What Happens During a Cybersecurity Risk Audit?

What Happens During a Cybersecurity Risk Audit?


Cybersecurity risk audits are an important part in the security strategy of any business, whether it’s a large enterprise organization, a school, or a small business.

They provide the launchpad for you to put the solutions in place that will help protect your business from cyber harm.

But many clients ask; what exactly is a cybersecurity risk audit? How does it help my business and what does it tell me that I didn’t already know?

To answer all this and more, we’ll be taking a look at each of the constituent steps that make up a cybersecurity risk audit.

Why Impact Recommends Getting a Cybersecurity Risk Audit

Over the last few years, cybersecurity has become an increasingly important aspect of business operations.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the number of attacks seen each year is rising sharply, particularly in 2020, where the circumstances of the pandemic have seen them skyrocket.

Security firm CrowdStrike found that more attacks had taken place in just the first half of 2020 than the entirety of 2019.

Businesses are more frequently adopting solutions that can help them utilize their data; and with that comes more data being handled, processed, and stored; which in turn provides valuable opportunities for cybercriminals.

In short, organizations now store more valuable data than ever and attackers are wise to this, improving their attack vectors and targeting SMBs more than ever.

The costs of being attacked and suffering a data breach can be severe, often spelling the end of a business.

This is why we recommend SMBs have their cybersecurity capabilities audited and get a better understanding of where they’re at and what they need to do to protect themselves.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the steps of the audit.

Related Infographic: 10 Riskiest Employee Practices That Threaten Data Security

What Happens During a Cybersecurity Risk Audit?

Step 1: Planning

The planning stage of a risk audit is crucial in identifying a business’ obligations, expectations, and key personnel responsible for ensuring the project goes smoothly.

This means putting in place a process which clearly defines the project and how communication will be dealt with. At this stage, designating key stakeholders and liaisons is needed in order to move forward.

Auditors will need to be provided with scoping information for businesses networks, in addition to third-party systems held under network. These requirements will be communicated by the auditing team.

They will then draw up a project plan which will include a schedule for the audit.

Step 2: Execution

Now we get into the meat of it.

The execution phase is where the risk audit team will begin conducting testing and scanning in order to build a picture of the security status of the company.

This is typically broken up into two distinct areas: vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, in addition to the optional gap analysis which can also be performed.

Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning is the first port of call in establishing what a business’ weaknesses and strengths are.

When cyberattackers target businesses, their attack vectors virtually always follow the path of least resistance. In other words, if your internal or external network has weaknesses that are picked up during vulnerability scanning, they’re likely to be the primary offenders in the event of an attack.

During the risk audit, your internal network will be scanned to see if there are any issues with your system that might aid a hacker attempting to move laterally through your network once they’ve gained access.

In this process, the scan will map out your network and determine what exactly the soft underbelly of the business is and potential avenues of attack.

Penetration Testing

The risk audit team will now put into action penetration testing, which seeks to ethically and safely gain entry to your network by exploiting vulnerabilities.

This will be conducted by a white hat hacker, a security professional who will play the role of a hacker attempting to break into the business network to get a further understanding of where the biggest weaknesses are.

Penetration testing is always conducted safely, so organizations don’t have to worry about any of their data becoming inadvertently compromised.

Once the testing is complete, the white hat professional will report back with their findings.

This is an invaluable part of a cybersecurity risk audit and gives businesses an insight into how hackers behave and the methods they use specific to their business when attempting to breach the company’s data.

Gap Analysis

A gap analysis isn’t strictly speaking a step of the risk audit process, but for many businesses today this aspect is vital.

For organizations that operate in highly regulated industries, like healthcare, education, and finance, they have to abide by existing and new rules regarding data security.

A gap analysis will assess a business’ compliance standards, their policies as regards data handling and safeguarding, and the extent to which these policies are being enforced.

When a business has a gap analysis performed, it’s a lot easier for them to have a clear picture of where they stand with their compliance and exactly what they need to do if they’re lacking the correct policies.

While a gap analysis is most useful for organizations operating in industries with strict data governance rules, it’s important to note that universal standards are being increasingly sought-after and adopted at the state and federal level.

In California, for example, CCPA is in effect for everyone, while New York has its SHIELD Act, which went into effect March 2020.

Businesses are identifying that data security and compliance are heading in the direction of stricter regulation and preparing themselves early.

We also saw this when GDPR came into being, with US-based companies adopting its compliance rules to set themselves up for US laws that are starting to come into place today.

Final Step: Analysis and Reporting

Finally, we have the final stage of the risk audit.

The risk audit will report on each stage of the audit—the business’ needs, their vulnerabilities, weaknesses from a white hat perspective, and compliance policies.

Findings, technical observations, immediate remediation for pressing issues, and long-term recommendations will be made that can ensure the business is secured.

Once these next steps have been presented and discussed, the business can then adopt a security program which addresses any issues that have been discovered.

Summing Up

We’ve talked about the primary components of a risk audit and what businesses can expect cybersecurity professionals to do when they conduct one.

Risk audits are the first big step a business must make to get its cybersecurity up to standard, and more important than ever considering the dangers of cyberattacks today.

Cybersecurity risk audits are essential for a modern business. A primary objective for any modern organization today is stopping data breaches. Take a look at our free eBook, What Makes a Good Cybersecurity Defense for a Modern SMB?” and see what measures companies should be putting in place to keep their data secure.