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What Is an IT Security Audit and Why Do You Need One?

Apr 10, 2023

By Rahul Mahna

Estimates show that cybercrime will likely cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. IT security is incredibly important, and with cybercrime always on the rise, you need to make sure you're doing whatever you can to protect your company. If a hacker launches a successful attack, your business and customer data could be at risk.

No organization is entirely safe from IT safety threats. After all, every company relies on data in one way or another. There are different measures that you can take to maintain a suitable level of security. One thing you should consider doing is an IT security audit.

What Is a Security Audit?

A security audit involves taking a look at your company's IT infrastructure to assess how well it can protect against potential threats. This is typically done using an audit checklist so that you can see how your existing security measures compare to current best practices, federal regulations or externally established standards.

A third-party security audit will assess security in relation to the following:

  1. Physical components and the environment that houses your information system;
  2. Software and applications that are currently a part of your system;
  3. Network vulnerabilities, both internal and external;
  4. Human elements; e.g., how employees collect, store and share sensitive information; and
  5. Written information security policies and procedures.

A completed security audit will give you an idea of what level of protection your security offers. You can then make changes to improve upon any weaknesses.

How Does a Security Audit Work?

An IT security audit will have a set of internal and external criteria which your information system is tested against. Internal criteria consist of the procedures and policies in place, as well as security controls.

External criteria are usually based on some type of regulatory body, such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) standards. By comparing the practices of your business with the relevant standards, you can identify areas that need improvement.

Why Are Security Audits Important?

A cyber attack happens every 39 seconds. Verifying that your business security can handle potential threats will keep your company and customers protected. An audit will highlight which criteria your business is meeting and which ones it isn't.

You can use the information you gather to build risk assessment plans and mitigation strategies. If your company deals with a lot of confidential and sensitive data, this is especially important.

What Does a Security Audit Consist Of?

A security audit examines various elements of your IT infrastructure. This can vary depending on what systems you use, but some common components to assess are:

  • Operating systems;
  • Applications;
  • Servers;
  • Collection processes;
  • Data storage; and
  • Written information policies and procedures.

There are many compliance strategies, and the one that your business needs to take will determine the steps of the security audit. A typical audit will likely consist of five key steps.

Step 1. Select Security Audit Criteria

This will establish the standards you want or need your infrastructure to meet. These standards will determine the security features that you need to test. If your IT team has any security concerns that external criteria might not cover, you can also maintain a record of your company's internal audit standards and include them.

Step 2. Assess Staff Training

Your employees could potentially be one of your biggest vulnerabilities. About 94% of organizations have suffered insider data breaches. Human error can lead to major issues, so it's important to know which employees have access to sensitive data. You should make sure that all of these employees have had compliance practices or cybersecurity risk management training. There also should be a point person who will perform the audit or will be the liaison to facilitate a third-party audit.

Step 3. Identity Access Management

Keep track of network activity and event logs. This will help you make sure the only people accessing restricted data are those who are authorized to do so. You can also make certain they're following the proper security protocols and, if they are no longer part of the organization, their credentials are removed. Ransomware attacks are the end result of an access management issue and should be treated with great care in prevention.

Step 4. Identify Vulnerabilities

A security audit should highlight any major security vulnerabilities, such as outdated security patches or employee login details that haven't changed in the last year. Having this assessment done before conducting any penetration testing or vulnerability assessment will help make things more efficient. Vulnerability scanning can be done internally for all devices as well as externally to determine what holes are in the cybersecurity wall protecting all assets found in data systems.

Step 5. Implement Protections

After assessing any vulnerabilities and training all staff on those deficiencies, it’s time to implement solutions. This should be an ever-changing and evolving process to make certain the company is implementing controls to prevent fraud and other issues.

NIST Security Audit

There are a range of IT security audits you can choose from. The one you use will ultimately depend on your needs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) is a government organization that provides solutions that ensure quality assurance, measurement traceability and documentation standards. This involves criteria, practices, and guidelines related to its cybersecurity framework (“CSF”).

It covers five key areas or "cores:"

  1. Identify;
  2. Protect;
  3. Detect;
  4. Respond; and
  5. Recover.

This is the basic layout, but these cores can be adapted so that they suit the systems your business uses and the industry you're in. They measure implementation using three tiers across four areas. These areas are risk-informed, repeatable and adaptive.

The tiers are:

  • Risk Management Framework;
  • Integrated Risk Management Program; and
  • External Participations.

After assessing your infrastructure against the cores, you can define the breadth of cybersecurity within your network. They cover prevention and recovery, so you can determine what actions you need to take and convert them into less technical language that your stakeholders will understand.

The main purpose is to help you understand your current level of security so that you can make well-informed decisions about the measures you need to take. It will also identify potentially cost-effective solutions.


You might choose this option because it fits your needs and industry. It provides several advantages that make it a good solution.

Flexible and Adaptable Framework

The NIST CSF framework is very flexible, so it can be used by different organizations across a range of industries. It considers future actions, so it makes it easy for you to change your strategy to keep up with changing demands.

Maps to Other Frameworks

The NIST CSF can easily map to other frameworks due to the behavioral elements. As such, you can ascertain that your business meets all compliance requirements while strengthening the overall level of cybersecurity.

Widely Recognized

NIST CSF is the culmination of the experience of IT security professionals from all over the world. This has resulted in one of the most comprehensive and detailed sets of controls of any security audit. It's therefore ideal for forming the basis of best practices for any industry.

Enable a Long-Term View of Your Cybersecurity

Some security audits are ideal for use in a single instance, but the NIST CSF removes this element. It offers a more adaptive and responsive approach, which will help you achieve your long-term cybersecurity goals.

Bridge the Gap Between Different Stakeholders

The risk-based approach means the NIST CSF is more compatible with the priorities of stakeholders. This helps align the risk management approach that's needed for proper cybersecurity with your business goals. Overall, this results in better communication between stakeholders and better-informed decision-making.


While it offers many advantages, the NIST CSF isn't perfect. There are some disadvantages that you could also take into account.

Relies on Understanding Existing Standards

The NIST CSF is non-prescriptive. As such, it doesn't come with a specific, detailed checklist.

This means that your organization may need to follow other standards that meet your needs. If your business isn't familiar with the standards that the framework refers to, it can be more difficult to carry out the actions needed.

Technical Communication Is Essential

An in-depth understanding of your business's current cybersecurity profile is necessary to the efficient implementation and execution of a remediation plan. This can sometimes encourage buy-in from key stakeholders, but technical communication is crucial, and this might not be practical for some companies.

CIS 18 Security Audit

The Critical Security Controls (“CIS”) audit used to be known as the SANS Critical Security Controls (or the “SANS Top 20”). The latest iteration is Version 8, which combines and consolidates the various controls depending on the activities they involve.

While fixed boundaries, physical devices and discrete islands were previously the most important elements, the framework has changed over time. Through the grouping of safeguards and revised terminology, the number of controls has been reduced from 20 to 18.

  1. Inventory and Control of Enterprise Assets
    This involves identifying the IT-connected devices and assets on your network and checking that they're kept up to date. Such devices include network devices, end-user devices, IoT devices, servers and more. This helps keep track of what needs to be protected and highlights any unauthorized use of any devices.
  2. Inventory and Control of Software Assets
    Keeps track of all software such as applications and operating systems. This stops any unauthorized use or installation of any software.
  3. Data Protection
    Protecting sensitive data is one of the most important elements of cybersecurity. An automated system can monitor for unauthorized data transfers, potentially stopping them and notifying your IT team.
  4. Secure Configuration of Enterprise Assets and Software
    Make sure all applications and software meet the standards set by your security criteria. Any configuration errors can result in your system becoming compromised and potential data loss. Security automation can make it easier to monitor and secure your assets.
  5. Account Management
    Different accounts are likely to have different privileges and access. Making sure all accounts are secure will prevent any outside parties from using them to access your network.
  6. Access Control Management
    This verifies access is only granted to those who need it. Keeping privileges to a minimum reduces the risk of cyberattacks.
  7. Continuous Vulnerability Management
    A scanning tool can continuously monitor your system to detect any vulnerabilities that arise. If anything appears, you can then take steps to eliminate them and maintain your cybersecurity.
  8. Audit Log Management
    All security activities should be tracked, analyzed and logged. This will make it easier to identify attackers if anything happens. You'll also have an easier time determining which systems were affected and how you can prevent recurrences in the future.
  9. Email and Web Browser Protections
    Emails are a very common attack channel for cybercriminals, as are malicious websites. Threat detection can help prevent employees from falling for these types of attacks.
  10. Malware Defenses
    Strong anti-malware software will protect your entire network. Malware is another very common way for people to launch cyber-attacks, and it can have severe consequences. Anti-malware software should be present in any IT system.
  11. Data Recovery
    One of the best IT security practices is maintaining regular backups of important data. You should have a data recovery strategy in place so that you can retrieve anything that's lost in a ransomware attack or other incident. There is a distinction between backups and business continuity that should be decided when developing the correct data recovery strategy.
  12. Network Infrastructure Management
    All devices and assets on a network should be actively managed to prevent vulnerabilities from appearing. This includes changing configurations, monitoring traffic flows, patching and monitoring for a higher level of security.
  13. Network Monitoring and Defense
    Network surveillance will help your IT team keep an eye on the entire network so that they can spot any threats as soon as they appear. They'll receive a notification when any vulnerabilities show up or incidents occur.
  14. Security Awareness and Skills Training
    Human error is the leading cause of data breaches. This ensures your employees have up-to-date training to reduce their risk of falling victim to a cyber attack.
  15. Service Provider Management
    You'll have service providers who are in charge of vital IT systems and deal with sensitive data. This is crucial for sufficient protection, so they must be properly assessed and analyzed. If any issues are found, you'll need to take steps to make certain your network has the protection it needs.
  16. Application Software Security
    Whether software has been bought, hosted or developed in-house, it's essential to make sure it's secure at all times. Managing the security life cycle of all software will help you identify vulnerabilities. Any security flaws that appear need to be patched immediately to maintain a secure system.
  17. Incident Response Management
    Recording the details of any incident is a crucial element of response management. This helps identify future threats early on to prevent similar incidents from occurring.
  18. Penetration Testing
    This is an efficient method to determine how resilient and efficient your network and assets are. It looks for vulnerabilities in the same way an attacker would so that you can identify them and take immediate action.

Your Business IT Systems

A security audit will help you keep your business secure, and there are various solutions available. You should look at the needs of your business and consider your industry to determine the best solution for your organization. Managing your IT network can be very difficult, but you can make things much easier by using outsourced IT services to help augment the needs your team might have.

What's on Your Mind?

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Rahul Mahna

Rahul Mahna is a Partner in the firm and leads the Outsourced IT Services team with over 20 years of experience in IT technologies, software development and cybersecurity services.

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