is important to bring subject matter experts on board who will communicate with auditors.
In this case, a subject matter expert can be a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) or a high-level cybersecurity officer. The professional hired in this role would also be responsible for awareness sessions as well as act as the primary point of communication between employees and the cybersecurity team.
These experts will simplify the network security audit process and save everybody valuable time.
4. Classify Your Data According to Level of Importance
Data is valuable, but its significance changes depending on various factors. While preparing for the audit, you should classify the available data in these categories:
- High-Risk Data: High-risk data includes any data whose loss can result in a compliance breach or lawsuit. This type of data includes credit card details, social security numbers, health records, etc. There may also be certain types of data that are considered high value under compliance rules of the region where you are conducting your business.
- Confidential Data: Confidential data is not protected by law, but its security is vital for your organization. Most of the information controlled under this category can affect your company’s reputation if leaked.
- Public Data: The data that is readily available to your customers and users is considered public. It is of no use to the malicious actors as it is free and can be accessed online with minimal security clearance.
Auditors review the security protocols and regulations for data safety. Often, they even quiz random employees to learn how aware they are of their company’s data safety rules. Cybersecurity awareness sessions ensure that employees do not get caught by surprise during the audit.
5. Review and Implement Business Compliance Standards
Local and international business associations set compliance standards. These standards ensure the safety of customer data and intellectual property. If your business is subject to these regulations, i.e., GDPR, PCI, or HIPAA, you must ensure that you have taken appropriate measures and that the auditors are aware of these measures.
This step will save you from massive fines that may occur in case of an accidental breach or cyberattack.
6. Perform a Self-Assessment Before the Real Audit Takes Place
Remember, the actual audit process can be tricky and exhausting. It would be embarrassing to find out that something important is missing at the last moment. By conducting a demo information security audit, you can confirm that everything is in place.
During the self-assessed information security audit, your IT team can come up with possible answers to common questions that will be asked during the audit, as well as:
- Software that requires updates
- Hardware components that need changing
- Missing network connections
- Devices connected to the Wi-Fi network
Self-assessment is also recommended to ensure awareness among your non-IT employees. It is a confirmed strategy to train new IT employees to take over responsibilities related to cybersecurity. It can go on to add new experienced professionals to your team.
7. Create an Incident Response Plan
Last but not least, you should always have an incident response plan in place. It is a critical part of the cybersecurity audit process. Remember, a breach attempt is inevitable– no matter how strong your prevention measures.
With an incident response plan, you'll have measures in place to ensure that operations continue despite problematic incidents like phishing attempts or connection failures. An incident response plan also creates a point of contact in case of an attempted breach.
Additionally, but not incidentally, is that you'll find that many repetitive, time-consuming tasks execute automatically. Saving you valuable time and mental energy.
In the end, a proper security plan ensures your business is safe from malicious actors; your IT security team is more efficient; and unnecessary expenses are avoided. You'll even be able to impress the auditors.
Charles Lawrence is a Cybersecurity Consultant who has a flair for writing technical content. He has completed his master’s degree in Cybersecurity from the EC-Council University and has earned the C|CISO certification. Charles is in a pursuit to share all that he has learned in his years of experience working at various levels of hierarchy in companies along side cybersecurity aspirants and experts at large. He is a hodophile and is intensely curious about everything and is eager to learn new things.