Acing Your Cybersecurity Audit: The Ultimate Guide

By Dr. Jerry Craig | November 8, 2023
Jerry is Ntiva’s Sr. Director of Security and CISO, offering more than 20 years in the IT and cybersecurity industry. Certified CISO, CISSP and CCSP, Jerry also serves part-time as Adjunct Professor in the University of Maryland Global Campus.

Stepping into a cybersecurity audit can feel overwhelming, right?  You've got to make sure everything's locked down tight, but where do you even start?

Well, diving into the audit process doesn't have to be daunting. Our guide, "How to Ace Your Cybersecurity Audit," is the straightforward ally you need to navigate through your audit preparations with ease. 

In six simple steps, we'll equip you with the essentials—minus the technical jargon—so you're fully prepared before, during, and after your audit. Whether you're a seasoned expert or new to the field, we’ve got you covered with clear, actionable advice.

Let's tackle that audit confidently and turn it into a cybersecurity success story. Ready to get started?

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Table Of Contents

What Is A Cybersecurity Audit?

what is a cyber audit

A cybersecurity audit is like a top-notch detective investigating an organization's information system security. It digs deep to see how well the organization follows the rules, with a laser focus on protecting the system, ensuring data integrity, and keeping information assets safe from sneaky cyber intruders. Unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction don't stand a chance against the scrutiny of a cybersecurity audit.

This  audit typically covers key areas like:

The audit results in a thorough report that exposes any vulnerabilities or non-compliance concerns and offers practical suggestions to boost the organization's cybersecurity stance.

Cybersecurity Costs 2024

Why Do I Need a Cybersecurity Audit?

A cybersecurity audit provides organizations with a valuable snapshot of their cybersecurity posture, offering essential insights to safeguard their information assets against the ever-evolving threats in the digital realm:

Uncovering Weaknesses: Audits expose vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber attackers.

Ensuring Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have legal obligations to protect customer data, and an audit ensures compliance, preventing fines and legal consequences.

Building Trust with Stakeholders: Demonstrating a commitment to security fosters trust among customers, partners, and investors.

Gaining Strategic Insights: Audits offer valuable insights into the effectiveness of current security measures and guide strategic investments in security.

Effective Risk Management: By understanding security risks, organizations can prioritize and manage them more efficiently.

Gaining a Competitive Advantage: Organizations with a strong security posture can gain a competitive edge, especially in sectors where data security is crucial.

In a nutshell, a cybersecurity audit is a proactive measure that can protect organizations from potential breaches, financial losses, and damage to their reputation.  But navigating the process can be tricky, so let's take a look at some of the best ways to get through it with a grade of A+. 😉

6 Steps To Getting The Cyber Audit Process Right

Cybersecurity Audit Process

Step One: Identify the Best Audit for Your Organization

Are there any specific requirements for the audit? For instance, defense contractors may require a CMMC audit. Do you need this audit for marketing purposes or for cyber insurance? What are your clients expecting to see from the audit?

Consider the difference between NIST and ISO. NIST is typically used in the United States, while ISO is recognized internationally. Who are your business partners and which framework aligns with their standards?

Finally, it's important to understand your client base and their level of interest in the audit. What are you hoping to achieve with this audit? Is cost the primary concern? Speak with your organization's leaders to gain insight into the underlying reasons for the audit and distinguish between mandatory requirements and optional additions.

Let's get this compliance journey rolling by figuring out what's absolutely non-negotiable.

Different audits dive into different aspects of your organization's cybersecurity posture. So, it's crucial to be crystal clear on the elements that are essential to audit, while keeping in mind regulatory obligations and business goals. What exactly do you need to accomplish here? You must understand the specific aspects that require auditing to meet your organization's goals.

PRO TIP: We highly recommend steering clear of a pass/fail audit, as it may not address all the specific requirements you need.

Step 3: Craft the Perfect Budget

Determining the budget can be a real head-scratcher at the start because, let's face it, you might not have a clue about the requirements. Simply asking, "Hey, how much does an audit cost?" won't cut it. To get accurate estimates, you need to get down and dirty with the specifics. If you're trying to get the green light from your executive team, you better be as precise as a surgeon's scalpel.

Step 4: Choose the Right Audit Firm

When it comes to choosing an audit firm, tread carefully! Take the time to interact with the auditors and assess their responsiveness and ability to collaborate.

It's important to consider factors like the firm's workload, expected timeline, and flexibility. Look for an auditor who can adapt controls to suit modern environments and is willing to work with you on outdated controls.

Additionally, don't forget to check references, read online reviews, and evaluate the firm's expertise and track record. To create an audit team that is both cost-effective and efficient, aim for a mix of junior, intermediate, and senior auditors. Lastly, don't hesitate to challenge the firm to justify their team's structure and experience levels in relation to their rates. rates.

Step 5: Determine What You Need To Outsource

When hiring an auditor, consider if you have the knowledge and capability to complete the necessary work. Outsourcing tasks like policy development and evidence gathering can incur additional costs and time commitments. Assess your needs and determine if multiple organizations will be needed, each with its own associated costs.

Step 6: Get That Leadership Buy-In...Again!

Last, but certainly not least, it's crucial to obtain leadership buy-in, even if you think you already have it!

It's essential to circle back and reengage with leadership buy-in. Although they may have initially approved the audit, their perspective may have shifted. Make sure to present all relevant information and obtain their buy-in again, even if you had obtained it previously.

Preparing For Your Cybersecurity Audit

How to prepare for a cybersecurity audit

Preparing for your cyber audit is no walk in the park. It's the part that can give you the most headaches, but if you don't take it seriously, you could end up facing delays, excessive resource usage, and unexpected expenses. Don't make the mistake of neglecting proper preparation - it will only cost you more in the long run.

So, roll up your sleeves and invest the time and effort needed to ensure a smooth and cost-effective audit experience:

Create a Schedule

Creating a well-planned schedule is crucial for a successful audit. Include all necessary resources, timelines, and factors like PTO and holidays. Your auditor can provide guidance on task completion dates. A clear schedule will make the audit process much easier.

Get your Evidence Game on!

To prepare for a cyber audit, gather evidence proactively on a quarterly basis, storing it in a repository for the correct timeframes. This saves time and stress and ensures you have sufficient evidence to prove the state of your cybersecurity measures. Being proactive with evidence collection is a smart move that pays off during the audit.

Find the Right People for the Job

When identifying resources for your cybersecurity audit, consider both internal and external options. If you lack the resources or knowledge, consider budgeting for someone experienced to handle the audit. You can shadow them during the first audit to learn the process and establish a schedule. Afterward, you can decide if you want to continue handling it yourself or rely on external resources.

Set the Pass/Fail Criteria in Stone

When it comes to setting pass-fail criteria for an audit, it's absolutely crucial to grasp the expected scoring and how to tackle any hiccups. Now, if you happen to come across any missing documentation or policy gaps, auditors usually offer a bit of leeway for you to make the necessary corrections. However, if you find yourself unable to meet the requirements within the designated timeframe, you might need to consider a second audit or put together some corrective action plans. And hey, keep in mind that this might cause a slight delay in the certification process. But better late than never, right?

Perform a Thorough (and Rigorous!) Pre-Assessment

Finally, a thorough third-party pre-assessment will identify potential failings and allow you to focus on important controls to aim for a high score. Even if the auditor gives a lower score, your hard work ensures a passing result and avoids false security.

Surviving The Audit Process

Navigating the audit process can feel overwhelming, but with careful preparation, it can actually be a seamless and rewarding experience. Here are some helpful tips to consider as you embark on your audit journey:

  1. Avoid "Single Points of Failure." This means that to guarantee audit success, steer clear of relying solely on one individual for evidence or interviews. Introducing someone unfamiliar with your organization can raise doubts about your year-round security practices. 
  2. Meet regularly and often to ensure assignments are known and deadlines are met. 
  3. If you come across an issue, whether it is internal or with the auditor, it is important to escalate it quickly and address it honestly. 
  4. Avoid the temptation to lie or deceive the auditor in order to gain points, as this can backfire and lead to scrutiny in unexpected areas.
  5. Choose someone confident, composed, and knowledgeable to showcase your organization's strong security practices in interviews. Technical expertise is important, but understanding the auditing process is equally crucial.
  6. Challenge findings respectfully, explain your reasoning, and maintain a professional tone during discussions. Ask for clarification when needed.
  7. When confused or unsure during the audit process, ask questions. Auditors don't expect you to be an expert in everything. Avoid assumptions and seek clarification to avoid costly mistakes. Most auditors are happy to assist and explain, so don't hesitate to ask for help and gain a better understanding of the process.

Let's not forget, the auditor is also on your side! Their main objective is to make sure you pass the audit with flying colors. After all, a failing grade could put a damper on your business relationship. So, rest assured, we're all in this together aiming for a successful outcome. Of course, we expect them to uphold their ethical standards throughout the process. Let's keep our eyes on the prize and work towards that favorable result!

"Acing" the Post-Audit Phase

Navigating the post-audit landscape with precision and foresight is pivotal for continuous improvement and compliance. To "ace" this phase, a proactive and structured approach is essential.  Here's how to take control of the post-audit phase and turn insights into action:

  • Document any identified deficiencies, including internal issues and difficulties in gathering evidence or involving the right people.
  • Address these issues to prevent repeating mistakes in future audits.
  • Remediate deficiencies highlighted by the auditor, especially those with pass-fail indicators.
  • Plan and schedule the next audit promptly after completing the current one, informing everyone involved of responsibilities and timelines.
  • Conduct a lessons-learned meeting to evaluate and refine processes and procedures based on feedback. Actively work on correcting identified issues instead of letting the lessons learned document gather dust.
  • Evaluate auditors based on their adherence to schedule, budget, and competency. If they did not deliver information on time, stay within budget, or provide a team with appropriate experience levels, promptly search for a new auditor.

Acing the cybersecurity audit process is more than just a box to check off for compliance. It's a strategic and proactive approach that plays a vital role in fortifying your business's resilience against cyber threats.  By mastering the ins and outs of cybersecurity audits, your business isn't just passing a test; it's dealing a winning hand in the high-stakes game of digital security!

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Tags: Cybersecurity