What’s the difference between an IT Audit and a Security Assessment?

A Security Assessment and an IT Audit are very similar. Knowing which one you need depends on your cybersecurity or risk management objective and how you will use the findings. We clearly outline both and share when to conduct each, why, and when a third-party is a good idea.

Two Parts of the Same Cybersecurity Risk Management Process

IT Audit Vs. Security Assessment

A Security Assessment is a preparatory exercise or a proactive evaluation, while an Information Technology (IT) Audit is an externally-reviewed appraisal of how well an organization is meeting a set of legal standards or required guidelines.

IT Audit Vs. Security AssessmentWhile IT Audits examine how things are versus how things should be, internally, Security Assessments focus on how well an organization meets external regulations and requirements. Yet, they are both a part of the same risk management function.

Defining the Security Assessment

A Security Assessment is a high-level, proactive evaluation of an organization’s cybersecurity before an official IT Audit. It provides an overview of an organization’s cybersecurity landscape, providing an opportunity to identify where security policies, practices, and procedures are robust and meet best practices as well as identify gaps and vulnerabilities. Conducting the assessment periodically and proactively offers time to create and launch improvement efforts and remediation resources.

Assessments are usually conducted by the internal Risk & Compliance team (or similar department) or by a third-party cybersecurity advisory firm.

Typically, Security Assessments are conducted every six-to-twelve months. However, unique instances may call for a security assessment to be undertaken sooner, such as when a company acquires another business or implementing new network servers, devices, or significant IT implementations. An evaluation at this time would determine if these changes to processes, operations, or technology have created any new risk factors that need to be addressed.

IT Audit Vs. Security Assessment

Security Assessments periodically test your organization’s security preparedness and highlight opportunities to further de-risk the organization.

Defining the IT Audit

An IT Audit’s sole purpose is for a third-party, certified auditor to verify whether an organization is operating according to legal standards and guidelines. The audit measures an organization’s current reality and benchmarks it against a specific industry standard. All control gaps must be identified and remediated.

Types of IT Audits include:

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996)
  • PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)
  • SOC 2 (Systems and Organizational Controls)
  • SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002)
  • ISO (International Organization of Standardization)
  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

An IT Audit evaluates current technology, its controls, policies, and procedures at a deeper level and determines if the applicable standards and regulations are being met and utilized effectively.

IT Audit Vs. Security Assessment

Unlike a Security Assessment, audits have a set timeframe or compliance cycle.

An Information Technology audit examines and evaluates an organization’s information technology infrastructure, applications, data use and management, policies, procedures, and operational processes against recognized standards or established guidelines. Audits evaluate if the controls to protect information technology assets ensure integrity and are aligned with organizational goals and objectives.

The Value of a Third-Party Security Assessor or Auditor

IT Audits must be conducted by a third-party security firm. Some frameworks, like HITRUST or SOC2, require that assessors have specific certifications. Many organizations choose a different security firm to carry out their audits each cycle to ensure impartiality and to have a completely fresh perspective.

While an organization may conduct its Security Assessments, there is value in choosing an outside security firm. Third-party firms can bring a higher or more in-depth level of expertise than the organization has in-house. Most assessors have proprietary models, tools, or methods that bring new learning into the organization and proven approaches from working with many other organizations, even in the same industry.

Using a third-party assessor is more efficient and takes less time away from the internal team, keeping them focused on priority operations and strategic projects. Your assessor brings an unbiased approach and fresh eyes to conduct a thorough and proper security review. Lastly, the chosen security firm should assess and provide recommendations for prioritized remediation and offer assistance to carry out improvement actions quickly, if desired.

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Creating a Cycle of Security Improvement and Compliance Excellence

Security Assessments and IT Audits work together to ensure that your security operations, procedures, and practices not only meet legal or industry requirements and best practices but continually level-up your security maturity to meet the changing needs of your organization as well as evolving threats.

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Robert J. Sumner, CyLumena

Insight Contributor:

Robert J. Sumner II, Security Analyst & Consultant

Robert J. Sumner II is a CyLumena cybersecurity analyst and risk consultant with substantial experience in investigative and cybersecurity analysis. Robert advises clients in their Governance, Risk Management and Compliance (GRC) efforts as well as designs and implements effective security solutions.