What is an IT Security Audit?

This article will uncover how IT security audit can help protect your clients’ and employees’ personal data, company financial information, and all your IT systems.

You’ll learn the concepts, strategies, and ideas to understand the power of security auditing and its impact on your organization.

Let’s dive right into it!

Table of Contents

  1. What is an IT security audit? 
  2. What’s the difference between an IT security audit and IT risk assessment? 
  3. Why do you need an IT security risk assessment? 
  4. What is the role of an IT security auditor? 
  5. How do you choose the ideal IT security auditor? 
  6. What is an IT security audit trail? 
  7. How are general controls different from application controls? 
  8. How can you make the IT security process more efficient? 

What is an IT Security Audit? 

An IT security audit is a review of your overall IT infrastructure. There are two ways to conduct an IT security audit: either through a manual assessment or an automated one.

Through a manual assessment, an IT security auditor conducts a thorough check of your IT systems. They will review who has access to both your IT framework and your IT hardware and look for network and software vulnerabilities.

On the other hand, an automated assessment is essentially where your system audits itself. It’ll track changes to your servers and files and keep up with software monitoring reports. Then, you will be able to review the related data to stay up to date on your system’s health.

Ideally, you should incorporate both audit assessments into your IT security strategy. Aim to have a manual review at least once a year, but you will want to analyze automated assessment reports more frequently.

What’s the Difference Between an IT Security Audit and IT Risk Assessment? 

You may have heard both “security audits” and “risk assessments” used in the IT world, leaving you to wonder which one you need.

The answer to that question? You need both — but at different times.

In the early stages of your IT security review, you will want to conduct an IT risk assessment. Think of this as an initial review of problem areas and flaws in your system.

Generally, a risk assessment will include identifying the key IT risks in your environment, assessing the likelihood of the risk emerging (including the potential impact when it does), and management’s action plan on how to mitigate the risk. 

On the other hand, you will perform a complete IT security audit closer to when you are ready to have your system certified or attested. However, even if you are not pursuing certification or attestation, an IT audit is a good idea if your system is ever breached or fails penetration testing.

IT security versus IT risk assessment

Why do you Need an IT Security Risk Assessment? 

Understanding where and how you can make your IT system stronger is necessary to improve the system as a whole. After all, a doctor cannot treat their patient without diagnosing them first.

Nevertheless, this is not the only benefit of running an IT security risk assessment. The following are some other key advantages:

1. Provide a rationale for IT expenses 

Protecting its IT systems is a top priority for most companies, but so is cutting costs. For that reason, many organizations approve expenses with a justifiable purpose. However, an IT risk assessment can identify specific reasons why your company needs to boost its investment in IT security.

Often, the financial cost to repair financial or reputational damage outweighs the initial financial expense of implementing preventive measures.

2. Identify specific risks 

Not everyone in your company will readily understand IT jargon or grasp the implications of IT vulnerabilities. By performing a risk assessment, you’ll have quantifiable data you can use to demonstrate the current status of your IT infrastructure.

More importantly, the evaluation will identify the company’s risks by failing to make it more secure.

3. Maximize your IT department’s efficiency 

Your IT department should be focused on maintenance and prevention — not reactive behaviors to recover your system from yet another cyberattack. Proactively conducting an IT risk assessment means the department’s time and talents will be used more productively overall.

4. Facilitate effective communication between IT and leadership 

What senior management thinks the IT department does and what it actually does is vastly different. The silos and communication barriers between the management team and the IT department can make it challenging for IT personnel to effectively get buy-in and necessary resources from the top.

That is where the risk assessment comes in. The data from different assessments help each sector to collaboratively make better security-related decisions. It also helps prioritize IT-related functions and expenditures more efficiently.

The risk assessment will present the key threats to the company, using the right tone and level of detail, which resonates with senior management. Management may not be as tech-savvy, but they are business savvy.

Finally. the IT security risk assessment will facilitate more effective and timely communication with senior management. It will also help build your business case for additional funding.

5. Improve security-related protocols company-wide 

It is not just the IT department and upper management that are not always on the same page. Sometimes, employees across an entire organization can feel unaware of what is going on in other company areas.

This is particularly problematic with IT security. Even though the IT department is one singular unit, everyone in the company likely has access to the IT infrastructure, whether through employee login credentials, company computers, or knowledge of passwords and access codes.

The solution?

All stakeholders must be on the same page regarding IT security. Every employee, in every department and at every level, should be following the same best practices. Doing so will help the organization reach the common goal of improving and maintaining IT security.

An IT risk assessment can help communicate critical information and streamline the communication process.

Why do you need an IT security risk assessment?

What is the Role of an IT Security Auditor? 

IT security auditors are tasked with performing detailed reviews of a company’s systems and applications. Their job is complex, going far beyond ensuring staff has the latest antivirus software installed or recommending that they use strong passwords. 

When an auditor investigates an organization’s IT security, they look for gaps and vulnerabilities in the company’s cybersecurity program and practices.

Some questions they commonly ask:

  • What is the company’s security mandate and posture?
  • Is the company using appropriate authentication methods to control and restrict logical access? 
  • Are IT-related assets protected and monitored? 

In addition to determining how much effort a company spends on IT security, these auditors also ensure that company IT practices are in legal and regulatory compliance. 

In 2002, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), requiring publicly traded companies to assess the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over financial reporting (ICFR) and report the results to the public. An external IT security auditor helps in this process by assessing how a company designed and implemented technical IT controls to protect the integrity of its financial statements. 

Similarly, security auditors are also involved in Service Organization Control (SOC) audits. 

These are typically used by service providers that provide third-party services to other businesses and may need access to customer or employee information to perform these services (like payroll management firms, for example). In addition, IT security auditors facilitate SOC reporting and compliance by carefully evaluating security protocols and practices. 

The scope of the SOC audits may include any, or all, of the following trust services criteria:

  • Common criteria (security)
  • Confidentiality
  • Availability
  • Processing integrity
  • Privacy. 

Which trust service criteria a service provider decides to include in the scope of the SOC 2 audit is predominantly a combination of the type of services being provided and their contractual obligations. 

How do you Choose the Ideal IT Security Auditor? 

Before hiring or contracting with an IT security auditor, your company must do its research. You want an experienced auditor, ideally one who’s well-versed in regulatory compliance and with certifications to prove their technical expertise. 

Specifically, you want to check for these professional certifications: 

  • CISA – Certified Information Systems Auditor 
  • CRISC – Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control 
  • CISM – Certified Information Security Manager 
  • CGEIT – Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT 
  • CSX-P – Cybersecurity Practitioner Certification 
  • CDPSE – Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer 
  • ITCA – Information Technology Certified Associate 
  • CET – Certified in Emerging Technology Certification 

As you examine potential security auditors, ask where they earned their certification. That way, you can validate their credentials through the issuing organization. 

For an IT security auditor with a proven finance background, you can also check the directory maintained by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Here, you’ll find a list of CPAs with IT experience, which may be particularly important if you’re preparing for a SOX or SOC audit. 

Checklist to choose the ideal auditor

What is an IT Security Audit Trail? 

Like any audit, IT security audits come with their own documentation requirements. However, preparing this documentation begins well before the audit itself. 

Your IT security auditor will want to review the most recent security audit report and proof that your company made the recommended changes. They will also need to see the following:

  • Evidence of employee cybersecurity training 
  • Copies of company cybersecurity policies and protocols 
  • IT asset lists, including software and hardware 
  • User account information 
  • Cybersecurity response and disaster recovery procedures 
  • Physical and digital asset security plans 
  • Chain of data ownership 
  • Internal control test results 
  • Results of financial audits and cybersecurity compliance reviews 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so your best bet is to work with the IT department to gather as much information as possible related to your organization’s IT security operations. It’s much better to give your auditor more than they need than not enough. 

If you find that any documentation is lacking, take note. That’ll be an area of concern for your auditor and something you’ll need to remedy sooner rather than later. 

How are General Controls Different from Application Controls? 

General controls or entity-level controls refer to company-wide security systems spanning multiple departments beyond just the scope of IT. For example, general controls could involve an organization’s accounting, administration, and even operations.

Application controls, however, only apply to IT. These are your computer and network controls, focusing primarily on IT security and the protection of related data.

How can you Make the IT Security Process More Efficient? 

As you can see, IT security audits don’t have to be intimidating. However, they are time-consuming, so finding ways to streamline the process is essential. 

Start by incorporating software automation tools. These can expedite the audit preparation process.

What can these tools do for you?

  • Give you a centralized and accessible location to form your audit trail
  • Help you communicate with key stakeholders and relevant personnel
  • Track vulnerabilities and risk assessment management

Need help with a security audit?

StandardFusion GRC supports your compliance and risk management program from start to finish. Easily define your IT security audit initiatives and build your own powerful privacy and security program.

If you want to build a customized automation tool that adapts to your business’s needs and can simplify your IT security audit, contact our team. We are happy to help you and answer any questions.