Network Security Audits: 5 Keys for Successful Audits

September 15, 2020//Ellen Neveux

Last Updated: November 24, 2020

A network security audit is essential to ensure sensitive data is protected from hackers and unauthorized third parties. An audit can isolate security threats and trace data breaches, allowing you to plug holes, restrict network access, and improve your company’s network surveillance. So, instead of worrying about an impending network security audit, you should embrace the process; it’s always better to be proactive instead of reactive. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind the end goal is to improve your organization and protect your customers. 

Why Are Network Security Audits So Important?

A lot of people only think about security and risk assessments once it’s too late– it’s after the breach or the cyberattack, instead of being proactive and implementing a laid out information security process before it’s too late. And this isn’t just an abstract idea. There are a number of famous data breaches that stem from not only a lack of investment in IT, but a lack of an audit trail and network security to really battle against.

  • The Marriott Breaches: Yes you read that correctly– breaches, plural. Marriott was in the news a lot, and it’s because they are suffering their second data breach or security incident in the past 16 months. So, what could have stopped the breaches? Having a network security audit in place that could have identified the gaps that were obviously still there that allowed unwanted people onto their networks. Oh, and 2019 and 2020 weren’t the first time Marriott struggled; they had breaches in earlier years, too. 
  • Panera: Another well-known brand, Panera, suffered a breach that affected an unknown number of customers, but was actually known about by the company eight months before reporting it. Want to know what’s worse? Fixing this security flaw took less than two hours. What’s even worse than that is that if Panera had implemented regular network security audits as part of their IT program, this could have most likely been prevented. 

These are just two examples of breaches that most likely could have been prevented, or found sooner, if network security audits were implemented into their security policies. In order to best battle against any of these potential threats is to ensure consistent audits. They’re fundamental in preventing these types of breaches. 

The 5 Keys of a Successful Network Security Audit

  1. Identify sensitive data
  2. Limit access to data
  3. Use firewalls to protect data  
  4. Control for human error
  5. Monitor your network 

Here are five keys to preparing for successful network security assessments:

1. Identify Sensitive Data

First, conduct an inventory of the type of data you will be handling for your clients and how that data will be stored and used within your system. While this may seem like a simple task, it gives rise to more complex questions. For example, is the client providing all sensitive data, or will your organization use client data to generate additional sensitive data? If so, will client-provided data be stored and maintained separately from company generated data?

2. Limit Access to Data

Access to sensitive data should be as limited as possible. Limitation begins by identifying the individuals who require access to the data and the means by which that access will be provided. 

The smaller the access pool (both in terms of authorized users and access methods), the easier it is to secure the data. This limitation process requires a careful balancing between organizational efficiency and security. An error in either direction can be catastrophic. Important considerations include: what data must be accessed remotely; the implications of BYOD (bring your own device) policies; the use of removable storage; and whether the client will require real-time access.

3. Use Firewalls to Protect Data

Your company has numerous physical locks, security cameras, and alarms in place to stop intruders, trespassers, and thieves. The first step in securing digital information and intellectual property is to ensure you have a firewall in place to help prevent network intrusion and data theft.

Common threats mitigated and remediated by firewalls

Some of the most common threats to firewalls are:

  • Internal attacks: If you’re internal, there’s no need to surpass a firewall that’s meant to keep out external attackers. But, firewalls can still be helpful against internal attacks by helping partition assets on your network so that they’ll be limited to a smaller area. 
  • Third-party access: If third parties have the same type and amount of access as an internal employee, the same thing can happen, but results can be worse. To ensure this doesn’t happen, give vendors and third parties access to only what they need and nothing more. 
  • Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks: DDoS attacks are a top strategy since they’re known to be highly effective and cheap to execute. While firewalls can usually mitigate some DDoS attacks, it’s important to ensure that your company has a larger cybersecurity strategy to safeguard against these attacks.

4. Control for Human Error

Even the most secure networks can be undermined by human error. Strive to adopt policies that discourage employees and clients from clicking on malicious links, using thumb-drives in company computers, and providing passwords to other people.

A great example of how to implement this in your organization is to have phishing tests sent out to your company. In fact, our CISO does this all the time to see what people would/wouldn’t click on and how we can train internal employees to understand the signs of a phishing email. This helps safeguard against having our sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. 

5. Monitor your network

One of the best ways to prepare for a network security audit is to monitor your network beforehand. At any given time, you must be able to answer, “Who is logged on to the network?” Just employees? Former employees? Customers? Third parties? Today’s businesses rely heavily on information technology. 

However, without the proper tools and security measures in place, networks may be compromised, resulting in the loss of sensitive data, damage to your company’s reputation, and financial loss. By preparing for a network security audit, you can ensure valuable assets are identified, threats are exposed, and effective safeguards are quickly implemented. To learn more about how to ensure that your network is properly set up and ready for an audit, download our helpful checklist that outlines how to give access to all third parties without compromising security or efficiency.  

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