When preparing for security assessments, organizations often have to decide between risk advisory vs. internal auditing. Whereas both services provide extensive cybersecurity benefits, it helps to know which applies best to your organization’s unique needs. Read on to learn more about risk advisory vs. internal audit.
Guide to Security Assessment: Risk Advisory vs Internal Auditing
Security assessments work most effectively if an organization can quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses across its IT infrastructure. Although they do it differently, risk advisory and internal auditing can help you streamline company-wide security assessment.
To compare risk advisory vs. internal auditing, this blog will cover:
- An overview of risk advisory services
- An overview of internal auditing services
- A thorough comparison of risk advisory vs. internal auditing services
Deciding between risk advisory vs. internal auditing services can be challenging without the help of a trusted security program advisor. Partnering with one can help you identify the services that best meet your organization’s unique security needs.
What is Risk Advisory?
Risk advisory services typically involve a reliable security specialist offering guidance to an organization about the types of risks that might impact the organization’s IT infrastructure.
Considering the extensive list of risks that affect the global IT environment, risk advisory is critical to securing your sensitive digital assets. More importantly, security risks are constantly changing—whether internally or externally—and all the essential parties responsible for your organization’s cybersecurity must remain cyber vigilant at all times.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines risk as “a measure of the extent to which an entity is threatened by a potential circumstance or event.” Security risks are also defined by the adverse impact of an event or circumstance and how likely it is for the given event or circumstance to occur.
In most cases, security risks—should they materialize into threats—may impact:
- Confidentiality of sensitive data due to unauthorized exposure
- The integrity of sensitive data due to wrongful manipulation
- The availability of services or systems containing users’ data
Before diving into the types of risk advisory services from which you could benefit, let’s review the various types of security risks your organization might face.
Types of Security Risks
When conducting security assessments, organizations can leverage the NIST’s risk models to understand how various risk factors are related and how these factors can impact them, given their specific security posture. The types of security risks described by the NIST include:
- Threats – Any circumstances by which access to sensitive information is obtained through unauthorized means are threats. In some cases, threats may compromise environments containing sensitive digital assets. Sources of threats may include:
- Physical or cyber attacks on IT systems (e.g., ransomware attacks)
- Human errors that compromise IT assets (e.g., successful phishing attacks)
- Structural failures of system controls (e.g., hardware)
- Natural or man-made disasters (e.g., floods, accidents)
- Vulnerabilities – Any weaknesses or gaps in an IT infrastructure that can be compromised by a threat source are considered vulnerabilities. Whereas most cybersecurity vulnerabilities tend to be associated with poor security hygiene, some vulnerabilities emerge from changes to technologies or business environments.
Security risks may also be unique to certain industries. For instance, organizations in healthcare and financial services may be more prone to cyberattacks than other organizations that handle less sensitive data.
Likewise, privacy risks may also look different across geographic regions based on the existing privacy laws there. For instance, the European Union (EU) tends to have stricter privacy laws than other parts of the world.
Regardless, understanding the unique types of security risks your company faces will help you when evaluating risk advisory vs internal auditing services.
Common Risk Advisory Services
Since risks come in various shapes, it is critical for your organization to remain fully prepared at all levels, starting from entry-level roles all the way up to senior leadership ones. Additionally, risk management should be considered an organization-wide responsibility, with all members of the organization remaining cyber vigilant at all times.
Some of the common risk advisory services from which you could benefit include:
- Cybersecurity awareness and training – Even after investing in cybersecurity technologies to boost your organization’s defenses, you still need your staff to be aware of the security threats they might face and how best they can mitigate these threats from becoming full-blown attacks. Security awareness and training enable staff to implement best practices and procedures to minimize the threats posed by cyber attackers.
- Threat and vulnerability assessment – Launching the appropriate defenses against a cyber attack requires understanding the threats and vulnerabilities involved. A methodical threat and vulnerability assessment will help you:
- Security policy development – Whether you build your internal security policies from frameworks like the NIST, HIPAA, HITRUST, or PCI DSS, successfully integrating the controls recommended by these frameworks into your existing security controls may require the advice of a compliance expert.
- Incident response management – After an incident occurs, your company is likely at risk for more damage from the attack unless the security incident is promptly and appropriately managed. As part of advisory, incident response management involves:
- Identifying potential risks to your organization’s sensitive IT assets
- Using the appropriate tools to safeguard data sensitivity
- Developing robust threat intelligence
- Detecting and analyzing security incidents in real-time
Outsourcing risk advisory services to an experienced risk advisory partner will help you stay ahead of cyber criminals and keep your company’s sensitive assets safe. A risk advisor will most likely be well-versed in managing the types of risks that could impact your organization.
However, risk advisory is not meant to be a one-time set of security efforts.
Your organization may benefit most from a longer-term partnership in which you receive up-to-date risk advice on the latest security trends and which best practices will keep your cyber defenses effective.
What is Internal Auditing?
On another level, internal audits are essential to evaluating the effectiveness of the controls at play within your organization. To compare risk advisory vs internal auditing, it helps to know what audits are and how they can help improve your company’s security posture.
According to the NIST, an audit is an “independent review and examination of records and activities to assess the adequacy of system controls, to ensure compliance with established policies and operational procedures.” Audits can be conducted internally or externally for different purposes and often with varying outcomes.
Although internal audits may not be as rigorous as external ones, they are just as critical to optimizing your security controls in the short and long term. As such, finding the appropriate teams, implementing internal audit best practices, and possibly outsourcing the audits will help improve their success.
Reasons for Conducting an Internal Audit
The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) provides six reasons for which organizations may choose to conduct internal audits:
- Identification of security weaknesses, gaps, and related vulnerabilities
- Development of a baseline upon which to evaluate future security audits
- Compliance with internal security policies
- Compliance with regulatory requirements
- Evaluation of security training standards
- Monitoring resource allocation across the organization
If your organization handles sensitive data, internal audits will help you uncover new vulnerabilities and evaluate the effectiveness of the security controls safeguarding the sensitive data. More importantly, the outcomes of each successive audit can help strengthen your security posture, even as IT security risks become more complex.
Best Practices for Internal Audits
For internal audits to work best, your company must create an effective audit management plan, which is guided by an internal audit checklist. It is best to invest in initial audit planning before starting the audit to ensure all parties involved fully understand their roles and responsibilities.
A comprehensive step-by-step audit plan involves:
- Planning – At this stage, all necessary stakeholders collaborate on developing an audit plan and ensure its scope covers all the critical areas of your IT infrastructure. At this stage, it is essential that the party who will be performing the audit receives all the information and documents necessary for its success.
- Investigation – The audit itself involves the auditors conducting several tasks such as:
- Gathering information from internal sources (e.g., staff interviews)
- Analyzing existing controls and operations
- Reviewing documentation (e.g., security policies, compliance attestations)
- Assessment – Following the investigation and collection of data from across the organization, audit teams will then evaluate the gathered information based on the initial audit plan. Auditors must document all audit findings and generate reports to guide subsequent steps and provide recommendations for security optimization.
- Review – Once the assessment is complete, the auditors can then report to the internal leadership team on their findings. Stakeholders may be required to respond to these findings and the auditors may then submit a follow-up report.
- Follow-up – At the completion of the audit, the internal team will review all the audit findings and auditor recommendations and decide the potential next steps. If there was a need for security optimization or vulnerability remediation, the internal team may request a follow-up review post-audit.
Internal audits will look different for each company, depending on factors such as current security posture, business needs, and operational budget. However, each internal or external audit you conduct brings you a step closer to strengthening your cybersecurity infrastructure.
Risk Advisory vs. Internal Auditing – What Works Best?
Now that we’ve reviewed the basics of risk advisory and internal audits, you might be wondering how to choose between risk advisory vs. internal auditing. Both may seem apt in your situation.
And ultimately, it comes down to your organization’s unique needs and means.
On the one hand, risk advisory is helpful when it comes to anticipating and mitigating security risks that might impact sensitive data. As such, organizations that process highly sensitive data would greatly benefit from these services. On the other hand, internal auditing is helpful for large organizations looking to boost their security controls and prepare for external regulatory audits.
Let’s review some practical applications of risk advisory vs internal auditing:
The Case for Risk Advisory – PCI DSS Compliance
Companies that process card payments are required to comply with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) framework to safeguard cardholder data (CHD). When these companies are setting up new infrastructure to process these payments (point-of-service (POS) terminals, etc.), the PCI DSS requires such infrastructure to keep CHD safe at all times.
However, risks like staff forgetting to change the vendor default passwords or using unsecured wireless networks to process card payments can compromise the sensitivity of CHD. A lack of established security policies can also impact the overall effectiveness of PCI compliance and create security risks to CHD.
Risk advisory can help identify areas requiring compliance optimization and enable your company to implement security controls that prevent risks from developing into events.
The Case for Internal Auditing – SOC 2 Compliance
Internal audits are also beneficial for companies that handle sensitive data but implement various internal controls to protect these data from security risks.
Organizations that provide services at scale to other organizations or clients can benefit from SOC 2 compliance, which involves extensive internal auditing. With growing concerns about data security, the audits you conduct in preparation for SOC 2 can help you provide data security assurance to stakeholders. Beyond SOC 2 audits, internal auditing will help you prepare for any external audit, especially those requiring extensive advance preparation.
Whether you prefer to start your security program with risk advisory, internal auditing, or both types of services, working with a trusted security advisor will help secure your digital assets.
Get Started Optimizing Your Security Program
Security assessments are critical to optimizing and strengthening your security program in the short and long term. The best way to navigate the debate between risk advisory vs. internal auditing is to discuss both options with an experienced security program advisor who can help guide you on which service might apply best to your organization.
To learn more, contact RSI Security today.
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