What is a Cyber Security Audit and Why is it Important?

Cyber security audits are a vital component of an organisation’s defences against data breaches and privacy violations.

By probing organisations’ systems and services, an auditor can identify security weaknesses, and determine whether their practices comply with relevant laws, such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

In this blog, we explain how cyber security audits work and show you how to conduct one.

What is a cyber security audit?

A cyber security audit is a comprehensive review of an organisation’s IT infrastructure. Audits ensure that appropriate policies and procedures have been implemented and are working effectively.

The goal is to identify any vulnerabilities that could result in a data breach. This includes weaknesses that enable malicious actors to gain unauthorised access to sensitive information, as well as poor internal practices that might result in employees accidentally or negligently breaching sensitive information.

As part of their review, the auditor will assess the organisation’s compliance posture. Depending on the nature of the organisation, it could be subject to several information security and data privacy laws, creating a complex net of requirements.

The audit should be performed by a qualified third party. The results of their assessment act as a verification to management, vendors and other stakeholders that the organisation’s defences are adequate.

Benefits of a cyber security audit

The main reason to conduct a cyber security audit is identify and address security and compliance weaknesses.

With a thorough assessment, the organisation will gain a comprehensive overview of their systems and gain insights on the best way to address vulnerabilities.

This mitigates the risk of a data breach and the repercussions that come with that. For example, a security incident can result in significant financial damage, which could have a lasting effect.

But it’s not just the threat of business disruptions and regulatory fines that organisations need to be concerned about.

A security incident – particularly one that resulted from a preventable error – is likely to leave suppliers and customers less confident in the organisation. If the incident was serious enough, those stakeholders might even decide to take their business elsewhere.

The same applies for regulatory failures. If the organisation can demonstrate that it took appropriate steps to address data protection, regulators are unlikely to levy significant fines.

However, if the incident was the result of negligence, organisations could face stronger penalties. Even if those penalties don’t approach the maximum allowable under the GDPR (€20 million or 4% of the organisation’s annual global turnover), a comparatively lenient fine can still be disastrous.

With a cyber security audit, organisations can identify any non-compliant processes, whether that’s in relation to the GDPR, the UK Data Protection Act or another law.

What does a cyber security audit cover?

A cyber security audit primarily covers an organisation’s IT systems. This includes its infrastructure, the software it has deployed and the devices that employees use.

However, this is only one aspect of information security, and a comprehensive assessment won’t stop at technical resilience. It will also assess:

  • Data security: network access controls, data encryption and the way sensitive information moves through the organisation;
  • Operational security: information security policies, procedures and controls;
  • Network security: network controls, antivirus configurations and network monitoring;
  • System security: patching, privileged account management and access controls; and
  • Physical security: the organisation’s premises, and physical devices that are used to store sensitive information.

Each aspect of the audit ensures that the relevant controls are in place, optimised and implemented in line with regulatory requirements.

How often should you conduct a cyber security audit?

Organisations should conduct a cyber security audit at least once a year. However, more frequent audits may be necessary depending on several factors.

One of those factors is the organisation’s size and its available resources. Audits are extensive processes that can cost a lot of money, so smaller organisations are less able to perform regular audits.

By contrast, large organisations typically have the wherewithal – and the need – to conduct audits more frequently. With a greater number of systems and more complex procedures comes an increased cyber security risk.

Organisations should also conduct a cyber security audit whenever they make significant operational changes. An audit is also advisable if a new version of a compliance standard is released.

Conducting a cyber security audit

If you’re looking to audit your organisation’s cyber security practices, IT Governance is here to help.

Our Cyber Health Check service combines on-site consultancy and audit support with remote vulnerability assessments. We will also perform a staff questionnaire to identify your current cyber risks.

This health check provides a concise and detailed report describing your current cyber risk status and critical exposures.

It draws on best practice, such as ISO 27001, the UK National Cyber Security Centre’s 10 Steps to Cyber Security, the CIS 20 Critical Controls and IT Governance’s practical experience.

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