No health organization is immune to cyberattacks regardless of their size or perceived data value. Cybercriminals often exploit applications due to weak security measures, resulting in heavy penalties and reputational damages that erode customer trust.

In this blog, we will explain what goes into an IT audit for cybersecurity purposes. We will also provide a cyber security audit checklist to fortify your business against such threats.

What is Auditing in Cybersecurity?

A cybersecurity audit examines an organization’s IT infrastructure, designed to expose vulnerabilities and potential threats to validate the efficacy of existing security practices.

It serves as a key tool in a comprehensive risk management strategy, with its scope extending to scrutinizing the policies, procedures, and controls in place to manage cybersecurity risks effectively.

An audit begins with an in-depth analysis of the organization’s security measures, scanning for weaknesses that may invite unauthorized access from external malicious entities or inadvertent breaches by internal staff.

This can encompass evaluating software and hardware performance, identifying vulnerabilities in the ecosystem, and gauging the effectiveness of current security policies and procedures.

How Long Does a Cybersecurity Audit Take?

A cybersecurity audit can take between a few weeks to a few months. The duration depends on the following factors:
  • What’s the size of your organization?
  • What’s the scope of the audit?
  • Are there any regulatory compliance requirements?
  • What’s the level of cybersecurity maturity?
  • How cooperative is the organization?
  • What is the risk management software you are using?

How Often Should You Conduct a Cybersecurity Audit?

Ideally, organizations should conduct a cybersecurity audit at least once a year.
The frequency of conducting a cybersecurity audit depends on several factors, including:
  • Organization’s size
  • Industry
  • Risk profile
  • Regulatory requirements

4 Types of IT Security Audits

Let’s explore the primary types of IT security audits:

Compliance Audit

A compliance audit determines the status of regulatory and legal compliance, ensuring adherence to pertinent laws and regulations.

Compliance audits can be especially important for organizations bound by industry-specific standards or regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments delve into an organization’s security procedures, design, and implementation of internal controls, pinpointing any weak spots that could be exploited.
These assessments can reveal areas susceptible to harm, including network access points and system configurations. Given the dynamic nature of cybersecurity, it’s advisable to conduct these assessments regularly.

Penetration Testing

These are simulated attacks on an organization’s IT systems to uncover vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit. They offer a realistic assessment of the organization’s defenses, helping identify potential security weaknesses.
These tests can be internal, focusing on in-house systems, or external, scrutinizing publicly exposed facets such as email systems and WiFi networks. A blend of both offers the most comprehensive insights.

Risk Assessment Audit

These audits focus on identifying potential threats and gauging the likelihood of their manifestation. Risk assessments help prioritize the risks based on their severity and potential impact and can also assist in maintaining compliance in heavily regulated industries.

Cybersecurity Audit Checklist

Here’s a comprehensive cybersecurity audit checklist for your organization:

1. Implement a Robust Cybersecurity Policy

The urgency to make a cybersecurity policy is now more than ever. A well-crafted cybersecurity policy is your company’s first defense against potential digital threats.
A cybersecurity policy should:
  • Define roles and responsibilities for all team members.
  • Incorporate a proactive risk management strategy.
  • Regularly review and update the policy.
  • Outline clear incident response procedures.
  • Emphasize swift, coordinated responses to threats.
  • Recognize the policy as a living, evolving document.

2. Strong Password Policy

The foundational layer of any robust cybersecurity infrastructure begins with a powerful password policy. This involves employing complex and unique passwords that aren’t easily decipherable or common (like “password”, “admin”, or “1234567”).
Ensuring that all default passwords are replaced with more secure alternatives that should contain:
  • Uppercase letters
  • Lowercase letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters

Regular audits of user access rights are another critical facet of a robust password policy. It ensures access privileges correspond to an employee’s current role and responsibilities. When an employee transitions to a different role or leaves the organization, access rights should be immediately adjusted or revoked as appropriate.

3. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Implementing a multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanism enhances security further. MFA employs a combination of two or more verification methods – this could be a password paired with a token or biometric data.

This additional security layer makes it substantially harder for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access.

4. Limited Access Controls

A crucial aspect of a strong password policy is effective access control. Strict adherence to the principle of least privilege is recommended – this ensures that employees are granted only those permissions necessary for their specific roles.
Before providing access, a comprehensive background check should be conducted on all employees and contractors. Understanding their past can provide valuable insights and help minimize potential security risks.
In particular, your highly sensitive systems should be under password protection and, if possible, a physical lock and key.

5. End-User Training

A well-trained workforce is often the first line of defense against cyber threats. Frequent and up-to-date cybersecurity training is pivotal in cultivating a culture of security awareness and ensuring employees can recognize and react appropriately to cyber security risks.

The objectives of a cyber risk management program should be fourfold:
  • Minimize human errors: Educating employees about potential cybersecurity data breaches and threats reduces the risk of accidental errors leading to a security breach.
  • Foster a security-aware culture: Regular workshops and discussions about phishing, password security, device security, and physical device security can help embed security consciousness within your organization’s culture.
  • Ensure regulatory compliance: Training aids in adhering to the necessary regulations that stipulate awareness and training as part of their guidelines.
  • Enhance incident response: A trained workforce will respond more efficiently and effectively during an incident, minimizing potential damage.
There are several critical elements that effective cybersecurity training should encompass:
  • Phishing and email safety: Train employees to handle suspicious emails cautiously. They should understand the risks of clicking on email links or opening dubious attachments. Instead, they should forward such emails to your IT team for further examination.
  • Password security: Reinforce the significance of robust passwords and proper password management.
  • Device security: This involves ensuring data security on portable devices such as laptops and implementing and enforcing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.
  • Physical security: Employees should be trained to deal with strangers in the workplace to prevent potential social engineering attacks.

6. Keep Your OS Up to Date

An outdated operating system, such as Windows XP or Windows 7, no longer supported by Microsoft, exposes your organization to unnecessary risks. To streamline this process, your business should enable automatic updates for your operating systems.
The act of keeping your systems updated not only provides improved security but also ensures the smooth running of your business operations and processes.

7. Update Your Antivirus and Antimalware Software

Additionally, remember that owning an antivirus application alone does not guarantee safety. You must ensure your subscription is active, allowing your software to continually access the most recent information about emerging viruses and malware.
If you overlook these critical updates, you inadvertently leave your data vulnerable to potential security breaches.
For larger organizations, it’s beneficial to configure workstations to report their update status to a central server.

8. Monitor Log Activity

Keeping an eye on log activity facilitates post-incident investigations and aids in compliance with industry regulations.
Your logging history should have key data points, including:
  • User activities
  • Attempted accesses
  • Significant network events
As a best practice, securely store log data long enough to counter any lingering, undetected advanced persistent threats (APTs).

9. Maintain Device Security

USB storage devices can pose a significant security risk, given their portable nature. Within a few minutes, a malicious actor can use such a device to copy valuable data or infect your system. Therefore, a clear policy on using and accessing such storage devices is necessary.
Start with developing thorough procedures for lost and stolen devices. The lost or stolen device policy should encompass steps to track and retrieve devices and outline how to prevent data leaks in such scenarios.
Outdated equipment that no longer receives security updates is a weak link in your security chain, potentially exposing your organization to vulnerabilities.
To fortify the security of company devices, consider implementing disk encryption and remote-wipe capabilities.

10. Secure Communications

To effectively mitigate such risks, your organization should implement robust encryption protocols across all communication platforms, including emails.
This means setting up email encryption on all applications used within the company. It’s also crucial to educate all employees about the importance of using these encrypted channels, particularly when dealing with sensitive data.
Avoid sharing sensitive information through email as much as possible, and caution against using devices that the company doesn’t control for such communications.

11. Protect Mobile Devices

Securing mobile devices is a critical component of your organization’s cybersecurity strategy. This includes any device that connects to your network, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
Your organization should also establish stringent mobile usage policies and strictly enforce them.
Remember, securing the devices themselves is only half the battle. You must also assess and continuously update your organization’s mobile device management policies to keep up with evolving threats

12. Consider a Layered Security Scheme

To bolster your organization’s cybersecurity defenses, it’s critical to consider a multi-layered security approach, often known as layered security. This approach integrates different layers of protection, each designed to stop security threats at various levels.
A firewall is indispensable at the heart of a layered security scheme, providing a primary defense against cyber-attacks. It acts as a gatekeeper, controlling the network traffic based on security rules.
Another key element of a layered security strategy is an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), which continuously monitors your network for potentially malicious activity. An IPS can identify and block threats, adding a proactive element to your security posture.

13. Backup Your Data

Regular data backup to a secure, encrypted, and remote location is a critical practice that aids in quick recovery in the face of a cyberattack, human error, or natural disaster.
Here are some data backup tips for securing your organization against cyberattacks:
  • Set a schedule for consistent data backups for your digital assets.
  • Protect your backup data with robust encryption.
  • Keep three copies of data, with two on different storage types and one offsite.
  • Use automation tools to guarantee timely backups.
  • Use secure cloud services for reliable offsite backups.
  • Use monitoring tools to flag any backup issues or failures.
  • Formulate a comprehensive strategy for restoring data and maintaining business operations.

14. Plan Incident Response and Business Continuity

Both incident response procedures and business continuity plans are vital to ensure the resilience of your organization’s operations.
To deal with cyberattacks, develop a comprehensive Incident Response Plan (IRP) with the following stages:
  • Team Formation: Assemble a diverse, trained incident response team.
  • Incident Criteria: Establish clear parameters to identify and report a security incident.
  • Securing the Breach: Initiate protocols to limit the impact of detected incidents.
  • Threat Neutralization: Define procedures to eliminate identified threats from your system.
  • System Restoration: Design a recovery process to bring affected systems back online.
  • Post-Incident Analysis: Conduct a detailed review after each incident to refine your plan and improve future responses.

15. Ensure Compliance and Regulations

Different industries have varying regulations, so it’s essential to identify those that apply to your organization.
Some common ones include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and System and Organization Controls (SOC) requirements.

MedStack is an all-in-one platform that ensures provable security and regulatory compliance for digital healthcare applications.

16. Ensure Secure Remote Access

One viable solution to ensure secure remote access is the implementation of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN establishes a secure, encrypted connection between a user’s device and your organization’s network.
It forms a private tunnel traversing the public internet, allowing remote employees to access company resources securely as if directly connected to the office network.

17. Ensuring a Comprehensive Asset Inventory

A comprehensive asset inventory is the backbone of cybersecurity defense. Start by identifying all assets in your organization to comprehend potential risks. Classify assets based on their sensitivity and importance, allowing effective allocation of security resources.

Keep the inventory up-to-date as assets are added, modified, or decommissioned. Use automated tools like Exos by MedStack for discovering, tracking, and monitoring assets to detect unauthorized changes or access swiftly.

Document the security measures applied to each asset, identifying any protective gaps.

18. Secure Wireless Networks

Avoid obsolete wireless encryption techniques such as WEP, which are vulnerable to attacks due to weak security features.
Instead, secure your wireless communications using a solid encryption standard, like WPA3, which ensures all data transferred across your network stays encrypted and safe from unauthorized access.
The practice of network segmentation can significantly enhance the security of your wireless networks. By segregating them from your internal network, you can limit the extent of potential damage in the event of a security breach.

19. Develop a Data Classification System

A data classification system helps protect sensitive info. Here are easy steps to build your own:
  • Sort Your Data: Divide your data into categories like public, internal, confidential, and highly confidential.
  • Set Rules: Make clear rules for each category. For example, anyone can see public info, while highly confidential data could be trade secrets.
  • Choose Owners: Pick data owners for each category. This helps with proper classification and responsibility.
  • Make Guidelines: Outline how to handle, store, and share data for each category. Include access rules, encryption needs, and retention policies.
  • Set Up Security: Apply suitable security controls to protect each data category. For example, highly confidential data may need better encryption.
  • Train Staff: Teach employees about the data classification system and their role in it.
  • Review Regularly: Always check and update your data classification system to keep it relevant and effective.

20. Review Third-Party Vendor Security

It’s crucial to assess the security measures of your third-party vendors, who often have access to your sensitive data and systems.
The first step in managing third-party risks is establishing and communicating clear expectations regarding cybersecurity. Frequent security assessments of your third-party vendors are also indispensable.

Why is Auditing in Cybersecurity Important?

Here are some important aspects a cybersecurity audit should cover for your organization:
  • Data security practices: This reflects how the organization safeguards its data, including encryption, access controls, and data handling protocols.
  • Software and hardware performance: An audit can assess the robustness and efficiency of an organization’s technical resources and their capacity to safeguard information and resist attacks.
  • Regulatory and legal compliance status: This relates to the organization’s adherence to legal and industry-specific data protection and privacy requirements.
  • Vulnerabilities affecting the ecosystem: An audit identifies weak spots in the organization’s IT infrastructure, which malicious entities could exploit to gain unauthorized access or disrupt services.
  • Effectiveness of existing security policies and procedures: This determines the suitability of the organization’s current security strategies and the degree to which they deter cyber threats.
  • The presence of internal and external threats: Regular cyber security audits uncover potential risks that might arise from within the organization (such as disgruntled employees or lax security habits) and from outside (like hackers or malicious software).

Final Words

Cyberattacks can severely erode your customer trust and cause a financially draining setback, forcing your business back into recovery mode.

Remember, cyber attackers are continuously looking for gaps in your defense. Partner with MedStack – the Best Healthcare Cybersecurity Company – to secure your healthcare applications with the latest and most advanced security measures.

Visit our website or contact us to book a demo and see how MedStack can safeguard your healthcare applications and sensitive data.