Technology is filling an increasing role in every aspect of the business. From customer service and sales to back-end electronic records, finance, and resource management, the constant flow of new software has streamlined the way companies function and allowed for massive innovation in the global market. However, the use of tech comes with its own set of vulnerabilities.
Security of information poses a huge challenge for businesses today. In this article, we’ll explain one of the most important tools to keep data safe – an IT security audit.
What Is a Security Audit?
One of the biggest issues for businesses in the modern era is security. Breaches in client and customer data, theft of intellectual property, and fraud are just a few of the threats that businesses face – and they often happen when least expected. Put simply, a security audit is a way to evaluate whether or not your business has the most up-to-date defences against outside attacks.
Who Performs Audits?
While there are plenty of online guides to get you started checking your system for vulnerabilities, a real, in-depth security audit should be performed by an experienced IT professional. This expertise ensures that steps aren’t missed and cuts down on the time and resources required to perform a thorough check.
While some companies have a dedicated IT staff person or team, many don’t. If you already have a staff or a contracted IT specialist, consider including annual security audits into the job description. For those with no IT staff, research firms to find an expert in your area. Look for firms that specialize in audits and when hiring a security consultant, always make sure they have ample experience and good references.
What Happens in An Audit?
Security audits can seem threatening, especially for those who have never performed one. The word “audit” brings up thoughts of punishment, fines, and difficult remediation requirements. An internal audit, however, doesn’t need to be a scary experience.
An IT security audit generally refers to a routine check of all a business’s systems and policies to “guarantee that information security meets all expectations and requirements within an organization” (Techopedia). In addition to this audit, organizations can also include vulnerability assessments, which look for broad weak points in security, and penetration testing, which helps identify specific vulnerabilities.
Traditional audits are performed using a checklist of security measures for hardware, software, and organizational policies. Items on this checklist that are reviewed can include:
- Information security policies
- Staff credentials and privileges
- Confidentiality agreements and disciplinary policies
- Physical facility security
- Maintenance schedules
- Information backup
- Network security
- E-commerce and communication
- Data encryption
- Third-party vendors
- Remediation and compliance policies
A comprehensive audit can contain hundreds of items – but all of them are important to the security of your business and many of them are easily overlooked.
Once a review has been completed, items that were not adequate are identified and ranked by priority. Management and the IT specialists prepare a plan to remedy any issues and get to work fixing any problems that came up.
Why Do I Need One?
Most businesses consider their computer systems secure. Unfortunately, this opinion is usually based on no more than assumptions – and just because you can’t see a vulnerability, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A security audit can be a big task, but it’s a necessary one and, as experts point out, security isn’t an issue you can cut corners on.
Every year, millions of people are affected by data breaches. Everything from health records to credit card information, personal photos and phone numbers have been leaked at great cost to users and businesses. In 2017 alone, billions of people were affected by data leaks from Equifax, Yahoo, and Amazon Cloud Storage. If major organizations with the highest levels of security can be breached, your business can, too.
Here are some of the benefits of an IT security audit:
- Increased Security. Obviously, the biggest benefit to a security audit is an increase in your IT security. This offers peace of mind and a more functional workflow.
- Better Customer Service. Having secure systems, as well as documentation of your security protocols, shows customers that you care about their privacy. This commitment to your customers builds reputation and improves public relations.
- Protection from Litigation. Performing regular security audits and working to fix vulnerabilities can pay off if you do experience a security breach. Documentation of your commitment to security can help protect you from lawsuits and limit your liability.
- Compliance with Regulatory Standards. Most industries have regulatory bodies that enforce certain quality standards for businesses. Security audits can help ensure that your systems meet the requirements of federal and local regulations.
- Reduced Long-Term Cost. A comprehensive audit can be time consuming and expensive. However, preventing security issues is far less expensive than fixing them. Replacing damaged hardware, navigating litigation, and rushing to fix immediate threats are far more costly than a regular, annual checkup and remediation plan.
The pros of completing an audit (and regular audits afterward) are obvious. However, many businesses still don’t do it. Why? Here are some of the common barriers to performing IT security audits:
- Cost. Audits can be expensive, particularly if you don’t already have an IT security professional on your team. However, the cost of an audit is far less than the costs associated with a security breach. Perform a risk-benefit analysis to establish if an audit is worth it for your business – it always is.
- Workload. Many businesses have an understaffed and overworked IT team. Adding a major audit to the daily tasks of your staff and contractors can be overwhelming. Consider hiring an outside expert from an IT firm to perform your audit to reduce the workload on your staff.
- Fear. Some administrators and managers are reluctant to perform an audit simply because they’re afraid of what they might find. Remember that security audits are an internal process – and one that can save your business in the long-run.
IT security audits are absolutely essential for businesses in all sectors. By evaluating your protection against internal and external threats, you’re setting yourself up for a successful future and protecting your customers.