No matter what industry you work within, it’s essential to protect your staff and clients from cybercrime threats. There are various regulatory guidelines and systematic approaches your company may need to follow, depending on your business’s nature. But having a solid plan is only the first step; you also need execution and regular assessment to keep your practices up to date and your stakeholders’ information safe. Hence, the critical importance of cybersecurity audit report writing aims to ensure that your cyberdefense delivers what it should.
Cybersecurity Audit Report Writing Best Practices
In the world of cybersecurity, there are various ways to assess the efficacy of your company’s safety measures. On the one hand, the sheer prevalence of security events may be an indicator of poor performance. But even the most well-protected companies will be targeted by ambitious hackers. Even if you haven’t experienced a breach, that doesn’t necessarily mean your defenses are functioning as well as they could or that you’re safe from future attacks.
Thus, the only way to guarantee your company’s safety is through thorough, objective auditing. So, in the sections below, we’ll break down four essential practices for effective audit report writing:
- Beginning preparation early
- Mobilizing the data effectively
- Perfecting the document itself
- Using a technical writing partner
But first, let’s take a closer look at exactly what internal audit report writing entails.
What is Cybersecurity Audit Report Writing?
To understand what audit reporting is, it’s helpful to understand what it’s not. Namely, it is not an assessment, although both evaluate cybersecurity efficacy. In some situations, the two terms are used interchangeably. Typically, the difference between a cybersecurity assessment and a cybersecurity audit is about the formality and objectivity of each.
An assessment is usually conducted internally, with a company’s information technology (IT) personnel running tests on its security measures’ efficacy. These may occur routinely or after special events, such as installing or changing to major software or hardware. In any case, the internal focus leaves room for institutional bias and misrepresentation of findings.
In contrast, an audit is typically conducted by or with the help of an outside third party. This allows for a far more objective and incisive look at your cybersecurity practices. An unbiased party, such as a partner or regulatory institution, has no interest in misrepresenting your results.
#1 Begin Preparing Well Before Auditing
Audit report writing may be undertaken for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most common have to do with compliance or following various regulatory frameworks’ required procedures. Other companies are audited or elect to audit themselves for business reasons: for example, to prove to a prospective client that they can trust you with their sensitive data.
Regardless of why your company is preparing an audit report, it’s essential to begin preparing for the evaluation well before the actual audit begins. Basic steps to consider include:
- Detailed, up to date inventory of all relevant hardware and software
- Diligent recordkeeping regarding all personnel, clientele, and user profiles
- Monitoring and documentation of all cybersecurity events (risks, attacks, etc.)
In many cases, stepwise documentation and reporting are required by the same frameworks that require you to audit in the first place. But making sure to document every fact and stat relevant to your cybersecurity is a strong practice even when not required, as it streamlines the process.
Compliance Across Various Frameworks
Early preparation yields simplicity later on, which translates into lower audit costs on your end. But one roadblock to a streamlined audit process comes from the depth and complexity of various intersecting cybersecurity protocols.
Companies often need to comply with one or more regulatory frameworks, depending on their industry. For example, consider the following:
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to most healthcare and adjacent companies, including private practices and clearinghouses.
- Companies that process credit card payments and clients’ financial information often need to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).
- Companies looking to contract with the US government, particularly the Department of Defense, need Cybersecurity Model Maturity Certification (CMMC) for preferred status.
These are far from the only guidelines you may need to follow. Complicating matters further, many of these (and other) frameworks require similar controls or practices but use different language or metrics to define them. Some include “mapping” resources, which help you identify how a control implemented for PCI-DSS satisfies HIPAA requirements, for example.
But in many cases, such mapping might be impossible, or at least difficult. That’s why, in any case, it’s crucial to maintain records in raw data formats that are not just optimized for compliance with one particular ruleset but also manipulable for other (auditing) purposes.
#2 Collect, Analyze, and Optimize Data
Preparation for the audit is only half the battle. It makes the process of official data collection and optimization much more streamlined. However, you and your auditing body still need to execute the audit and write the audit report itself, moving beyond preparation into action. That means not just collecting all relevant data but also operationalizing it for evaluation across various metrics.
In some cases, the data collection and optimization process will be conducted entirely by an external auditing body. In other cases, you will be tasked with presenting the auditor(s) a significant amount (or all) of the information upon which they will base their report.
Among the most important information you need to collect, analyze, and optimize is any relevant data on risks and vulnerabilities — past, present, and future — facing your company.
Accounting for Risks and Vulnerabilities
A robust cybersecurity program is not one in which absolutely no risks or vulnerabilities are present. No such cyberdefense has ever existed, nor will one ever exist. Even if the aspirational goal is to eliminate all risks and vectors, the more reasonable focus of your cybersecurity infrastructure and architecture should be managing and mitigating vulnerabilities.
To that end, your audit writing process can and should be informed by a systematic approach to threat and vulnerability management, which accounts for:
- Flaws or oversights in firewall or other baseline protections
- Vulnerabilities in user accounts and access control systems
- All known common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVE)
Importantly, all research conducted about these risks, such as internal or external root cause analysis, or results from in-depth penetration testing, should be made available to auditors.
It’s imperative to paint an honest picture of the risks and vulnerabilities facing your company. It may seem like it could be in your best interest to ignore, conceal, or otherwise disregard a given vector of risk, such as to appear more stable for a potential client. But such a tactic can jeopardize both your audit and, more importantly, your overall cybersecurity.
#3 Tailor the Report for Your Audience
As noted above, the particular reason you are undertaking an audit can vary. So will the potential audience(s) of your audit reports. As with any kind of technical writing, it’s important to tailor your report to your audience’s particular expectations and assumptions.
If your audit is done for compliance or certification purposes, it’s essential to use the particular language throughout its respective regulatory framework. For example, an audit conducted for CMMC compliance likely needs to refer to “practices” and “domains” of security, whereas an audit report related to National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171 compliance would refer, instead, to “families” of “requirements.”
On the other hand, if your audit is being conducted for other business reasons, such as proving your security to a potential client, you’ll likely want to frame your findings differently. In particular, you may use fewer technical terms or other jargon that your client may not understand. You might mix and match language from various protocols to highlight your cyberdefense strengths.
Elements of an Effective Audit Report
Ultimately, there is no one way to write an audit report. In fact, any single audit may generate multiple reports, or different versions of the same report, tailored to different readers’ needs. However, there are a handful of techniques useful for all audit report writing.
The essential qualities of audit reporting include:
- A concise executive summary section, upfront, minimizes jargon, and neatly presents all key takeaways in a simplified manner accessible to all audiences.
- Logical sections that break up the report into smaller parts, enabling a reader to find any particular piece of information at a glance easily — also, consider an index.
- Clear data visualization presents the most critical findings in graphs, charts, and other visual formats for easy analysis, regardless of the audience’s background.
- Substantial analytical sections move beyond information dumps and provide real insights, such as useful predictions and recommendations for stakeholders.
The last essential practice for persuasive audit report writing is diligent editing. Your document should be proofread and undergo multiple sensitivity and accuracy reads to ensure that it is free from errors, omissions, and misrepresentations that could jeopardize your audit.
#4 Use a Technical Writing Partner
Finally, one of the best ways to ensure your audit report writing is as efficient and effective as possible is to contract the services of a dedicated service provider who has perfected the craft.
In some instances, an audit can be conducted internally, with no need for an external service provider. But in many cases, you’ll need to seek out a qualified auditor or assessor to conduct the evaluation, anyway. If your only point of contact with the third-party is during the audit itself, there may be misunderstandings that can extend the process and increase audit costs.
Forming a relationship with the technical writing partner can help take the pressure off of the audit itself by extending the process and collaborating on both the preparation for the audit and any other corrective work needed afterward. Writing, as they say, is a process.
Holistic Cybersecurity Technical Writing
RSI Security’s robust suite of cybersecurity technical writing services makes us the ideal cybersecurity technical writing partner for any company, of any size, in any industry.
Our talented team of experts provides not only effective audit report writing but also:
- Cybersecurity policy writing – We can help you draft your entire cybersecurity policy, including everything from planning steps to training and awareness manuals.
- Documentation writing – As detailed in practice #1 above, it’s essential to keep diligent records of all cybersecurity information. We can assist with all such recordkeeping.
- Business technical writing – In addition to cybersecurity-related writing, we can also assist with other business content, including marketing technology services.
- Online proofing and editing – Editing is an essential part of all technical writing, and we can provide proofing and developmental editing at all stages of your process.
No matter what technical writing challenge you’re facing, we can help simplify the process. Plus, we are happy to help with audit reports and other cybersecurity technical writing elements, and any cyber-defense-related services you need to keep your stakeholders safe.
Professionalize Your Cyberdefenses
Here at RSI Security, we’ve provided not just technical writing but all kinds of advisory and managed IT services to companies for over a decade. Whether your company needs help envisioning and implementing its cybersecurity architecture, or even a niche analytical service like incident management or penetration testing, we’re your first and best choice.
We know firsthand how important compliance can be, as well as how essential auditing is to achieving compliance. But we also know it’s not the end of cybersecurity — it’s just the beginning. Contact RSI Security today to see how simple and powerful your audit report writing can be, as well as how secure your overall cyberdefense program can keep your company.