Cyber threats are growing more sophisticated, covert, and frequent every day. This year alone has seen the likes of T-Mobile and PharMerica suffering serious security breaches. These incidents disrupted operations and threatened their bottom lines, not to mention the lingering aftereffects and negative brand perception in the eyes of their customers.
Taking the recent Optus data security breach as an example, one source indicated that up to 30% of Optus customers would switch providers due to that incident. Even if an individual’s data has not been compromised, the risk outweighs the rewards of loyalty.
Businesses have a responsibility to implement proactive measures to protect their data and systems, as doing so is integral to preserving the organization’s finances and reputation in the long-term. One of the most effective ways to strengthen your data protection posture is to conduct regular infrastructure, network, and system cybersecurity audits.
Cybersecurity audits examine the policies, procedures, and technology safeguards implemented within an organization's IT infrastructure. They assess the current state of security controls against industry standards and best practices, as well as any industry legislation or regulations that the business may be bound by, as well as internal and sector-wide best practices.
The audit process generally involves three main phases:
- Planning - The scope, timing, resources, and methodology for the audit are defined and agreed upon by appointed auditors and internal representatives. Auditors outline the objectives and create an audit program checklist, while the representatives and any intermediaries provide auditors with access to any systems or devices they may need to conduct the audit.
- Fieldwork - Auditors collect data and evidence through activities like interviews, document reviews, device scanning, penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and cloud assessments. Configurations and integrations are analyzed completely at every possible endpoint, and any observations, findings, and testing results are documented.
- Reporting - Auditors consolidate their findings and aggregate data into a risk-based report. This highlights areas in need of remediation, while detailed recommendations for enhancing security controls are provided.
The insights derived from audits enable organizations to develop an action plan and estimated cost outline. This enables the company to make strategic decisions about security priorities and budget allocation. By identifying security gaps and compliance issues before breaches and cyber incidents occur, organizations can take proactive steps to correct and implement stronger security measures. Audits also ensure IT systems and data management processes remain compliant with internal policies and external regulations.
Implementing the audit recommendations significantly improves resilience against cyber threats. Here are five compelling reasons why ongoing audits need to become an integral part of an organization’s cyber strategy:
Cyber defence audits thoroughly inspect the entire network environment with the clear goal of unmasking any unknown vulnerabilities that could be easily exploited by cybercriminals.
Some common examples include:
- Outdated security software that creates openings for malware attacks. Audits verify all connected hardware and software have the latest updates and patches.
- Weak or insufficient password policies that allow employees to set easy-to-guess passwords, or reuse them across multiple logins and devices. Audits check that password protocols meet industry best practices, and ensure all login processes cannot bypass minimum password requirements.
Unsecured external devices, such as USB drives or used digital camera equipment, that provide possible unsecured entry points. Audits take inventory of all connected devices and notify users of any possible vulnerabilities or weak points that exist within your estate.
Excess permissions that allow access to unauthorized data. Audits review and validate all permission levels, allowing administrators to assign and delegate the appropriate access to relevant personnel, services, and processes.
Without regular audits, these security gaps often remain invisible.
Industry and government regulations contain mandatory IT security controls and protocols that companies must comply with. Examples include PCI DSS for retailers handling secure online payments, HIPAA for healthcare, and GDPR for organizations handling EU citizen data. International quality standards like those provided by the ISO, also require evident commitment and diligence in systems and data management.
Cybersecurity audits thoroughly assess all areas of a security program to confirm compliance with relevant mandates and standards. If any deficiencies exist, the audit will reveal them so corrective actions can be taken.
As cybersecurity requirements evolve to meet the changing threats, audits provide assurance that a company is keeping up with the latest compliance benchmarks. They also create evidence of proper due diligence for external auditors.
Data breaches often occur when weaknesses in security programs are not addressed. The 2023 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that 74% of breaches were caused by human error, and as such, routine security audits would have prevented many individual incidents.
For instance, audits may reveal that employees are using weak passwords or unpatched software, which are some of the main attack vectors exploited by cybercriminals.
By preemptively finding deficiencies, audits significantly reduce the risk of destructive breaches impacting customer data and company assets. They provide an essential layer of breach prevention, giving companies the incentive to fix deficiencies quickly and effectively.
Audits provide as accurate a picture as possible of the organization’s current cyber risk posture. The audit process gathers data and evidence across the entire attack surface to analyze where vulnerabilities exist. Not only that, but audits also provide insight into the strength and effectiveness of disaster recovery and business continuity measures, as well as your chosen methods of threat containment and isolation.
Findings from a cyber audit are used to generate prioritized action plans for businesses to strengthen their multiple layers of cybersecurity. With high-risk areas identified first, data-driven insights can highlight the need for threats that need addressing as a priority.
Ongoing audits enhance visibility as your infrastructure changes over time, enabling leaders to allocate sufficient resources in the right areas and as new assets are added.
Cyber incidents have the potential to inflict severe and often irreparable reputational damage. According to the National Cybersecurity Alliance, 60% of small companies go out of business within six months after being attacked, and this isn’t even accounting for the fact that customers who lose trust in a business are victimized by a cyber attack victim.
Audits demonstrate to customers and partners that security is taken seriously. Audits also reflect the organization’s compliance and commitment to proactive safety measures rather than a reactive approach.
In the aftermath of a breach, audits can provide evidence that prudent security practices were in place. While audits cannot guarantee immunity from cyber attacks, they show regulators and the public that reasonable care was exercised. In turn, this can significantly reduce the amount of reputational harm suffered, provided that the business handles the news with utmost accountability and transparency.
The cybersecurity landscape is filled with increasing numbers of fast-moving cybercriminals looking to exploit any potential weaknesses. Audits provide the best mechanism to quickly identify and resolve any loopholes or gaps before they are targeted.
Whether instructing an IT team to conduct internal audits or bringing in external auditors for objective assessments, implementing bi-annual or quarterly audits is an assured way to proactively manage anomalous or continuous risks. Protect your customers, reputation, and business success by making ongoing cybersecurity audits a top priority.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.