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If you're a security leader being asked to facilitate a cybersecurity audit, or if you are a member of the board requesting one, you must understand the difference between a cybersecurity audit and a cybersecurity assessment.
Despite sounding the same, both provide you with different types of information - and that might have a significant impact on your organization’s security posture.
In this blog, we provide a quick introduction to a cybersecurity audit vs. a cybersecurity assessment and why the latter may be more useful to your organization.
What is a cybersecurity audit?
Your organization has a number of cybersecurity policies in place. The purpose of a cybersecurity audit is to act as a checklist to validate your cyber policies and ensure that there are control mechanisms in place to enforce them.
There are thousands of questions you could ask your internal team or your vendors about security. Identifying the most important ones will help you use your resources more efficiently and determine when it’s necessary to perform a cybersecurity audit or a cybersecurity assessment.
Both a cybersecurity audit and a cybersecurity assessment are formal processes, but there are some key distinctions between the two:
- An audit must be performed by an independent third-party organization. Typically, that third-party must be certified to perform an audit. You can use an internal audit team, but that team should act as an independent agency.
- Cybersecurity audits can be costly. It can be very expensive for a third-party auditing company to come on-site, conduct interviews, and comb through your policies. It also might be more difficult to conduct a thorough cybersecurity audit with a hybrid workforce.
- Cybersecurity audits only show a snapshot of your network health. While an audit might provide an in-depth look at your cyber-health at a specific point in time, it doesn’t provide any insight into your ongoing cyber risk management.
What are the benefits of a cybersecurity audit?
A cybersecurity audit is used to find the presence of cybersecurity controls – such as firewalls and intrusion detection services, as well as physical security controls – and validate that they are working correctly and that compliance requirements are met.
Because an audit is conducted by an independent company, it provides customers and business partners with a level of assurance about an organization’s security posture.
What is a cybersecurity assessment?
While a cybersecurity audit focuses on security controls, auditors rarely test the effectiveness of those controls. The fact that a control exists does not necessarily mean that it is successfully mitigating cyber risk.
For example, your cybersecurity auditors might check a box that says you have a firewall in place to reduce the number of websites employees can visit while using company equipment. If that firewall isn’t properly configured, then the control might be useless, and should be flagged to your security team.
If you’re trying to develop a complete picture of your cybersecurity posture, a cybersecurity assessment is a better option. A cybersecurity assessment goes further than a cyber audit and can help you:
- Evaluate the true effectiveness of your security program by uncovering network vulnerabilities and threats and the level of risk exposure your organization faces – continuously and in real-time.
- Inform where remediation or improvement is needed to lower risk and decrease your attack surface.
- Measure security performance improvements over time and show how your program stacks up against your peers and competitors.
What are the benefits of a cybersecurity assessment?
A key benefit of a cybersecurity assessment is that it helps you proactively get ahead of risk.
Instead of a point-in-time cybersecurity audit, an assessment can help you discover evolving threats and remediate any security gaps a threat actor may exploit. These can include misconfigured and unpatched systems, open access ports, and even human behavior.
Cybersecurity assessments can also be continuous and automated. For example, BitSight continuously monitors your entire digital ecosystem – on-premises, in the cloud, across remote locations, and across your digital supply chain – for emerging cyber risk. When risk is detected, you’re instantly alerted so you can take quick action.
You can also use BitSight to understand how your cybersecurity performance compares to your peers and competitors. With these benchmarks, you can focus your improvement plans and strengthen your program against your peers – without the need for a costly audit.
Lastly, BitSight makes it easy to communicate your organization’s cyber reality to executives and the board in non-technical terms. For instance, you can present information on how many vulnerabilities you have in your digital ecosystem and their severity – i.e., their likelihood of contributing to a breach – so that business leaders can make more informed decisions about where investments and resources are needed. You can also use BitSight to assess and quantify cyber risk in terms of its financial impact.
Cybersecurity audit vs. cybersecurity assessment – which to use
Here’s the bottom line: A cybersecurity audit program has a time and a place – but it shouldn’t be considered the be-all, end-all solution. Most audits will not reveal the true effectiveness of the security controls you have in place. If you perform an audit, we recommend following it up with a cybersecurity assessment.
Helpful audit and assessment tools
When choosing cybersecurity audit and assessment tools, look for solutions that:
- Provide automated and continuous monitoring capabilities.
- Deliver an outside-in view of your entire digital environment so you can see your attack surface the way the bad guys do.
- Provide a data-driven, objective view of your organization’s security posture. This is especially useful to validate vendor security questionnaires and take the guesswork out of validating the performance of your security controls.
- Fit seamlessly into your current internal and third-party risk management process.
- Allow you to set performance targets and assess how each business unit impacts your overall security program
- Let you quickly pull digestible metrics that reframe the conversation about cybersecurity into one about business risk, not the ins and outs of your security apparatus.
BitSight is the only cybersecurity assessment platform that provides all these capabilities, and more – so you can proactively and continuously discover, quantify, and reduce cyber risk across your expanding business ecosystem.