Monitoring is an established component of the information security process; it goes hand-in-hand with auditing. 

What’s the difference between the two? Auditing documents an organization’s compliance activities. Monitoring protects data and provides network security by identifying threats so employees can respond accordingly. Auditing provides proof of a continued compliance effort; monitoring is the continued compliance effort (partly, at least). 

By taking a security-first approach, companies can use continuous auditing and continuous monitoring to provide evidence of their cybersecurity compliance measures. 

Compliance itself is the process of establishing security controls and following business rules to assure that an organization adheres to the requirements of all laws, regulations, industry standards, or other rules that might apply to the organization. 

For companies with compliance obligations, that means identifying, assessing, and analyzing risks. Then the business must create written policies that explain the reasons the company chose to accept, sought mitigation for, escalated, or refused those risks, to assure their security posture.

What is continuous monitoring?

Continuous monitoring is the real-time observation of activity on your corporate network and IT systems, to identify — and, ideally, prevent — new or emerging cybersecurity risks within your IT infrastructure. 

By incorporating machine learning tools that can automate this process, you can assure that your internal controls remain effective while also predicting potential new risks.

Continuous monitoring is wise because attackers constantly change their methods to find and exploit new weaknesses in your IT systems. Endpoint vulnerabilities, misconfigured or weak firewalls, and other cyber threats are all avenues an attacker can use to gain unauthorized access to the system or data.

Since malicious actors modify their malware and ransomware to avoid detection, anti-malware can only protect a company from an already researched infection; it won’t necessarily work against new cyberattacks with enhanced capabilities. Hence monitoring is so crucial.

Why is continuous monitoring an important element of security?

Information security continuous monitoring (ISCM) is important because it empowers organizations to evaluate their operating system and web application infrastructure routinely . 

It allows them to determine whether the system is compliant with current information security policies, or is vulnerable to security threats — and thus, needs patching.

Continuous security monitoring can:

  • Supervise your attack surface 
  • Enhance endpoint security
  • Provide robust data security for your sensitive data
  • Assure you’re compliant with standards like Service Organization Controls (SOC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

What is continuous auditing?

Continuous auditing provides in-depth, real-time metrics demonstrating how closely a company adheres to standardized security operations and procedures. As threats evolve, your security team can then propose new access controls and security management policies based on the new threat landscape. 

Internal auditors need to assure that established controls are consistently applied to all information systems to block security incidents from all sides. 

Auditors review the performance of tasks such as incident response, log review, and vulnerability management to ensure they can still prevent a data breach.

This information can be integrated into the compliance workflow to assure security information and event management (SIEM) policies and procedures are enforced across the organization.

What’s the difference between traditional auditing and continuous auditing? 

A traditional audit focuses on a single point in time, such as the end of a quarter. The auditor requests information during a certain period, and you provide the documentation. 

In contrast, IT security audits require greater insight into how organizations manage the threats facing systems and networks. Continuous auditing uses automated systems to collect documentation and indicators about your information systems, processes, transactions, and controls all the time.

Using these tools, your auditors can collect information from processes, transactions, and accounts in a more timely, less costly manner that allows you to move away from point-in-time reviews. Continuous auditing activities prove that you know your environment and identify non-compliance immediately.

How do continuous auditing and continuous monitoring differ?

Continuous auditing and continuous monitoring both use automated tools (often SaaS applications) to provide real-time data, but they provide information for different audiences.

Continuous monitoring enables management to respond to threats that affect its risk assessment and business processes. Firms can identify potential abuse and attacks before a breach occurs and assure compliance with the Sarbanes Oxley Act, HIPAA, or other laws with heavy data security requirements.

Continuous auditing, meanwhile, enables auditors to gather the information needed to support compliance conclusions. Instead of sampling a percentage of transactions and processes, the internal auditor can review all of them. More critical for financial services organizations, continuous auditing provides regulators with the documentation needed for their audit.

So although the two concepts complement each other, they collect different documentation. Continuous monitoring collects information about your controls’ effectiveness against malicious actors. Continuous audit collects documentation of mitigating practices the way a standard or regulation requires.

Where do continuous monitoring and continuous auditing fit into a ‘security-first’ compliance program?

A security-first approach to compliance means not just establishing controls, but also continuously protecting information from new threats. 

Continuously monitoring attempted intrusions to your systems and networks enables you to protect information and speed up compliance efforts to meet new standards and regulations.

Regulations and standards increasingly focus on management’s governance over your cybersecurity compliance program

A continuous monitoring tool provides management visibility into emerging threats. Then they can make decisions based on their risk tolerance. Once you respond, you need to update your control and risk assessments, and you need to prove that you complied with standards and regulations. 

Your continuous audit tool allows your internal auditor to review your security controls for compliance alignment.

Essentially, you need a tool that connects the continuous monitoring of a security-first approach to compliance with the documentation required to support an audit of your controls and procedures. This is where the two tools overlap.

How GRC Software Enables Continuous Monitoring and Continuous Auditing

Compliance programs require communication between internal and external stakeholders and an audit system that enables this.

ZenGRC offers workflow tagging so that you can delegate compliance tasks and monitor their progress and completion. Moreover, it allows you to prioritize tasks so that your team members know how to plan their activities.

ZenGRC’s workflow management capabilities include a centralized dashboard that continuously documents your control effectiveness making compliance documentation easier.

Additionally, it helps you create an audit trail by documenting and remediation activities to support your responses to auditor questions.

Using ZenGRC’s single source of information platform can speed up internal and external stakeholder communications and provide all documentation necessary thus reducing external auditor follow-up requests.

For more information on how ZenGRC’s audit management workflows can streamline your process, contact us for a demo.