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Our Best Advice on Preparing for a Security Audit

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on September 16, 2019

Security audits have become a common feature of almost every industry in today’s data-driven world. While the prospect of being audited usually doesn’t make anyone in an organization jump for joy, security audits play a vital role in protecting both organizations and their customers from data breaches and mismanagement.

While many compliance standards require companies to renew their certificates or attestations every year with an audit by a third party, there are many other reasons why an organization may have to undergo an audit. It’s not uncommon for vendors and suppliers to be audited frequently by current and potential customers, usually to ensure that their own compliance status isn’t being endangered by negligence on the part of a contractor.

An auditing and certification process can be an intimidating situation if an organization doesn’t take specific steps to prepare for the process. Here are a few tips for ways to make all types of security audits less stressful and more likely to result in success.

Tips for Preparing for a Security Audit

Stay Informed

Security compliance standards and regulations can undergo significant changes from year to year. For instance, 2019 saw a number of updates to HIPAA and PCI DSS compliance rules as well as changes to SOC 2 reporting requirements. Keeping up to speed on the latest changes to relevant compliance standards will help an organization better prepare when it comes time for them to answer security audit questions.

Assess Your Information Security Policy

Every organization’s technology security begins with an Information Security Policy, which establishes the rules and processes for safely managing data and other digital assets. This document not only details what standard operating procedures are put in place to prevent a data breach, but also stipulates who can access data and how they access it. The policy should establish the ethical and legal responsibilities of the organization and provide a clear set of policies for how it plans to uphold them. Since most security audit questions will apply to this document, organizations should make sure it is updated and readily available throughout the preparation process.

Make a Technology/Asset Inventory

A security audit will evaluate every aspect of an organization’s infrastructure, so it’s vital to account for all of those technology assets during the preparation process. The last thing an organization wants is to have an auditor find something that the IT team overlooked during the preparation.

Establish a Timeline

There are many steps that need to be taken in preparation for an audit and if there’s no plan in place for carrying them out in a timely fashion, the organization could be left scrambling to prepare at the last minute before the auditor arrives. By mapping out what needs to be accomplished and when it should be completed, the security team can leave itself plenty of time to address unforeseen challenges long before the audit takes place.

Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Delegating tasks that need to be carried out in advance of the audit can help the organization prepare more quickly and ensure that all relevant positions remain informed about what needs to be done. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities allows everyone to focus on a specific task without having to worry about security issues outside their scope of expertise. It also reinforces policies and security procedures that should already be in place throughout the organization.

Review Previous Assessment Results

If the organization has already gone through an audit, it’s a good idea to review the previous results to ensure that every recommendation has been addressed or implemented. It can also be helpful to know what aspects of compliance requirements a particular auditing agency or individual auditor tends to focus on more closely.

Perform a Self-Assessment

Once all policies and security procedures are in place, inventories are completed, and roles and responsibilities are assigned, it’s time to perform an internal self-assessment. This test run, which can combine manual reviews of processes and automated reviews of infrastructure systems, can identify gaps or other security risks that might catch an auditor’s attention. It also helps to reduce the anxiety and stress of an actual audit because personnel will have a better idea of what to expect during the review.

Mitigate Deficiencies and Address Gaps

If a self-assessment audit reveals significant deficiencies in security policy or the execution of its associated procedures, steps need to be taken to remediate those shortcomings. Addressing these problems prior to the audit not only saves time and money in the long run, but also has the added benefit of improving security procedures and reducing risk right away.

Preparing for a security audit can be a stressful event for an organization, but it can also be an opportunity to improve standard operating procedures and security practices. By taking a few key steps, they can take the anxiety out of the auditing process and be confident that their security measures go above and beyond the requirements laid out in leading compliance standards.

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