Are your cybersecurity efforts sufficient for meeting the regulations and requirements for your industry? If not, you could face fines and fees — or worse, you could suffer the consequences of a severe data breach

To ensure you maintain adequate data security measures, you need to conduct regular cybersecurity compliance audits. External agencies may require such an audit to ensure your efforts meet their requirements. However, you can prepare for these external audits — and monitor your processes and systems for vulnerabilities — by conducting your own internal audit. 

This post will show you the six crucial steps you can follow to conduct an internal cybersecurity compliance audit and prepare your organization for continuous compliance. 

What is a Cybersecurity Compliance Audit? 

To set you up to get the most out of this post, let us first cover some basic information. Firstly: What is a cybersecurity compliance audit? 

A cybersecurity compliance audit is a process by which a third-party agency assesses whether or not you have the proper security systems in place while also ensuring regulatory compliance. the best way to prepare for an external audit is to conduct a comprehensive internal audit in-house. 

Conducting an internal audit allows you to review all the cybersecurity risks your organization faces. Additionally, you’ll be able to review your current defenses to see how your policies, procedures, and technologies stack up against the threats you’re facing. 

Conducting an internal cybersecurity compliance audit comes with numerous benefits. Firstly, it enables you to self-evaluate the current state of your data security efforts. Through this self-evaluation, you’ll be able to discover and remediate vulnerabilities before an attacker leverages them in the form of a breach.

Related Read: 7 Regulations Requiring File Integrity Monitoring for Compliance

A self-compliant audit is also a great opportunity to stress-test your software and hardware against possible breaches. During your audit, you will also demonstrate and document your organization’s compliance with existing regulations. As a result, your team will have the necessary processes and documentation in place should you face an external audit. 

If you decide not to conduct a cybersecurity compliance audit, you can open your organization up to several risks:

  • Increased Breach Risk: If you have not evaluated your system for vulnerabilities, you leave your organization open to an increased risk of attack. 
  • Damaged Organizational Reputation: In the event of a breach, your organization can face reputation damage and lost customer trust. 
  • Lack of Preparedness: If you do not take the time to conduct a self-audit, you miss the opportunity to prepare your processes, systems, and team for an external audit.
With this foundational understanding of the importance of cybersecurity compliance audits, we are now ready to examine the six steps necessary to conduct your own internal audit. 

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1. Identify Stakeholders 

Step one of your audit is to identify your stakeholders. Who is responsible for cybersecurity compliance in your organization? If your organization is a small business, you may only have one or two stakeholders. However, enterprises may have a full team of stakeholders spread across multiple departments across the business.

Once you have identified the parties who must be involved in your audit, establish each person’s responsibilities in writing. Ensure you are prepared to hold teams and individuals accountable to the responsibilities assigned. 

Lastly, you should use this opportunity to identify which employees may influence your organization’s ability to remain compliant. Which staff members have access to data that may expose your organization to a compliance issue if mishandled or breached? You may choose to engage in cybersecurity training with these employees to ensure they understand their role in maintaining compliance.

Related Read: 5 Cybersecurity Tips to Improve Employee Habits

Once you have identified all the people in your organization who can and should influence your compliance efforts, you are ready to examine your existing policies. 

 

2. Evaluate Existing Policies  

What policies do you currently have in place regarding your information security processes? Take this opportunity to review all active policies, searching for areas where they are insufficient or outdated. 

Watch out for any policies that exist in their current form because “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” Use your cybersecurity compliance audit as a chance to make positive changes in your organization’s processes, enacting and updating policies to reflect modern cybersecurity threats and challenges. 

You will also want to consider the scope of your audit at this point. If you are conducting an audit surrounding a specific regulation or requirement, you may choose to review only the policies concerning that regulation. Alternately, you may choose to examine all policies related to cybersecurity compliance.

Once you have established an understanding of your current policies and developed a plan to update them where necessary, you may inventory your IT assets. 

 

3. Inventory IT Assets 

What counts as IT assets? In this step, you will want to examine hardware, software, databases, and services. Additionally, ensure you account for any third-party data storage solutions or cloud services your organization uses.

If your network is accessible from personal computers or mobile devices, you must also account for those devices in this step. Take special note of this piece if your workforce includes remote or hybrid workers. 

Related Read: The 7 Scariest BYOD Security Risks (and How to Mitigate Them!)

This step is vital for a simple reason: How can you protect devices and data from unauthorized access or alteration if you don’t have a firm understanding of what you’re protecting?

With your key players, policies, and devices accounted for, you are now ready to conduct a security risk assessment. 

 

4. Conduct a Security Risk Assessment 

Begin your security risk assessment by examining current cybersecurity threats. Consider trends, past cybersecurity events in your organization, and more. 

You will also want to consider critical assets at your organization in this stage. What data or resources are most likely to be targeted in a breach? Center your assessment around securing these assets. 

Thirdly, you will want to examine your current defenses. Compare your defenses against the severity and sophistication of the threats you’re likely to face. How do they stack up? Take this opportunity and plan to shore up any defenses that seem likely to fall short. 

Note that a security risk assessment is not a “one and done” process. You will want to conduct this type of assessment on a regular basis. 

 

5. Remediate Identified Risks 

In all likelihood, your compliance audit will reveal weak spots and vulnerabilities. Take note of these risks and use step five of your audit to remediate those risks. 

Create and implement practices and policies to close gaps with your team’s data access. You may also note new technologies you need to solve these challenges and help make compliance more seamless for your team.

You want your cybersecurity practices to be proactive rather than reactive, so ensure you are not simply remediating active risks at this stage: Instead, build a long-term compliance strategy to help your maintain continuous compliance in the future.

Ensure you keep record of all implemented changes at this stage, as a log of cybersecurity improvements and compliance efforts will be vital in the face of an external audit. 

 

6. Create an Incident Response Plan 

Regardless of how much effort you put into preventing a cybersecurity incident from occurring, there is always the possibility that an attacker will manage to breach your defenses. In the event of a breach, you will need a robust incident response plan to minimize the impact.

Related Read: Top 3 Reasons Security and Compliance Are Going The Wrong Way

Your incident response plan will include the following:

  • Response Protocol: A guide to indicate how each employee in your organization must respond in the event of a breach. 
  • Business Continuity Plan: A plan for how your business will recover and return to business-as-usual post-breach. 

You must regularly review your incident response plan and update the document as needed as threats and technologies advance. 

 

Prepare for Your Next Cybersecurity Compliance Audit 

By following the steps outlined in this post, you should be able to conduct your own internal cybersecurity compliance audit and set yourself and your organization up for success in the event of an external audit. 

Implementing a system integrity assurance solution complete with File Integrity Monitoring processes and tools is the simplest way to maintain continuous compliance and ensure that you are always audit-ready.

File Integrity Monitoring allows you to detect changes to critical files. Paired with system integrity assurance, it can help your team identify, prohibit, and remediate unknown or unauthorized changes in real time. Cimcor’s system integrity assurance solution, CimTrak, gives your team the tool they need to maintain continuous compliance in less time, with less effort.

See an instant preview of CimTrak in action today to see how our solution can help your organization. 

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Jacqueline von Ogden
Post by Jacqueline von Ogden
November 17, 2022
Since 1999, Jacqueline has written for corporate communications, MarCom agencies, higher education, and worked within the pharmacy, steel and retail industries. Since joining the tech industry, she has found her "home".