An IT security audit can often cause stress within a company — but it doesn’t need to. 

Security audits are technical reviews of an IT system’s configurations, technologies, infrastructure, and more; all to reduce the chance of a cybersecurity breach. These data details can intimidate those who feel less than savvy in IT, but understanding the resources and strategies available to protect against modern attacks makes IT security less overwhelming.

What Is an IT Security Audit?

An IT security audit encompasses two types of assessments: manual and automated. 

Manual assessments occur when an external or internal IT security auditor interviews employees, reviews access controls, analyzes physical access to hardware, and performs vulnerability scans. These reviews should occur at least annually; some organizations do them more frequently.

Organizations should also review automated, system-generated assessment reports. Automated assessments not only incorporate that data; they also respond to software monitoring reports and changes to server and file settings.

How Do an IT Risk Assessment and an IT Security Audit Differ?

When discussing IT risk assessments and audits, the two terms are often used interchangeably. It’s important to note, however, that while both are important elements of a robust risk management program, they serve different purposes. 

An IT risk assessment provides a high-level overview of your IT infrastructure, as well as your data and network security controls. The purpose is to identify gaps and areas of vulnerability. Conversely, an IT audit is a detailed, comprehensive review of said IT systems and current security controls. 

Typically, an assessment occurs at the beginning of your risk management program to help you identify areas where action and new security policies are needed. 

A security or compliance audit occurs toward the end, when it’s time to achieve certification or attestation. Or, when penetration testing has failed to prevent a controlled cyber attack like a firewall breach, an IT audit happens to determine what went wrong.

Why Is an IT Security Risk Assessment Important?

Before creating procedures and controls around IT security, organizations need an IT security risk assessment to determine what their risk exposure is. Performing an enterprise security risk assessment has six crucial benefits.

1. Justify Financial Expenditures

First, a risk assessment can help to justify the financial expenditures needed to protect an organization. Information security comes at a cost. Tight budgets mean that additional expenditures can be challenging to get approved. 

2. Articulate Risk and Quantify Threats

An IT security risk assessment articulates critical risks and quantifies threats to information assets. By educating internal stakeholders so they can see not only the exposure but also the value of mitigating critical risks, a security risk assessment helps to justify security investments like a penetration test, or the creation of new security measures.

3. Streamline IT Department Productivity

Risk assessments also help streamline IT department productivity. By formalizing the structures that aid ongoing monitoring, IT departments can focus on actively reviewing and collecting documentation rather than defensively responding to threats.

4. Breakdown Barriers Between Departments

Moreover, assessments can help break down barriers. Starting with a security risk assessment puts corporate management and IT staff on the same page. Management needs to make decisions that mitigate risk while IT staff implements them. 

Working together from the same risk assessment gives everyone the information he or she needs to protect the organization, and facilitates support of security efforts beyond the IT department.

5. Establish a Basis for Self-Review

Enterprise security risk assessments also establish the basis for self-review. While IT staff know the technical operating systems, network, and application information, implementation depends on staff in other business units. 

Risk assessments provide accessible reports focused on actionable information so that all involved can take the appropriate level of responsibility to protect systems and sensitive data. To foster a culture of compliance, security cannot operate in isolation.

6. Share Information Across Departments

Finally, security assessments help share information across departments. With individualized vendors and systems, different departments within an organization may not know what others are doing. Furthermore, they may have no insight into your overall security posture. 

Since upper management within larger companies must all share responsibility, assessments provide the insight necessary for meaningful discussions supporting IT security.  

What Does an IT Security Auditor Do?

External auditors provide a variety of services. They review an organization’s information systems, security procedures, financial reporting, and compliance methodology to determine efficacy and identify security gaps. 

While these areas seem segregated, they intersect in several places.

Financial audits incorporate more than just the standard review of a company’s books. When Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act(SOX), the legislation included Section 404. This section requires all companies to assess the effectiveness of their internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR); and all large companies must also have an annual audit of ICFR as well.IT security, compliance, and financial reporting overlap in these legally required reviews.

SOC reports are another area where these three issues overlap. Many businesses require their vendors to complete a Service Organization Control  (SOC) audit

Whether a company decides to engage in a SOC 1, SOC 2, or SOC 3 report, it will need to hire an auditor to determine the company’s data security protocols. 

SOC reporting can be viewed as SOX-adjacent. For organizations that anticipate a future SOX compliance mandate, SOC reporting can serve as valuable preparation. 

Therefore, engaging an IT security auditor not only helps to protect a business’s information assets. It also offers opportunities to scale its compliance.

What Should an Organization Seek in an IT Security Auditor?

Not all IT security auditors are certified public accountants (CPAs), but the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers resources to connect organizations with CPAs who have cybersecurity experience. Combining the two skill sets helps to develop or provide assurance for cybersecurity plans.

For companies just getting started with IT security controls, the AICPA also offers research to aid important decisions, as well as a framework for determining ways to create effective cybersecurity risk management practices.

As malware attacks and ransomware attacks continue to plague the corporate world, businesses need to protect themselves and assure that their customers are safe. Even a single data breach can lead to bankruptcy, especially for small businesses.

What Is an IT Security Audit Trail?

The most time-consuming aspect of a cybersecurity audit is creating the audit trail. An audit trail consists of the documentation provided to the auditor that shows proof of processes to secure an IT environment.

When preparing for an audit, companies need to start by organizing the documents that meet audit requirements. Use an IT security audit checklist to determine where their gaps are.  

The documentation needs to prove business and industry knowledge. Because the auditor will read the previous year’s audit report, it is wise for a company to revisit it as well, and gather evidence of corrective actions. 

Additionally, during security auditing, companies need to show their risk assessments, evidence of compliance with regulatory statutes, and financial information evidence developed in the current year.

Moreover, the IT department needs to gather information showing the IT organizational structure, the company’s security policies and procedures, user accounts list, sensitive data inventory, and internal control tests. 

All this documentation shows facts that support the auditor’s opinion on whether or not your organization can withstand a security breach and has done its due diligence to safeguard systems and sensitive information against security threats. 

What Is the Difference Between General and Application Controls?

General controls focus on those security systems that apply to the entire business, including but not limited to IT. General controls include operational, administrative, accounting, and organizational controls.

Application controls focus on transactions and data within computer applications or networks, such as controls for a wireless network. They are specific to the company’s IT landscape. Application controls emphasize IT security standards and data accuracy, specifically the company’s input, processing, and output (IPO) function.

How Does Automating the IT Security Process Streamline It?

IT security audits require vast amounts of documentation. 

SaaS tools such as ZenGRC speed the process of aggregating information and eliminating security vulnerabilities. They also help stakeholders communicate better. 

When multiple areas of an organization are creating and attempting to implement their own controls, security audit documentation becomes unwieldy and time-consuming to compile.

ZenGRC simplifies the IT audit process, beginning with its vulnerability assessment modules. ZenGRC’s risk assessment modules give insight into both the vendor and company risk management process. 

The Risk Trend and Risk Responsibility graphics provide easy-to-digest, color-coded visuals that provide management a view of the company’s current risk.

Moreover, ZenGRC allows organizations to store their audit documentation in one location. Unlike shared drives, however, ZenGRC enables administrators to moderate user access efficiently. This moderation keeps records safe from tampering and also facilitates communication. While some employees require editing access, some merely need to view documents. 

ZenGRC allows IT professionals to follow user access protocols, even within their audit documentation processes.

Finally, ZenGRC efficiently generates reports that meet diverse needs. It gives the c-suite the overview they need to understand the IT landscape, while simultaneously giving IT professionals a place to record the depth of information necessary during an IT security audit.

Worry-free IT security audits are the ‘Zen’ way. Contact our team today to get your free ZenGRC consultation and demo.