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Cybersecurity Audit Checklist: Compliance & Must-Haves

Cybersecurity Audit Checklist: Compliance & Must-Haves

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Written by Brandon
Tuesday, July 26th 2022

Imagine you get a phone call: all your staff has just been locked out of your computer system and your customer data was encrypted. What would you pay to rewind the clock to before that happened? Probably a lot more than it would cost you now to protect yourself from it.

Are your organization’s systems secure? Now before you answer, let’s keep to what you know. Do you know that they are secure, or do you just hope so? Have you taken every reasonable step to ensure they are secure? Without a cybersecurity audit and checklist, your company might have glaring cybersecurity vulnerabilities and risks, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Cybersecurity protocols and procedures can make or break your organization. Between compliance fines and reputational damage, a cybersecurity failure can be incredibly costly for your company and have long-term implications. A cybersecurity audit will reveal areas where you can improve your cybersecurity and address your problems.

For example, if employees are regularly sharing confidential information over unsecured channels, then a secret management tool like Onboardbase can remove this point of risk. Continuously identify and eliminate vulnerabilities like this, and your organization will be a lot safer.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the application of technology, best practices, and controls to protect computers, networks, servers, data, and other electronic systems. You might hear cybersecurity referred to as information technology security. Whichever term you use, the internet and other associated technologies would be very risky without cybersecurity.

There are five major types of cybersecurity:

  1. Application Security – concerned with protecting applications and programs from malicious actors that look for security vulnerabilities and flaws.
  2. Network Security – focused on protecting network systems using firewalls, VPNs, sandboxing, network segmentation, and antivirus software.
  3. Cloud Security – protects cloud infrastructure and resources located in remote data centers and hosted over the internet.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT) Security – secures cloud and internet devices, including smart devices, security cameras, and other autonomous equipment.
  5. Critical Infrastructure Security – responsible for keeping critical infrastructure systems like transportation systems, public health systems, utilities, telecommunications, and financial services safe.

Why is Cybersecurity Important?

Information technology (IT) is indispensable in this digital age, just like accounting and human resources. Cybersecurity is like the immune system of information technology. But as a business critical function, not having robust cybersecurity can be a fatal mistake.

Unfortunately, cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving. Even companies that take their cybersecurity seriously have fallen prey to malicious cyberattacks. Because of the increasing incidence of data breaches and other malicious activity, government bodies have started to take regulatory action in the cybersecurity space. Companies collect and store lots of data, and regulations ensure you’re acting as a responsible custodian of data.

Cybersecurity Regulations

Some of the major pieces of regulation in the cybersecurity space include:

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – an EU law covering privacy and data protection for consumers. Offending companies face stiff fines of up to 4% of the company’s annual turnover.
  • Data Protection Act (DPA) – a UK law controlling how companies can use your personal data and your rights to data about yourself.
  • Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) – a US federal law that regulates how government information and assets are to be protected
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – US federal law that outlines standards for protecting patient health information.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley – a US federal law that requires financial institutions (investment banks, lenders, insurance companies, etc) to protect consumer data and be transparent in how they share consumer information.

Getting labeled as non-compliant with cybersecurity regulations isn’t all your organization has to contend with. The fallout after a major data breach can permanently damage your company’s reputation. Consumers expect companies to protect their data like it’s their own. Consumers often take their business elsewhere when news breaks that their user data has been stolen and their accounts are compromised.

In 2013, a major data breach occurred under major retailer Target’s watch. Over 40 million debit and credit cards were exposed when a third-party vendor was hacked. Sales declined and the company was forced to lay off workers to handle losing customers.

What is a Cybersecurity Audit and Checklist?

A cybersecurity audit is a comprehensive analysis of your organization’s current and notable cybersecurity risks and the cybersecurity procedures, policies, and controls that your company has in place. Your audit can be internal, or an independent cybersecurity auditor can assess your organization’s cybersecurity setup.

Organizations can use a cybersecurity audit checklist to systematically work through their audit while ensuring they aren’t missing any vital systems, procedures, or policies. An audit checklist is a tool that makes cybersecurity audits more efficient and complete. Without a checklist, the audit process is unorganized.

Why Do You Need a Cybersecurity Audit?

Cybersecurity audits are about assurance. Assurance that your organization’s cybersecurity can withstand the latest cybersecurity threats, protect data and systems, and fulfill compliance standards.

Cybersecurity audits can identify emerging cybersecurity risks that your team hasn’t accounted for, identify procedure oversights, and detect critical security vulnerabilities and how to address them. Cyber security audits should be carried out at regular intervals because the cybersecurity landscape is changing rapidly, and what once was secure may now be a major backdoor into your organization. Security experts recommend an audit at least once a year, but every 4-5 months is even better.

You may, in the end, have no way around being audited. If your organization is subject to any compliance requirements, an external auditor may have to verify your system’s compliance. You won’t receive a compliance certificate without a full external audit. So the question is whether to be proactive or reactive to your circumstances.

10 Cybersecurity Audit Checklist Must-Haves

A little preparation can make your cybersecurity audit more efficient and effective. Create an audit checklist to ensure all aspects of cybersecurity are covered. No matter your industry, all cybersecurity audit checklists should cover these topics:

1. Which Compliance Standards Apply?

You need to determine whether your company falls under any regulatory laws and which compliance standards apply. A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or other IT leader should consult with a cybersecurity firm. The firm can help outline which compliance requirements your company needs to fulfill.

2. Security Training

What training does your company require for IT and non-IT professionals? Human error and credential leaks are the number one way malicious attackers enter sensitive systems. Security training builds a security-focused culture and helps prevent cybersecurity incidents.

3. Data Encryption

What are your company’s procedures for handling the transmission of data? When and how is data stored, and for how long? Does your company mandate the use of a specific encryption algorithm?

4. Secrets Management

Does your company incorporate secret management into its cybersecurity practices? What kind of communication channels are barred from sensitive data sharing? Do you use Onboardbase, a complete secret and environmental configuration management tool, or another method to protect secrets?

Communication channels like Slack are not a safe way for your team members to be sharing sensitive company data. Onboardbase improves productivity while securing your organization’s secrets with end-to-end encryption.

At Onboardbase, we put security first, continually developing our systems to ensure they can successfully protect your secrets. With Onboardbase, you can easily share secrets and environmental configurations in development environments without increasing your vulnerability.

Your organization can try Onboardbase’s free package, which covers five users for free. From there, you may want to upgrade to the ‘Building Together’ package, which covers 20 users for just $150 and offers additional features and dedicated support to ensure peace of mind for the whole team. For enterprises, reach out to us, and we’ll come up with a tailored plan for your organization.

5. Physical Security

How are your servers protected? What procedures prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing critical infrastructure equipment? Does your organization use RFID key card locks or surveillance cameras? If so, how are these protected against hackers?

6. Zero Trust

How are the concepts of zero trust incorporated into your access management? Who can access the most sensitive data? Is access controlled with fine-grained authorization?

7. Incident Management

How does your organization handle security incidents? How quickly are incidents resolved? What monitoring tools do you use to catch intrusion and other events early? Who responds to an incident? How does your company learn from incidents?

8. Personnel and Responsibilities

Are the responsibilities of your employees, especially IT employees, clearly outlined? Are all employees aware of their role in security and possible risks in their daily workflow? Who is on-call during the evening, overnight, on holidays, and weekends? Who is responsible for network security? Who is responsible for access management?

9. Are all Systems Updated?

Regardless of your organization’s operating system on its company computers, these systems need to stay updated. Your IT team should be tracking all upcoming OS updates and ensuring that every computer on the system is up-to-date.

10. Who Has Administrator Privileges?

Administrator privileges should only be given to senior IT professionals and, in some cases, the top few leaders in an organization. Administrator mode should be disabled by default to avoid introducing significantly more security risks to your system.

Cybersecurity Audit Checklist Examples & Templates

Below you can find a list of cybersecurity audit checklists that might help your organization get started down the road to a full audit:

1. Small Firm Cybersecurity Checklist – an incredible asset for small firms wanting to objectively audit their cybersecurity. Very comprehensive and already in a spreadsheet format.

2. IT Security Audit Checklist for SMBs (Small Businesses) – Another great security audit checklist in a spreadsheet format, covering all the important topics.

3. NIST CSF Auditor Checklist – This checklist covers topics like awareness training and risk management and is a valuable resource for any company.

4. Top 20 Cybersecurity Checklist – A web checklist format that your organization can work through when preparing or conducting an audit. Not as comprehensive as some of the other options, but a great resource, nonetheless.

Audit Your Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Leaving No Gaps

Cybersecurity audits should be a regular part of your organization’s prevention measures against cybersecurity attacks. Without audits, you can lose sight of the strengths and weaknesses of your cybersecurity policies and procedures. Cybersecurity is a continually changing field as new malware and threats emerge.

Stay on top of your organization’s security by preparing for a cybersecurity audit. Secret management is a significant vulnerability that comes from human behavior. Ensure you have adequate secret management to mitigate it with a service like Onboardbase. Having strict fine-grained access control measures and robust incident management procedures will prepare you for the worst-case scenario. Use the cybersecurity checklists provided in this article to get started today!

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