Compliance Audits 101: Assessments, Recommendations and Best Practices

Content

Our Newsletter

Get Our Resources Delivered Straight To Your Inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We respect your privacy. Learn more here.

Cyber threats multiply like weeds while regulations and contracts get thornier. Tech infrastructure expands daily, offering more cracks for attackers to slip through. It's a hazardous digital jungle out there. 87% of leaders say cyber risks top their worry list - even threatening financial viability for some. The World Economic Forum ranks cybercrime among the biggest global dangers for the next decade. Yet many still struggle to keep pace.

Nearly 80% of companies continue to fall short of GDPR despite it being around for years now. Tough spot! But take a deep breath - you've got this. Staying compliant and secure is challenging but critical. We're here to guide you through the wilderness. Let's explore must-know compliance topics together so you can operate confidently in today's complex tech scape.

Consider this your 101 crash course on compliance. Master it, and you'll be well-equipped to navigate the winding regulatory trails ahead.

  • What is a compliance audit
  • Why are compliance audits important
  • What does an IT compliance audit look like
  • Key areas of focus in the compliance audit process
  • Best practices for data privacy and cybersecurity
  • Compliance audit software solutions

What Is a Compliance Audit?

An IT compliance audit from a company provides an independent assessment of your cybersecurity practices. The audit validates adherence to legal, industry, and internal regulations.

An audit gives your tech stack a thorough check-up, poking and prodding for weaknesses. Key areas on the exam table are network security, access controls, written policies - everything that supports compliance health. In other words, audits diagnose issues early when remedies are easier. Catching low-risk problems now prevents major surgery if they escalate down the road.

Consider audits a routine tune-up to optimize your compliance well-being. A little prevention protects you, your customers, and your reputation. The audit report delivers:

  • Validation of compliance with critical regulations
  • Identification of specific weaknesses or deficiencies
  • Proven recommendations to remediate existing issues
  • A roadmap for improving overall data privacy and protection
  • The best compliance audit software can provide continuous monitoring.

Compliance vs. Audit

There is a difference between an audit and actual compliance. While audits validate compliance, they also uncover areas of non-compliance. Ensuring you meet regulations and policy commitment requires proactive measures. Once non-compliant areas are uncovered, remediation is needed to address them.

Why Are Compliance Audits Important?

Organizations have an obligation to keep data secure and protect customer privacy, So, first and foremost, compliance audits can fulfill this obligation — especially in light of increasing cyber-attacks.

Data Breaches Increasing

Data breaches show no signs of slowing. Record-setting numbers of breaches occurred in both 2022 and again in 2023. Industry experts see increased activity ahead in 2024. Breaches are also getting more expensive. Analysis by PwC reveals these incidents are also becoming more expensive, with 36% of companies spending more than $1 million on breach remediation in 2023 compared to just 27% previously.

Experts estimate cyberattacks currently inflict $8 trillion in annual damages, a figure projected to grow 15% yearly through 2025.

Hackers are amping up their game, too. Off-the-shelf attack tools and AI-powered software are now widely accessible online. It's like giving a baseball slugger steroids and custom bats. Even security-minded groups struggle to manage multiplying risks. Massive infrastructure offers endless weak points. Unmanaged devices open backdoors. And sneaky hackers continually cook up innovations to slip through defenses.

It's a constant arms race requiring vigilant monitoring, maintenance, and upgrades. Let your guard down for a moment, and criminals jump at the opportunity to breach your walls.

Increasing Tech Sprawl and Exposure

As companies deploy websites and apps and continue to grow their networks, tech sprawl increases exposure and risk.

The average enterprise now manages a staggering number of endpoints - around 135,000 by current estimates. Each device represents a potential vulnerability that could be exploited by threat actors. Even more alarming, nearly half of these endpoints go unmonitored and unmanaged, according to research.

Even for mature and well-resourced security teams, the scale and complexity of the challenge continue to grow exponentially. With new applications and third-party solutions being added constantly, a data privacy audit is crucial to ensure privacy policies are being followed and adequate protections are in place.

Despite billions of dollars being spent on cybersecurity and data privacy, the gap between risk and protection continues to widen at many companies.

Enforcement Actions

Regulators are cracking down on lax security as well. European Union authorities have already issued over $1.8 billion (€1.6 billion) in fines related to data protection violations this year.

Contractual Obligations

Data privacy clauses in contracts are standard now. Buyers want suppliers to pledge compliance under penalty of fines or worse if something lapses. Some rush to self-attest just to check the box. But crossing your fingers instead of verifying compliance is risky business. It's like saying you went to the doctor when you actually skipped the appointment.

If non-compliance surfaces later, you'll face inflated penalties for any uncovered gaps, plus breach costs like ignoring symptoms until the disease progresses to dire stages. Stay proactive with check-ups to catch issues early and show you take privacy seriously. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to compliance health.

Obtaining verified compliance audits from an objective third-party source provides critical assurances for organizations and partners. Independent assessments validate adherence to contractual security and data privacy requirements, protecting all stakeholders in a transaction.

Using compliance audit tools and a compliance audit checklist to meet contract terms, companies can often streamline the negotiation process. Providing validation demonstrates transparency and increases confidence in buyers. This can be a significant competitive advantage.

What Does an IT Compliance Audit Look Like?

The audit report provides both confirmation of effective controls and a detailed roadmap for addressing any deficiencies by following several key audit compliance steps.

Identifying Key Stakeholders

The first step involves determining the staff responsible for compliance across the organization. Their roles and responsibilities regarding cybersecurity should be clearly defined. Employees with influence over compliance efforts also need to be accounted for.

Assess Relevant Laws and Regulations

Data privacy regulations differ substantially across countries, states, and regions, creating a complex legal landscape. Different industries also have different compliance requirements. Organizations must be aware of multiple overlapping laws based on location, industry, data practices, and customer geography. Before beginning compliance audits, you need a clear understanding of which laws and regulations are applicable, so companies need legal guidance to make sure they meet every requirement.

There is a lengthy list of compliance regulations, including:

There are also evolving privacy laws and requirements being added. About a dozen states in the U.S. also have their own privacy regulations, while a dozen more have legislation being considered. Regulations are also being updated regularly. For example, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council instituted expanded requirements for government contractors regarding data security, third-party oversight, and compliance reporting. Additionally, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board now mandates financial auditors to proactively identify and communicate regulatory non-compliance that could materially impact performance.

Reviewing Current Policies

Dust off those cyber policies - odds are they need some sprucing up! As threats evolve, provisions that seem robust can quickly become outdated and insufficient. It's like reviewing home insurance - you need to adjust coverage to protect against new risks like flooding or theft.

The same goes for refreshing cyber policies, as hacking dangers multiply. Regular tune-ups ensure your policies reflect the latest perils. Don't get caught with security rules older than your grandparents' flip phone! Upgrading protection is the best defense against innovating adversaries.

Inventorying IT Assets

A thorough audit catalogs everything - hardware, software, databases, services, apps, third parties - if it touches your network, it needs an ID badge. Remote devices especially require inspection as they offer easy backdoor access if not properly secured. Think of it like documenting all windows and doors in your home to protect every potential entry point. You need full visibility into your entire digital domain before safeguarding it. Can’t defend what you don’t even know is there! Consider audits and illuminating inventory checks to inform your compliance strategy.

Risk Assessment

With assets identified, an analysis of current cyber threats determines which are most critical to the business. Evaluating defenses against likely attacks uncovers where remediation is necessary. Automated compliance audit tools like ZenData can streamline this process.

Resolving Security Gaps

Finally, the audit report will highlight specific vulnerabilities that need to be addressed to strengthen compliance and data protection. Documenting changes helps inform future policies and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to compliance.

ZenData provides proven recommendations for remediation and offers consulting to help overcome data privacy and security challenges.

Key Areas of Focus in the  Compliance Audit Process

Some key areas of focus include in the compliance audit process include:

Data Mapping

Comprehensively documenting what data is collected, where it is stored, and how it flows through systems is essential. Data maps, inventories, and flow diagrams provide this visibility.

Data Minimization and Deletion

Audits review practices to ensure data collection and retention are limited to defined purposes. Processes for deleting unneeded data are evaluated for regulatory compliance.

Encryption

Encryption methods for data at rest and in transit are reviewed to verify strength and confirm policies for keys are in place.

Access Controls

How access to data and systems is granted and managed is explored, including permissions, password policies, multi-factor authentication, and anomaly detection.

Vendor Management

With over 60% of breaches occurring through third parties, vendor security is scrutinized to protect against unauthorized access via integrations.

Incident Response

Incident response plans are examined for detecting, containing, and remediating potential breaches, including notification procedures.

Documentation

Required policies and consumer notifications are evaluated for regulatory alignment and reflected accurately in tech stacks.

Compliance auditing software can help automate compliance reporting and validation.

Best Practices for Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

Developing a cybersecurity and data privacy strategy starts with adopting a proven framework. Two popular options are the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MITRE ATT&CK.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

NIST provides general guidelines across five key areas:

  1. Identify organizational risks
  2. Protect systems and assets
  3. Detect anomalous activity
  4. Respond to incidents
  5. Recover impaired capabilities

MITE ATT&CK Cybersecurity Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework focuses specifically on defending against specific cyberthreats. It outlines 14 tactics attackers may use:

  • Reconnaissance
  • Resource Development
  • Initial Access
  • Execution
  • Persistence
  • Privilege Escalation
  • Defense Evasion
  • Credential Access
  • Discovery
  • Lateral Movement
  • Collection
  • Command and Control
  • Exfiltration
  • Impact

Many organizations employ aspects of both frameworks to build a robust cybersecurity program. The core principles involve understanding organizational risks, safeguarding critical systems and data, detecting threats early, responding effectively, and recovering normal operations after an incident. Structuring defenses around known attack vectors also strengthens resilience.

Best Practices

In addition to frameworks, cybersecurity, and compliance teams need to implement best practices to protect their organizations. Critical policies include:

  • Adopting ZeroTrust Network Access (ZTNA) to reauthenticate users and limit lateral movement even inside networks. This aligns with the Principle of Least Privilege to only permit required access.
  • Employing Defense in Depth with layered controls so if one mechanism fails, others still prevent exploitation. For example, using firewalls, intrusion prevention, endpoint monitoring, data segmentation, and encryption together.
  • Requiring Multifactor Authentication (MFA) across all accounts to combine password knowledge with physical security keys. This prevents unauthorized access even if credentials are compromised.
  • Carefully validating and then monitoring third-party applications to ensure limited access and ongoing compliance. As inter connectivity grows, so does the need to secure integrations.

Compliance Audit Software Solutions

Selecting a provider like ZenData for ongoing data privacy and security compliance auditing software delivers significant advantages, including:

  • Continuous validation of compliance with GDPR, CCPA, and other critical regulations
  • Automatic identification of gaps in policies or controls requiring remediation
  • Expert recommendations proven to resolve identified vulnerabilities
  • Real-time monitoring of data practices
  • Increased efficiency through audit automation versus periodic manual reviews

ZenData offers automated compliance monitoring with multiple plans depending on your needs. Features include:

With ZenData, you can also get exportable logs and 24x7support. ZenData also validates privacy coverage and provides trust badges for web privacy, DevOps readiness, App and SDLC completeness, device safety, and database protection.

With continuous compliance monitoring, organizations can move from reactive to proactive data protection. Learn more about automating audits with ZenData or receive a complimentary assessment.

Strengthening compliance and reducing risk is easier than ever with the right partner's specialized expertise and advanced capabilities.

Our Newsletter

Get Our Resources Delivered Straight To Your Inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We respect your privacy. Learn more here.

Related Blogs

The Business Case For Privacy: Turning Data Privacy Into Profit
  • Data Privacy & Compliance
  • February 8, 2024
Discover How Data Privacy Drives Growth
Data Privacy Laws 2024: A Short Guide
  • Data Privacy & Compliance
  • February 1, 2024
A Summary Of Data Privacy Laws in 2024
More Blogs

Contact Us For More Information

If you’d like to understand more about Zendata’s solutions and how we can help you, please reach out to the team today.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.





Compliance Audits 101: Assessments, Recommendations and Best Practices

November 30, 2023

Cyber threats multiply like weeds while regulations and contracts get thornier. Tech infrastructure expands daily, offering more cracks for attackers to slip through. It's a hazardous digital jungle out there. 87% of leaders say cyber risks top their worry list - even threatening financial viability for some. The World Economic Forum ranks cybercrime among the biggest global dangers for the next decade. Yet many still struggle to keep pace.

Nearly 80% of companies continue to fall short of GDPR despite it being around for years now. Tough spot! But take a deep breath - you've got this. Staying compliant and secure is challenging but critical. We're here to guide you through the wilderness. Let's explore must-know compliance topics together so you can operate confidently in today's complex tech scape.

Consider this your 101 crash course on compliance. Master it, and you'll be well-equipped to navigate the winding regulatory trails ahead.

  • What is a compliance audit
  • Why are compliance audits important
  • What does an IT compliance audit look like
  • Key areas of focus in the compliance audit process
  • Best practices for data privacy and cybersecurity
  • Compliance audit software solutions

What Is a Compliance Audit?

An IT compliance audit from a company provides an independent assessment of your cybersecurity practices. The audit validates adherence to legal, industry, and internal regulations.

An audit gives your tech stack a thorough check-up, poking and prodding for weaknesses. Key areas on the exam table are network security, access controls, written policies - everything that supports compliance health. In other words, audits diagnose issues early when remedies are easier. Catching low-risk problems now prevents major surgery if they escalate down the road.

Consider audits a routine tune-up to optimize your compliance well-being. A little prevention protects you, your customers, and your reputation. The audit report delivers:

  • Validation of compliance with critical regulations
  • Identification of specific weaknesses or deficiencies
  • Proven recommendations to remediate existing issues
  • A roadmap for improving overall data privacy and protection
  • The best compliance audit software can provide continuous monitoring.

Compliance vs. Audit

There is a difference between an audit and actual compliance. While audits validate compliance, they also uncover areas of non-compliance. Ensuring you meet regulations and policy commitment requires proactive measures. Once non-compliant areas are uncovered, remediation is needed to address them.

Why Are Compliance Audits Important?

Organizations have an obligation to keep data secure and protect customer privacy, So, first and foremost, compliance audits can fulfill this obligation — especially in light of increasing cyber-attacks.

Data Breaches Increasing

Data breaches show no signs of slowing. Record-setting numbers of breaches occurred in both 2022 and again in 2023. Industry experts see increased activity ahead in 2024. Breaches are also getting more expensive. Analysis by PwC reveals these incidents are also becoming more expensive, with 36% of companies spending more than $1 million on breach remediation in 2023 compared to just 27% previously.

Experts estimate cyberattacks currently inflict $8 trillion in annual damages, a figure projected to grow 15% yearly through 2025.

Hackers are amping up their game, too. Off-the-shelf attack tools and AI-powered software are now widely accessible online. It's like giving a baseball slugger steroids and custom bats. Even security-minded groups struggle to manage multiplying risks. Massive infrastructure offers endless weak points. Unmanaged devices open backdoors. And sneaky hackers continually cook up innovations to slip through defenses.

It's a constant arms race requiring vigilant monitoring, maintenance, and upgrades. Let your guard down for a moment, and criminals jump at the opportunity to breach your walls.

Increasing Tech Sprawl and Exposure

As companies deploy websites and apps and continue to grow their networks, tech sprawl increases exposure and risk.

The average enterprise now manages a staggering number of endpoints - around 135,000 by current estimates. Each device represents a potential vulnerability that could be exploited by threat actors. Even more alarming, nearly half of these endpoints go unmonitored and unmanaged, according to research.

Even for mature and well-resourced security teams, the scale and complexity of the challenge continue to grow exponentially. With new applications and third-party solutions being added constantly, a data privacy audit is crucial to ensure privacy policies are being followed and adequate protections are in place.

Despite billions of dollars being spent on cybersecurity and data privacy, the gap between risk and protection continues to widen at many companies.

Enforcement Actions

Regulators are cracking down on lax security as well. European Union authorities have already issued over $1.8 billion (€1.6 billion) in fines related to data protection violations this year.

Contractual Obligations

Data privacy clauses in contracts are standard now. Buyers want suppliers to pledge compliance under penalty of fines or worse if something lapses. Some rush to self-attest just to check the box. But crossing your fingers instead of verifying compliance is risky business. It's like saying you went to the doctor when you actually skipped the appointment.

If non-compliance surfaces later, you'll face inflated penalties for any uncovered gaps, plus breach costs like ignoring symptoms until the disease progresses to dire stages. Stay proactive with check-ups to catch issues early and show you take privacy seriously. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to compliance health.

Obtaining verified compliance audits from an objective third-party source provides critical assurances for organizations and partners. Independent assessments validate adherence to contractual security and data privacy requirements, protecting all stakeholders in a transaction.

Using compliance audit tools and a compliance audit checklist to meet contract terms, companies can often streamline the negotiation process. Providing validation demonstrates transparency and increases confidence in buyers. This can be a significant competitive advantage.

What Does an IT Compliance Audit Look Like?

The audit report provides both confirmation of effective controls and a detailed roadmap for addressing any deficiencies by following several key audit compliance steps.

Identifying Key Stakeholders

The first step involves determining the staff responsible for compliance across the organization. Their roles and responsibilities regarding cybersecurity should be clearly defined. Employees with influence over compliance efforts also need to be accounted for.

Assess Relevant Laws and Regulations

Data privacy regulations differ substantially across countries, states, and regions, creating a complex legal landscape. Different industries also have different compliance requirements. Organizations must be aware of multiple overlapping laws based on location, industry, data practices, and customer geography. Before beginning compliance audits, you need a clear understanding of which laws and regulations are applicable, so companies need legal guidance to make sure they meet every requirement.

There is a lengthy list of compliance regulations, including:

There are also evolving privacy laws and requirements being added. About a dozen states in the U.S. also have their own privacy regulations, while a dozen more have legislation being considered. Regulations are also being updated regularly. For example, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council instituted expanded requirements for government contractors regarding data security, third-party oversight, and compliance reporting. Additionally, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board now mandates financial auditors to proactively identify and communicate regulatory non-compliance that could materially impact performance.

Reviewing Current Policies

Dust off those cyber policies - odds are they need some sprucing up! As threats evolve, provisions that seem robust can quickly become outdated and insufficient. It's like reviewing home insurance - you need to adjust coverage to protect against new risks like flooding or theft.

The same goes for refreshing cyber policies, as hacking dangers multiply. Regular tune-ups ensure your policies reflect the latest perils. Don't get caught with security rules older than your grandparents' flip phone! Upgrading protection is the best defense against innovating adversaries.

Inventorying IT Assets

A thorough audit catalogs everything - hardware, software, databases, services, apps, third parties - if it touches your network, it needs an ID badge. Remote devices especially require inspection as they offer easy backdoor access if not properly secured. Think of it like documenting all windows and doors in your home to protect every potential entry point. You need full visibility into your entire digital domain before safeguarding it. Can’t defend what you don’t even know is there! Consider audits and illuminating inventory checks to inform your compliance strategy.

Risk Assessment

With assets identified, an analysis of current cyber threats determines which are most critical to the business. Evaluating defenses against likely attacks uncovers where remediation is necessary. Automated compliance audit tools like ZenData can streamline this process.

Resolving Security Gaps

Finally, the audit report will highlight specific vulnerabilities that need to be addressed to strengthen compliance and data protection. Documenting changes helps inform future policies and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to compliance.

ZenData provides proven recommendations for remediation and offers consulting to help overcome data privacy and security challenges.

Key Areas of Focus in the  Compliance Audit Process

Some key areas of focus include in the compliance audit process include:

Data Mapping

Comprehensively documenting what data is collected, where it is stored, and how it flows through systems is essential. Data maps, inventories, and flow diagrams provide this visibility.

Data Minimization and Deletion

Audits review practices to ensure data collection and retention are limited to defined purposes. Processes for deleting unneeded data are evaluated for regulatory compliance.

Encryption

Encryption methods for data at rest and in transit are reviewed to verify strength and confirm policies for keys are in place.

Access Controls

How access to data and systems is granted and managed is explored, including permissions, password policies, multi-factor authentication, and anomaly detection.

Vendor Management

With over 60% of breaches occurring through third parties, vendor security is scrutinized to protect against unauthorized access via integrations.

Incident Response

Incident response plans are examined for detecting, containing, and remediating potential breaches, including notification procedures.

Documentation

Required policies and consumer notifications are evaluated for regulatory alignment and reflected accurately in tech stacks.

Compliance auditing software can help automate compliance reporting and validation.

Best Practices for Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

Developing a cybersecurity and data privacy strategy starts with adopting a proven framework. Two popular options are the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MITRE ATT&CK.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

NIST provides general guidelines across five key areas:

  1. Identify organizational risks
  2. Protect systems and assets
  3. Detect anomalous activity
  4. Respond to incidents
  5. Recover impaired capabilities

MITE ATT&CK Cybersecurity Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework focuses specifically on defending against specific cyberthreats. It outlines 14 tactics attackers may use:

  • Reconnaissance
  • Resource Development
  • Initial Access
  • Execution
  • Persistence
  • Privilege Escalation
  • Defense Evasion
  • Credential Access
  • Discovery
  • Lateral Movement
  • Collection
  • Command and Control
  • Exfiltration
  • Impact

Many organizations employ aspects of both frameworks to build a robust cybersecurity program. The core principles involve understanding organizational risks, safeguarding critical systems and data, detecting threats early, responding effectively, and recovering normal operations after an incident. Structuring defenses around known attack vectors also strengthens resilience.

Best Practices

In addition to frameworks, cybersecurity, and compliance teams need to implement best practices to protect their organizations. Critical policies include:

  • Adopting ZeroTrust Network Access (ZTNA) to reauthenticate users and limit lateral movement even inside networks. This aligns with the Principle of Least Privilege to only permit required access.
  • Employing Defense in Depth with layered controls so if one mechanism fails, others still prevent exploitation. For example, using firewalls, intrusion prevention, endpoint monitoring, data segmentation, and encryption together.
  • Requiring Multifactor Authentication (MFA) across all accounts to combine password knowledge with physical security keys. This prevents unauthorized access even if credentials are compromised.
  • Carefully validating and then monitoring third-party applications to ensure limited access and ongoing compliance. As inter connectivity grows, so does the need to secure integrations.

Compliance Audit Software Solutions

Selecting a provider like ZenData for ongoing data privacy and security compliance auditing software delivers significant advantages, including:

  • Continuous validation of compliance with GDPR, CCPA, and other critical regulations
  • Automatic identification of gaps in policies or controls requiring remediation
  • Expert recommendations proven to resolve identified vulnerabilities
  • Real-time monitoring of data practices
  • Increased efficiency through audit automation versus periodic manual reviews

ZenData offers automated compliance monitoring with multiple plans depending on your needs. Features include:

With ZenData, you can also get exportable logs and 24x7support. ZenData also validates privacy coverage and provides trust badges for web privacy, DevOps readiness, App and SDLC completeness, device safety, and database protection.

With continuous compliance monitoring, organizations can move from reactive to proactive data protection. Learn more about automating audits with ZenData or receive a complimentary assessment.

Strengthening compliance and reducing risk is easier than ever with the right partner's specialized expertise and advanced capabilities.