Most people hear the term continuous monitoring as part of their information security process, but “continuous auditing” may feel redundant or confusing. Understanding where your continuous auditing fits into a “security-first” approach to cybersecurity helps promote the best of both worlds by protecting data and proving your controls work.

The Meaning & Benefits of Continuous Auditing

What is a “security-first” approach?

Information security professionals argue that by cataloging assets, assessing risks, reviewing threats, and enacting controls as the first step to compliance enables stronger security and compliance stances. Establishing IT security controls before determining the frameworks to which you want to align enables better protection and compliance since many of them overlap.

What is continuous monitoring?

Malicious actors continuously update their tactics to find new vulnerabilities. A secure system remains safe only as long as it takes a malicious actor to find a new vulnerability. These “zero-day” threats, vulnerabilities previously unknown, pose a significant, ongoing risk to your data environment.

Continuous monitoring provides a real-time capability showing the threats against your IT systems. Incorporating machine learning tools, you can ensure that your internal controls remain effective while also predicting potential new threats.

What is continuous auditing?

Continuous auditing means your internal auditors and external auditors use automated systems to collect documentation and indicators about your information systems, processes, transactions, and controls. on a frequent or continuous basis.

Using these tools, your auditors can collect information from processes, transaction, and accounts in a more timely, less costly manner that allows you to move away from point-in-time reviews.

How are continuous monitoring and continuous auditing different?

Although both continuous monitoring and continuous auditing use automated tools to provide real-time data, they provide insights to different audiences.

Continuous monitoring enables management to respond to threats that impact its risk assessment and business processes. For example, an automated tool may provide alerts about new zero-day exploits that require a software update to maintain control effectiveness.

Continuous auditing enables auditors to gather the log information needed to support compliance conclusions. Instead of sampling a percentage of transactions and processes, the internal auditor can review all of them.

Although the two complement each other, they collect different documentation. Continuous monitoring tools collect information about your controls’ effectiveness against malicious actors. Continuous audit collects documentation proving that you responded the way a standard or regulation requires.

For example, if your IT security policy states that you respond to alerts within 72 hours, then your continuous monitoring tools provide you with information showing where a control has failed.  However, just because you received an alert does not necessarily mean you responded it to it in a timely manner. Your continuous auditing tool enables you to document your IT department’s response to the alert.

Why is continuous auditing better than traditional audit procedures?

Traditional audits focus on a single point-in-time. The auditor requests information during a certain period, and you provide the documentation. However, IT security audits require greater insights into how organizations manage the threats facing systems and networks. Continuous auditing activities prove that you know your environment and identify noncompliance immediately.

For example, financial institutions sit in a highly regulated space. As such, they provide an excellent example of where traditional audits remain useful tools as well as where continuous auditing can maintain best compliance practices.

The Truth-in-Lending Act, for example, requires a financial institution (FI) to provide disclosures about the terms and costs associated with consumer loans. If an FI maintains a record proving that the notices were provided at the required time, then they do not need to continuously monitor the activity.

Cybersecurity regulations like the New York Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) require organizations to continuously monitor their environments to ensure financial statements reflect a cybersecurity event’s impact. In order to maintain compliance, therefore,  requires continuous auditing tools to prove that not only did you respond to the threat but that you made the appropriate notifications afterward.

Where do continuous monitoring and continuous auditing fit into a “security-first” compliance program?

Starting by securing and monitoring your environment protects your data. Security-first, however, means not just establishing controls but continuously protecting information from new threats. If you are continuously monitoring attempted intrusions to your systems and networks, your security-first stance enables you to meet updated compliance requirements rapidly.

Increasingly, regulations and standards require management oversight of your IT security procedures. A continuous monitoring tool provides management the visibility into emerging threats that allow them to make decisions based on their risk assessment.

Once you respond, you need to threats and update your control and risk assessments, 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 ZenGRC Eases the Burden of Continuous Auditing

ZenGRC’s System-of-Record makes continuous auditing and reporting easy. By streamlining the workflow, organizations can eliminate emails while tracing outstanding tasks. Additionally, the unified control management feature allows organizations to map controls across multiple frameworks, standards, and regulations to determine whether compliance gaps exist. This mapping capability enables organizations to ensure consistency that leads to stronger audit outcomes.

For example, as part of the System-of-Record dashboard, organizations have at-a-glance insight into the percentage of controls finalized and a portion of controls mapped to a particular framework.

ZenGRC’s streamlined workflow shows task managers the date on which a vendor provided a response and a status. These details mean that compliance managers no longer need to spend time following up with the organization’s multitudinous vendors.

GRC automation enables organizations to focus on the fundamental issues of compliance while eliminating the tedious tasks that often make compliance feel like a burden. Not only does this help compliance officers feel more effective at their jobs, it also makes organizations more efficient at the ongoing task of governance and continuous monitoring.

For more information about how ZenGRC can streamline your GRC process, contact us for a demo today.