How to Run a Cybersecurity Audit to Protect Your Data

Business owners tend to think that their businesses are safe from hacks and data breaches until a cyberattack hits them. Cyber-attacks have hit even companies like Yahoo, Marriott International, and eBay. Some of these hacks could have been avoided by auditing the systems and looking for vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, companies and businesses dread cybersecurity audits as they’re expensive and need too many resources to complete. On the upside, these audits can help identify vulnerabilities that could have cost your company millions if they were exploited.

Since external audits are expensive, companies tend to use internal audits as they’re cheaper. Unlike external audits that require external auditors, internal audits rely on company staff; thus, they’re essentially free. The only cost is time, and the audit is much easier as the internal auditors know how the systems work, which leads to less disruption.

Here is how you can conduct an internal audit:

1. Establish The Extent Of The Audit

As with any auditor, you have to know what areas you’re auditing. Know what your cybersecurity audit will cover and what you will skip. Start by establishing your security perimeter then create a cybersecurity checklist. The security perimeter will help you figure out the valuable assets and systems that need protection.

Start by identifying the core business activity of the company or business. Identify the networks and applications that handle any information relevant to the core business. For example, a cybersecurity audit that focuses on data privacy will look at any system, application, server, database, or file that handles customer and company data. In this audit, the scope is data privacy; thus, any device or system that handles sensitive data needs to be audited.

2. Know Your Threats

Now that you’ve defined the extent of your audit and identified the systems plus processes to audit, it’s time to define your threats. For example, when dealing with data privacy, you want to know what could lead to data leaks or breaches. Systems have many potential threats from weak passwords, malware, DDoS attacks, phishing attacks, malicious insiders, and negligent employers.

A data leak can come from anywhere, but the most overlooked is the employees. You see, employees have access to the systems and can leak sensitive data knowingly or unknowingly. For example, a company that allows employees to bring their devices to work is vulnerable to a cyberattack or data breach, especially if the devices are logged into the company’s network.

Another threat is security patches. Software tends to have vulnerabilities, which is why every year Google and Apple release security patches and system updates for their various operating systems. Companies that don’t prioritize these updates have had vulnerabilities exploited by hackers. An auditor needs to check that all the software running on the devices is updated. If the company is running software that is outdated and not supported by the vendor, it creates a vulnerability.

These are some of the risks you need to assess.

3. Assess Your Security Measures

How effective are your current security measures against the threats identified? Internal audits tend to be biased when assessing the systems since no one wants to admit that they’re the weak link. In such scenarios, you’re better off hiring an external auditor as they are impartial.

The auditors will evaluate every security measure, system, and process that the security measures safeguard to identify weaknesses.

For example, if you regularly back up data as a precautionary measure, the auditors will confirm that the backups are done regularly and that the data is intact. If you have a firewall and antivirus, they will ascertain that the firewalls are configured correctly, and the anti-viruses are up to date.

And most importantly, they will ensure that the employees understand their role in preventing cyber attacks. Even the best security measures are somewhat vulnerable if the employees don’t adhere to the set guidelines.

4. Conduct An Inventory Of Your Systems

How will you defend your company from a cyber attack if you don’t know the devices that are connected to your network? How will you know your vulnerabilities if you don’t know the systems that connect to your network? And it’s not just the laptops, routers, PCs, printers, etc. it’s also the HVAC systems and security systems.

Having identified the hardware, the next step involves auditing the software running on these devices. Check if you have any old software running on your devices. This old software could be vulnerable to attacks and need to be updated or removed.

5. Audit Employee Access

Every company is vulnerable to data breaches, but the risk is reduced or increased depending on the number of staff with access to sensitive data. A cybersecurity audit looks for such vulnerabilities in your company. Hackers look to gain access to systems by using a single employee account and hopefully work their way through the system. This becomes an easy access point, especially if the said employee has unfettered access to the system even when he or she is just the receptionist or janitor.

That’s too much access that even accountants shouldn’t have. Only a handful of the top executives need such access. This ensures that all the other employees’ access is limited to their tasks, which decreases the level of damage in case a hacker gains access to one of the employee accounts.

6. Finalize The Assessment Report

Once the audit is complete, the auditor will create an assessment report detailing their audit methodology, the objective of the audit, findings, and recommendations. There is a reason you commissioned the audit; it’s the auditor’s job to check whether your concerns are warranted and if your security measures are effective.

The report will detail the current controls, systems, and vulnerabilities. It will also highlight past cyberattacks and if the company is prepared to handle future attacks. Recommend policies that improve the company’s cybersecurity. For example, companies that allow employees to bring their devices to work should have policies that regulate the use of these devices at work.

7. Implement The Recommendations

A cybersecurity audit is useless if the company doesn’t heed to the findings and implement the recommendations. The first step is to teach your employees the importance of cybersecurity in your business. Train the employees to adhere to the security policies and practices put in place. Regularly update your employees on new protocols and hold employees accountable in case a breach occurs due to their laxity.

Other security measures include installing anti-malware software, configuring more robust firewalls, using stronger passwords, and using multifactor identification.

Be Prepared

Cybercriminals are always inventing new ways to attack businesses, and the best you can do is be prepared. An audit will help you figure out the areas that need improvement. Regardless of how prepared you are, don’t forget to back up your data. A single ransomware attack could wipe out all your data, but with a backup with you’ll be up and running the next day.