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Security Audits: Best Practices for Businesses to Ensure Data Protection

Protect your business and its customers by conducting regular security audits. Read this guide to learn best practices for businesses to ensure data protection.

Data breaches have severe consequences for companies and their customers. They can cause significant harm to finances, operations, and reputations. When customer and internal sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to fraud, liability, and legal consequences.

The costs of investigating and fixing the breach while implementing new security measures and handling potential legal issues are higher than prevention. Risk mitigation strategies like a security audit can protect your business from cyber threats that pose risks to your business.

With a security audit, companies can identify risks and vulnerabilities in their IT systems to find areas of improvement and safeguard their business from potential threats. Enhancing your organization's security posture can prevent data breaches, protect consumer data, and maintain compliance with regulations. In addition, it can protect internal data you don't want to go public.

So what is security auditing, and how does it work? Keep reading to learn more about business security audits and how you can safeguard your business.

An IT security audit is a comprehensive evaluation of an organization's security posture that encompasses a wide range of aspects, including policies, controls, processes, and overall infrastructure. It aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the organization's security measures, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.

By examining various components of the IT environment, an IT security audit helps organizations understand their current security status and make informed decisions to enhance their security defenses.

The main purpose of a security audit is to prevent data breaches by identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in IT systems and implementing new security policies when necessary. An audit can provide insights into areas where data security can be improved and prevent risks that can compromise business operations, reputation, and customer trust.

By understanding the potential risks using network and risk assessments, vulnerability scans, policy and procedural reviews, and employee security program training, businesses can prioritize IT security and demonstrate a commitment to security.

There are two types of cyber security audits: internal and external. External security audits require the company to bring in a second or third-party to identify potential threats and ensure compliance with regulations. Third parties can perform regular audits, which are done on a set timeline, to ensure the current security policies are mitigating against risk, or companies can handle their regular IT security audits in-house.

Companies may also perform event-based security audits, which occur after a specific event, such as a change to IT systems or a data breach. In the case of a data breach, the IT security audit pinpoints the location and recommends actions to fix it and prevent it from happening again. Meanwhile, after changes to IT systems, such as adding a new tool, security audits can proactively address potential new risks while ensuring safeguards are in place.

Types of security audits

A security audit can ensure the effectiveness of an organization's existing security processes. Conducting a comprehensive assessment of the current security strategy can identify new vulnerabilities to protect the entire organization and its customers.

There are two types of cyber security audits to consider: internal and external.


An internal security audit requires the business to use its own resources and create a security team. The audit team will assess the organization's compliance with security controls and policies, examining the security framework, processes, and procedures.


An external security audit is conducted by a second or third party. Using external auditors, it evaluates security practices and compliance.

Typically, an external audit is a more objective review of infrastructure and procedures, offering an unbiased security posture assessment while identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses. The second or third party also makes recommendations for improvement and may offer services to rectify any existing issues.

The difference between a second and third-party external audit is that second-party audits are conducted by a partner of the organization being audited.

For instance, you'd use a second-party audit to identify risks and weaknesses of a supplier's IT systems, or they might do the same for you. On the other hand, third-party audits are conducted by completely separate entities not involved in the organization.

Why are security audits important for businesses?

All companies should conduct regular security audits to protect sensitive information, including customer data and internal data you don't want to be shared with the public. A security audit can protect your business by ensuring compliance with regulations and avoiding costly fines if you're found not in compliance.

The most significant benefits of conducting a regular IT security audit include the following:

Identify vulnerabilities before they become a problem

The main goal of a security audit is to identify vulnerabilities in your current infrastructure, processes, and policies that can put your business and its customers at risk of cyber attacks. A security audit and vulnerability assessment can help identify weaknesses that are susceptible to cybersecurity threats, data breaches, and unauthorized access.

Security audits review existing systems, networks, and controls to identify gaps in security. By uncovering these issues early, businesses can take proactive measures to address them before they become detrimental. A regular IT security audit can identify outdated software, misconfigurations, weak controls, and inadequate encryption that can affect your business's ability to protect itself.

In addition, identifying vulnerabilities before they become a problem can help organizations save money. Security incidents are costly, but with a proactive plan, you can safeguard your business and avoid them altogether.

The cost of responding to and recovering from a significant breach is much more costly than performing regular audits. Companies can prevent losses and maintain their brand reputation by addressing potential issues before they even happen.

Improve risk management processes

One of the most important parts of a security audit is a risk assessment, which allows businesses to identify risks while assessing controls and measures that mitigate those risks. A security audit can determine if IT systems are properly implemented and compliant with industry standards by examining current policies, procedures, and security practices.

In addition, an IT security audit can help you find solutions to major problems to enhance risk management. Recommendations, such as implementing additional security measures, updating policies, and improving employee training, can help businesses mitigate risk at scale.

Adhere to compliance and regulatory requirements

Many industries have specific regulations and standards that require data security audits. These laws and industry standards are designed to protect sensitive data, such as patient health records. These assessments can help businesses evaluate existing security practices and ensure they adhere to the various compliance frameworks, including HIPAA and GDPR laws.

If any non-compliant areas are identified, organizations can take corrective actions to realign operations with regulations, including updating policies, implementing additional security measures, and improving data security practices.

Protect sensitive data

Security audits can improve the protection of sensitive data, including customer data. By examining existing protocols, these assessments allow businesses to implement safeguards, encryption, access controls, and response plans that minimize the risk of data breaches and improve their corrective actions.

Data storage, transmission, disposal processes, access controls, and authentication methods are reviewed to identify weaknesses and provide recommendations to strengthen data protection.

Protecting sensitive customer data is essential for maintaining trust. By assessing the storage of this data, audits can eliminate improper handling practices and improve data encryption, allowing them to take action and implement stronger protection methods to demonstrate their commitment to protecting sensitive customer information.

Gauge whether employees require training

An external or internal audit can help businesses determine whether employees require additional training to prevent data breaches. The audit evaluates policies and procedures to identify weaknesses in employee awareness and understanding of security measures. For example, would they recognize a phishing scam in their email if they saw it?

By assessing their knowledge and adherence to various security protocols, an audit can highlight areas where training is necessary, allowing businesses to address knowledge gaps and improve security within the organization.

Maintain reputation & consumer trust

Performing data security audits can help your business maintain its reputation. Security breaches decrease customer trust.

If a customer purchases something from your website and their sensitive data is stolen, you may have difficulty winning them back. But by evaluating your security systems regularly, you can prevent costly data breaches and maintain consumer trust.

In addition, performing regular security audits can help you build consumer trust. Consumers want to purchase from brands that work tirelessly to protect their sensitive data. The better your security systems are, the more customers will trust you, making them more comfortable purchasing products online.

Ensuring the security of sensitive data to protect your business and its customers from cyberattacks is crucial. A security audit can help you assess your existing processes and protocols to identify weaknesses and find new ways to implement better security measures.

Regular security audits should be conducted at set intervals to review your existing security process, identify vulnerabilities, and address potential risks. However, you should also perform a security audit when there are changes to your IT infrastructure.

Changes to your IT infrastructure might mean adding a new tool or merging with another company because both entities' existing IT systems should be evaluated to ensure compliance and identify security gaps.

After you've determined you should run a security audit, you can follow these steps:

  1. Determine your assessment criteria and audit goals: Before running a security audit, you should identify your criteria and goals. Ultimately, you want to improve existing security systems. However, you must identify the specific systems, processes, and areas you want to access. You can assess network security, infrastructure, software, and so forth. In addition, you can focus on more specific security aspects, such as a website security audit, to determine how secure and safe your website is. When you audit a website, you'll also need to consider the integrations and tools you use to run that website and how it could affect your overall security.
  2. Identify the tools you'll need: Finding the appropriate tools can help you conduct a more thorough security audit, especially if you're performing it internally. To find the right tool, you should determine the scope of the audit. For instance, you can find a tool that only performs vulnerability assessments, or you can find a more comprehensive suite that also includes network security assessments, log analysis, penetration testing, and policy compliance reviews.
  3. Report on vulnerabilities and threats: Your audit should identify vulnerabilities and threats that could harm your business. You should report on all threats, including weaknesses in security controls, software, and entry points for hackers. Your reports should be clear and concise, outlining the severity of each threat, potential impacts, and remediation strategies.
  4. Address vulnerabilities and threats: By now, you should have a complete list of all the vulnerabilities and threats your security found. You can use a security audit checklist to develop a plan to address each weakness or risk. Consider organizing each risk by priority and impact.

How often you perform regular security audits depends largely on your organization. Larger organizations or those that have strict regulatory requirements should perform security audits more frequently. Smaller organizations may get away with conducting them only once a year.

However, since e-commerce companies work with sensitive data like customer credit card information, they should perform more frequent audits.

If you've never performed a security audit before, it might be well worth working with a third-party provider who can review your systems and processes for you. These organizations can conduct a security audit, identify vulnerabilities, offer compliance guidance, and assist in remediation, acting as your own IT team if you don't have an internal one. In addition, you can find a third-party organization that offers ongoing IT support to ensure effective security practices.

Best practices for security audits

When conducting security audits, your main goal should be to identify and remediate weaknesses, risks, and vulnerabilities. Organizations can enhance the effectiveness of their audits to protect themselves and their customers using the following best practices:

  • Know your security policies: Understanding your existing security policies is crucial. Your audit will review existing policies to ensure they adhere to industry standards, so you should at least understand what they are and how they work. Understanding the security controls and measures already in place can help you ensure they're being followed while determining their effectiveness to help you identify issues or new weaknesses.
  • Review compliance standards: Knowing the industry and legal compliance standards lets you determine if your current security framework is effective. If you don't review these standards, it can result in non-compliance. In these instances, you risk legal penalties, reputational damage, and loss of consumer trust.
  • Create a checklist: Creating a security audit checklist will ensure you identify all major and minor threats and can create a plan of action to mitigate risk within your business. Your security audit checklist should include the different types of systems you're auditing, policies, training, and regulations. In addition, you should list the different vulnerabilities you find.
  • Use risk scores: After identifying your list of vulnerabilities, you can use risk scores to prioritize them. Assigning scores based on the impact and likelihood of a potential threat can allow you to focus on high-priority weaknesses first, such as data breaches, to ensure you allocate resources efficiently.
  • Involve key stakeholders: Always involve stakeholders in your full security audit, including IT teams, security teams, compliance officers, marketers, and even HR personnel. These individuals can give you their unique perspectives and help you stay up to date on current regulations and compliance laws.
  • Take action: A security audit can help you identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but what you do with the information you find is even more important. Removing these issues and preventing a security breach or other type of security issue will safeguard your business, its stakeholders, and its customers. How you take action depends on the type of risks you've identified, so it's crucial to review your checklist regularly and have a plan of action for each vulnerability.

Implementing security audits in your business can protect its sensitive data by identifying vulnerabilities and implementing new and necessary security measures. In addition, partnering with trusted service providers can further strengthen your data security processes.

Mailchimp prioritizes customer data with robust measures that enhance security and foster customer trust.

In addition, we also help you audit other internal aspects of your business. With Mailchimp, you can perform a marketing audit to ensure the effectiveness of your marketing strategy in the same way a security audit ensures the effectiveness of your security. Conduct a content audit with Mailchimp today and protect your business data.

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