Live Chat Now
Give us a call

Send us a text



What Is a Cyber Security Audit?

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.

June 26, 2023

8 min read


A cyber security audit is an exhaustive review of an organization’s IT infrastructure. This critical activity is essential to ensuring the integrity of the enterprise’s information systems and confirming that all applicable security policies and procedures are working and that an organization is following all applicable regulations. In this discussion, we will itemize the benefits of a cyber security audit, outline what they involve and explain the difference between an audit and an assessment.

Benefits of a Cyber Security Audit

While the overarching goal of a cyber security audit is to reduce the downtime, loss of revenue and reputational damage that a cyber attack may bring, there are specific benefits to organizations that conduct regular and well-structured audits.

Similar to financial audits, cyber security audits are typically carried out by independent third parties. This ensures an objective approach and eliminates any conflicts of interest that could come into play with an internally performed audit. An in-depth analysis of the organization’s IT infrastructure by an external source provides an objective and unbiased view of its operations. Free of preconceptions, this objective analysis can be used as the basis for solutions that can protect the business based on its own unique characteristics, conditions and vulnerabilities.

An organization may not have been the victim of a cyber attack before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not at risk for one. By regularly auditing network access control, encryption use, transmissions and other activities, IT professionals can be assured the mechanisms they’ve put in place to protect these systems are functioning as intended. 

Another fundamental benefit of a cyber security audit is that it can uncover gaps in a company’s online protection, enabling their skilled cyber security professionals to devise a well-informed approach to shoring up firewalls and other cyber defenses. 

Companies that fail to take a hard look at their security systems may also be falling behind in regulatory requirements. Security audits are often used to determine compliance with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that have specifications for how organizations must manage sensitive consumer health and financial information. By regularly conducting thorough audits, businesses can avoid the regulatory penalties that can be part of the consequential fallout from a data breach.

What a Cyber Security Audit Involves

Considering the enormous amount of ground that an audit could potentially cover, it is important to determine the audit’s subject as a first step. The cyber security audit universe is actually quite broad, encompassing all of an organization’s control sets, management practices and governance, and risk and compliance provisions. In some cases, this is expanded to include third parties, such as vendors, and it is now common practice for most enterprises to extend the scope of the audit to external infrastructure such as travel and in-home settings and cloud infrastructure. 

An organization’s cyber security checklist should consider all of these elements when conducting an audit to ensure that the relevant controls are in place, optimized and compliant:

    • Operational security: The organization’s policies, procedures and controls governing information security are examined to verify that IT management is maintaining an efficient and controlled environment to process information in.

    • System security: This audit area covers security patching, privileged account management and system access.

    • Physical security: An organization’s physical premises, such as server rooms and the physical devices or hardware that it uses to store sensitive information.

    • Data security: Covering the methods by which sensitive information moves through a system which includes network access controls and data encryption.

    • Network security: This audit area analyzes network controls, antivirus configurations and network monitoring. Auditors look for weaknesses at any point along the network that an attacker could exploit to gain access to information or cause damage. 

How Often Should a Cyber Security Audit be Performed?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Since a cyber security audit is like a snapshot of a company’s IT security health, the frequency of such audits depends on a wide range of factors, including an organization’s budget, whether they’ve recently made significant software changes and the regulatory environment they operate in. Considering this, it’s good practice to conduct audits on a regular basis, especially when a new measure or protocol has been implemented.

Cyber Security Audit vs Assessment

As noted by cyber security ratings firm Security Scorecard, there are distinct differences between cyber security audits and cyber security assessments. 

Cyber security audits are point-in-time evaluations that confirm specific security controls are in place. A cyber security assessment is a high-level analysis that evaluates the effectiveness of those controls and an organization’s cyber security maturity. 

An audit is typically performed by an independent, third-party organization whose members are connected to a regulatory body. Organizations can assign an internal team of auditors, but it can be difficult to get an objective picture of the state of the security protocols without an unbiased outside perspective.

Another distinction is that audits typically follow established checklists to verify compliance with the company’s controls, policies and procedures. While they confirm the presence of controls, they can’t guarantee the effectiveness of those controls and may fail to identify potential vulnerabilities. 

Cyber security assessments are driven by business outcomes such as continuity and resilience and can provide an in-depth look at the effectiveness of a company’s security program. 

Best Practices for Cyber Security Auditing

Whether a cyber security audit is conducted internally or with external partners, best practices to follow include:

    • Beginning with a definition of the audit: To ensure efficient allocation of time and resources, define the audit’s scope and identify the specific goals to be achieved with it. Put together a checklist that consists of several pertinent questions: What you’re auditing – digital infrastructure? Business operations? Something else? Are there any specific cyber security risks you want to solve for? Will the audit be conducted entirely by internal personnel or will third-party vendors be involved? Make a list of all assets, including all sensitive data and computer equipment. 

    • Getting all team members on board: The simplest practice is often one that has the most potential to be overlooked – getting and keeping everyone in the loop. Make everyone aware of the necessity of cyber security solutions and of the forthcoming audit process well in advance. This will make it easier to procure and organize the resources needed for the audit.

    • Sharing the resources they will need: A complete view of the organization’s IT security management should be shared with auditors and an easy-to-read compilation of the company’s cyber security policies should be provided.

  • Aligning auditing with compliance standards: IT leaders should review all the compliance standards that apply to their business and share them with the audit team. This will help everyone understand any cyber security issues that may be related to the regulatory environment as they move through the audit process. 

  • Detecting and recording risks and vulnerabilities: By identifying all known vulnerabilities in the system, auditors can better understand the nature of the attacks the organization might face and the motivations behind them.

  • Providing a detailed network structure: Auditors should be given a detailed diagram of the structure of your network to give them a head start in the vulnerability assessment process and help them to identify security gaps.

    • Documenting and analyzing the audit report: When the auditing team has conducted the work in accordance with these best practices, all the findings and outcomes should be documented. The report should be thoroughly analyzed by IT management and leadership teams. A summary should be presented to all employees, outlining the audit results and what follow-up actions need to be taken. From here, any report-based actions such as new training, additional resources or backup plans can get under way.

    • Scheduling the next audit: Because new types of cyber security threats are ever emerging, it’s good practice for businesses to conduct in-depth cyber security audits at least yearly, and in some cases semi-annually or quarterly. The best way to get the next audit on everyone’s calendar is by scheduling it as soon as the current one wraps up.

Thinking About a Career in Cyber Security?

If you want to learn how to protect critical IT infrastructure from cybercriminals, we can help. Our online Bachelor’s Degree Specialization in Cyber Security can help you prepare to pursue an exciting career in cyber defense. Aspiring cyber defenders in this program are exposed to a robust curriculum that covers digital devices and operating systems, small enterprise networks, ethical hacking and network security testing, and it can even help you prepare to pursue industry-recognized certifications. 

Classes start soon. Let’s talk about getting you started in our next session.

8-Week Class Sessions

Classes Start Every 8 Weeks

Filter Blog Post Category

Related Posts