System Administration

Every move counts: How to conduct a successful IT audit

02. November 2023, Avatar of Alexander SpatzigAlexander Spatzig

A company’s IT infrastructure is like a complex chess game. Every change affects the entire course of the game. Regular IT audits then lift the IT professional into a bird's eye view to see the entire board again. As a precise snapshot of the current status, they enable a comprehensive review of IT infrastructure, policies and practices such as patch management. An effective audit also is an indispensable tool for not being checkmated when it comes to cybersecurity. 

In short

  • Regular IT audits are essential for identifying and eliminating IT risks and vulnerabilities.
  • A successful IT audit applies clear objectives in areas such as asset management, security and compliance.
  • A good example of an effective IT audit is a review of patch management policies, vulnerabilities and communication channels.
  • The audit report serves as a basis for implementing improvements and documenting compliance.

Carefully planned IT audits can identify potential risks, vulnerabilities and deficiencies in corporate systems and processes at an early stage. For example, companies can assess the performance of automated systems, determine if IT assets and data are sufficiently protected, and reduce the risks of undetected security gaps and outdated technologies.

A must for every audit: clear objectives

The objectives of an IT audit will vary by industry and current business challenges and determine its focus and extent. In some cases, there is greater focus on the technical aspects of the IT systems in use, while organizational structures and commercial processes may be closely examined in others.

If an audit focuses on overall operational security, all company departments are included in a comprehensive risk assessment. If an IT audit focuses instead on specific aspects such as supply chain operations, it will closely examine the security, accuracy and validity of associated processes. For audit managers to achieve effective results, they must be consistent and clear about the objective(s) they are pursuing.

More efficient processes, lower operating costs

Audit findings also can provide in-depth insights into operational processes and structures. For example, companies can determine if their digital processes comply with current compliance regulations and use the audit report to document compliance with industry standards and governmental regulations.

My colleague Andreas Klare has already reported on the impending NIS2 regulations, under which documented proof of security will become even more important.

Typical core areas of an IT audit

  • Review overall IT asset management, including documentation, deployment, maintenance, and necessary updates.
  • Identify potential IT vulnerabilities, threats and risks.
  • Ensure compliance with software licensing requirements, data privacy and protection laws and other applicable regulations.
  • Improve operational processes and eliminate potential bottlenecks, e.g., the flow of data between applications.
  • Systematize, improve and integrate business processes across the board.
  • Check whether IT processes and strategies are aligned with business goals (e.g. digital transformation).
  • Optimize IT costs and efficiency.

Patch management: an example of systematic planning for audit success

Once clear objectives have been set, the audit process begins with timely and transparent communication to all stakeholders about how to prepare and what to expect. A patch management audit provides a good example of the steps involved:

  1. Review current patch management policies and processes.
  2. Determine current patch status through network scans
  3. Review unpatched vulnerabilities and their causes
  4. Analyze risk management procedures that affect the patching process.
  5. Check if existing metrics are suitable for assessing performance.
  6. Review communication channels used by IT staff.
  7. Identify process bottlenecks.
  8. Document all patch management objectives and related contractual obligations. 

Important: document and analyze audit results

Collect information as precisely as possible to enable an effective analysis. That includes reviewing evaluation guidelines at the end of the process to see whether they still meet initial objectives.

The most important thing is to actually implement appropriate measures such as new or updated guidelines that are aligned with audit findings, then monitor progress.

The audit report

The final audit report should thoroughly document all findings, priorities and recommended improvements. It can then be distributed to all relevant stakeholders and serve as the basis for enacting further measures. The report can also serve as a valuable internal reference as new problems arise. It also can be provided to external industry and governmental agencies to document the company’s efforts to comply with data protection guidelines and NIS2 business continuity requirements.

A well-planned audit not only can improve IT efficiency and security, but also can determine whether the automated workflows support company objectives. IT audits also can help ensure that the company’s security measures are keeping pace with the rapid and continuous evolution of cybersecurity threats and associated security regulations.

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