When you audit your network, you are essentially looking at the health of your IT systems. This involves assessing everything from network devices to operating systems to applications in use. The audit should be bi-annual or annual depending on the size of your business, how many users it has, and what kinds of hardware and software it uses.
Good audit practices should include a risk analysis for each audit objective, automated audit tools where available and procedures to identify audit gaps. When you need help auditing your IT systems—for example, if there is no internal audit or you don’t have sufficient staff with the right technical background—you can turn to an external audit firm.
It is very important to audit and identify network gaps, because if you do not know what kinds of security vulnerabilities exist in your organization, you can’t do anything about them. This means that other people’s mistakes—and even your own—could allow hackers to gain access to sensitive data or other assets on your system. These gaps can also allow other network users to access restricted areas of the system, which could result in damage to hardware or software.
Identifying audit gaps can be difficult, especially if you are not an IT professional, but there are tools that can help you. For example, automated audit applications can look for vulnerabilities on your system and check whether they are patched or not. If you don’t have audit tools, check the documentation for your system to see what kinds of security tests it can do—for example, whether it can audit firewall rules or check user permissions.
Tests that involve verifying specific information are often the easiest to run. For example, if you want to audit the audit logs on a system, you can check a certain date and time range to see if the audit was turned on. If it is not, an audit log entry will show that the audit failed because it did not record any activity. This type of audit testing takes very little sophistication or knowledge about IT security, but it can be quite useful when performed regularly.
Other audit tests require more knowledge about the system itself. For example, if you want to audit user accounts on your network, you need to know which operating system is in use and how it maintains account information. There are audit testing methods for Windows , Linux , Unix and Mac OS X .
You will also need specific permissions or access to perform audit tests. For example, audit tools are most useful when you can run them without administrative access—that is, if they are already installed on the system you want to audit or you can install them temporarily.
Most audit testing methods work by checking for vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit, but sometimes network auditing is more about removing human error from the equation. Administrators and other IT staff like to audit their systems for things such as system errors, file deletions or changes, audit logs, firewall rules and so on.
However you audit your network—with automated audit tools or plain old manual tests—the goal is to identify gaps as early as possible so that they can be closed before a hacker exploits them.
If you can’t audit your network yourself, you can always ask an IT audit company for help. They are experts at identifying audit gaps and can use advanced audit tools, expert knowledge about your system, and automated audit tools to ensure that they don’t miss anything.