IT Infrastructure Security Audits and Compliance Standards

The expansion of IT assets has increased cyber risks and targeted attacks that disrupt businesses. Performing IT Infra security audits can help organizations understand the risks associated with their networks and systems. As global cybercrime costs are expected to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, cyberattacks and new vulnerabilities have been a proven risk for all companies and organizations that they will wrestle with. In this article, we will understand the purpose of IT Infra Security Audits and the comprehensive checklist followed while performing audits. It will further highlight the key compliance standards that an organization needs to adhere to for a more advanced and secured business.

Know Why: The Purpose of IT Security Audit

An IT security audit is a thorough evaluation of an organization’s security posture, IT infrastructure, networks, connected devices, and applications. It identifies vulnerabilities and security gaps. Security audits measure compliance with defined standards to determine risks. It is a process of systematically assessing a company’s information systems – including the physical configuration, environment, software, processing methods and user practices – to find vulnerabilities. Audits evaluate security comprehensively across these areas. Security audits are often conducted for IT compliance efforts, gauging adherence to laws governing corporate information processing. By finding security issues, organizations can fix problems and achieve compliance requirements through audits.

Conducting IT security audits benefits organizations by identifying security weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited. By proactively detecting these flaws, organizations can implement timely software patches and other solutions to seal loopholes before hackers have a chance to infiltrate. This allows companies to shore up defences and prevent malicious attacks aimed at disrupting business operations or stealing data.

Though identifying issues seems negative, it has a positive effect on overall security:

  • Identify vulnerabilities: Audits pinpoint potential hacker entry points and vulnerabilities early on to get ahead of cyber threats. The report highlights vulnerabilities like inadequate passwords, unencrypted networks, legacy systems, and other exploits criminals could leverage.
  • Maintaining Compliance Requirements: Audits ensures adherence to mandated standards like ISO, HIPAA, PCI, GDPR. It guarantees that an organization is meeting regulatory requirements and avoiding potential fines and penalties.
  • Boosting Overall Security Posture: Based on the analysis, entities can implement controls to enhance security posture like access restrictions, multi-factor authentication, and patch installations.
  • Risk Reduction: By identifying and mitigating potential risks, it lets organizations mitigate breaches, reputation damage, financial harm through prompt incident response.
  • Enhancing Employee Awareness: Such audits often highlight needs to train staff on protocols, threats, and best practices. The comprehensive data gathered during the audit enables tailored learning programs designed to improve the ability to recognize potential threats, and how to respond to such incidents.
  • Achieving Competitiveness: Performing IT security audits and implementing remediations to strengthen defences can become a strategic advantage for a company over industry peers. Proving robust protections and commitment to data security via auditing fosters trust in clients, partners.

Essential IT Security Audit Checklist

A robust IT security audit involves assessing critical components such as data protections, network safeguards, application security, and user access. While specific checks will vary based on an organization’s infrastructure and risks however, this checklist will provide an idea of the major areas that should be checked of during an IT security audit.

A Guide to Top Compliance Standards

Following compliance guidelines fosters ethical behaviour and reduces legal exposure, while bolstering an organization’s reputation. Embedding controls and accountability builds a culture focused on transparency and integrity. This retains customers who value ethics, and draws top talent motivated by purpose. Compliance provides operational safeguards, strengthening competitiveness in the marketplace. Adopting these standards is both a risk management and brand enhancement strategy. The following are the some of the top compliance standards:

ISO 27000 series

The ISO 27000 series is an information security framework published by the International Organization for Standardization applicable to organizations of all types and sizes. The core standards – ISO 27001 and 27002 – outline requirements and procedures for implementing an Information Security Management System (ISMS) which is necessary for robust audit and compliance monitoring. ISO 27000 provides an ISMS overview and vocabulary while ISO 27002 outlines code of practice for developing risk-based ISMS controls.

Compliance with ISO 27000 series standards is established through audit and certification processes, by accredited third parties. ISO 27018 addresses cloud computing while ISO 27031 provides IT disaster recovery guidance. ISO 27037 deals with the collection and protection of digital evidence, ISO 27040 covers storage security and ISO 27799 defines healthcare data security for companies that require HIPAA compliance.

NIST SP 800 series

NIST SP 800-53 is a set of information security standards and guidelines to support Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance across federal agencies and contractors. It outlines security control guidelines for systems storing, processing, or transmitting sensitive federal data to enhance integrity, confidentiality, and resilience. NIST SP 800-171 was mandated by the Department of Defense which regulates protections for transmitting, storing, and processing that sensitive information stored by third parties like contractors and partner agencies supporting federal activities.

Further, NIST 800-171 outlines a baseline of generalized security controls derived from the more expansive NIST 800-53 framework. This creates flexibility for smaller companies to crosswalk initial 800-171 compliance into more robust frameworks like 800-53 by layering on additional controls over time as organizations evolve. Specifically, NIST 800-53 provides a catalogue of operational, technical and management safeguards that serve as security controls for fortifying federal information systems. It also introduces standardized security baseline control sets to aid control selection and implementation. Adherence helps ensure agencies meet FISMA mandates around secure development and risk reduction.  The NIST SP 1800 series is a set of guides that complements the NIST SP 800 series of standards and frameworks.

NIST CSF

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is a set of security guidelines and best practices with a goal of helping organizations manage cyber risks, focusing specifically at first on U.S. critical infrastructure like energy, water, food supply chains, healthcare, transportation and more. These sectors are prime targets of nation-state bad actors given their central role in economic stability. It takes a risk-based approach centring on analysis and risk management processes. Informed by industry standards, it outlines five core functions – identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. Mapping security activities and maturity to these phases of the risk lifecycle enables entities to orient people, assets, data, and technology for better preparedness. NIST CSF is now broadly applied across public and private sector organizations to benchmark and uplift cyber resilience.

COBIT

COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies) is an IT governance framework which aims to help organizations develop, implement, monitor and optimize IT governance and information management practices. Originally focused on IT risk mitigation, COBIT has evolved to address emerging technology and business demands. COBIT 5, released in 2012, better balanced technical and business goals. The current iteration is COBIT 2019, consolidating guidelines and tenets from previous COBIT versions, Val IT 2.0, Risk IT and other frameworks. Mapping IT to business value is a core theme. At its core, COBIT helps align IT governance to business goals and risk management needs.

CIS Controls

The Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls (CIS Controls) provide a condensed list of 18 technical and operational security best practices to reduce risk across IT environments, without prescriptive risk analysis. CIS offers pragmatic guidance on strengthening defenses and outlines actionable and high-priority measures to thwart widespread attacks by improving asset management, data encryption, monitoring, malware prevention, penetration testing and more. They aim to help organizations define a starting point for defense, direct limited resources to what matters most, and address additional risks unique to the business.

HITRUST Common Security Framework

The HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) incorporates risk analysis, management, and prescriptive operational controls across 14 categories – applicable beyond healthcare to most organizations. It aims to harmonize and unify requirements from existing infosec regulations (HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR etc.) into a single integrated framework for cybersecurity. By implementing the CSF, organizations can potentially cover needs for multiple compliance mandates.

However, given its comprehensive scope spanning policies, processes, and technical measures, HITRUST adoption represents a major undertaking for any organization. The multi-compliance bridge carries high costs in time, money, and effort. The certification is audited by a third party, which adds a level of validity.

GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a framework for data protection and privacy. It mandates security controls and safeguards organizations globally must put in place when handling EU citizens’ personal data. Key requirements focus on restricting unauthorized access through measures like encryption for stored information, role-based access permissions, least privilege need-to-know models, multi-factor authentication protocols and similar access restrictions.

COSO

COSO is a joint initiative which helps companies achieve a risk-based approach for internal controls. It covers components like Control environment, Risk assessment and management, Control activities, Information and communications, Monitoring. COSO released its Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) which is an Integrated Framework, aiming to help organizations improve their cyber-risk management, covers 20 principles across components like Governance and culture, Strategy and objective setting, Performance, Review and revision, Information, communication, and reporting.

FISMA

The Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) is a cybersecurity framework closely mapping to NIST’s Risk Management Framework. FISMA mandates security protections for federal agencies, contractors and third parties handling government data and systems. It requires entities to develop, document and implement comprehensive policies, procedures and controls which are regularly audited and monitored for effectiveness. This includes assessing IT infrastructure vulnerabilities, conducting security assessments, and submitting annual progress reports. It aims to reduce cyber risk exposures across federal information assets while optimizing infosec spending. Originally focused on direct agencies, FISMA’s scope has expanded to include state administering bodies like healthcare services and any private sector partners with federal contracts.

NERC CIP

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) framework provides 14 standards, both ratified and proposed, guiding cybersecurity policies and controls for bulk electric system utilities. The goal is to monitor, regulate and maintain security for operational assets considered national critical infrastructure. It aims to uphold cyber resilience and reliability across interdependent power distribution systems through industry-specific cyber hygiene and readiness reflections of contemporary attack technique. CIP-004-6 mandates Personnel and Training specific cybersecurity, CIP-008-6 focuses on Incident Reporting and Response Planning, CIP-013-1 calls for Supply Chain Risk Management while CIP-014-1 covers deterrent protections and monitoring to secure facilities.

Final Thoughts

A recent study found out that 43% companies had been experiencing data breaches in the previous year. It is more important than ever to keep a company’s infrastructure secure and risk free. The evolution of the global workforce towards remote and hybrid working models introduces fresh security challenges. With the increasing intricacies and prevalence of threats, conducting IT Infrastructure Security Audits becomes a necessary measure for organizations aiming to safeguard their digital assets. Regular security audits provide a comprehensive overview of your organization’s cybersecurity risk landscape and readiness to combat threats such as social engineering attacks and security vulnerabilities.

About Author

Ram is a Cloud Security Expert with 30+ years of IT experience, holding 26 patents in Infra, AI-ML, and Automation. He’s a Wipro Fellow, an Independent Consultant for Fortune 15 companies, and has won international awards for Automation. Ram’s cost rationalization work benefited enterprises like Citi Bank, Credit Suisse, and UBS.

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