Data security audit checklist

Data security audit checklist

Wondering how to run a security audit? Do you know the 8 steps you should do before the audit to maximize its value?

Data security audits allow you to proactively fix vulnerabilities, mitigate risk, and reduce the likelihood of a data breach.

The alternative isn’t pretty.

According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach is a whopping USD 4.45 million.

In this post, you’ll learn how to prepare for a data security audit, as well as the 11-step checklist for the audit process itself.

Table of contents:

What is a Data Security Audit

A data security audit is a comprehensive review of an organization's data security posture. The main goal is to identify potential vulnerabilities, risks, and areas of non-compliance with industry standards, regulatory requirements, or internal policies.

By conducting regular security audits, organizations can gain insights into the effectiveness of their data security measures as well as obtain recommendations on where to improve. Security audits help organizations mitigate potential data breaches, ensure compliance with relevant industry regulations, and ultimately protect their critical data assets.

Common data security risks

Some common data security risks that organizations face include:

  1. Cyberattacks: Malicious activities such as hacking, phishing, malware, ransomware, and denial-of-service attacks can compromise data security.
  2. Insider Threats: Employees or contractors with access to sensitive data can intentionally or unintentionally cause data breaches.
  3. Weak Access Controls: Inadequate authentication and authorization mechanisms can allow unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  4. Data Leakage: Unintentional exposure of data through insecure communication channels, misconfigured cloud services, or lost/stolen devices.
  5. Human Error: Mistakes made by employees, such as mishandling data or falling for phishing scams, can lead to security breaches.
  6. Outdated Software: Failure to apply software updates and patches can leave systems vulnerable to known security exploits.
  7. Third-Party Risks: Dependence on third-party vendors and service providers can introduce security vulnerabilities if their security measures are inadequate.

What types of data are at risk?

All types of sensitive data can be a target in a cyber attack. The most common types of data leaked include:

  1. Personal Identifiable Information (PII): This includes any data that can be used to identify an individual, such as names, social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  2. Financial Information: This includes bank account numbers, credit card numbers, financial statements, and any other data related to financial transactions or status.
  3. Health Information: Medical records, health insurance information, and any other data related to an individual’s health status fall under this category.
  4. Intellectual Property: This includes proprietary information, trade secrets, patents, and copyrights that are crucial to an organization’s competitive advantage.
  5. Employee Information: Data related to employees, such as payroll information, performance evaluations, and personal details.
  6. Customer Data: Information collected about customers, such as purchasing history, preferences, and feedback.
  7. Business Operational Data: This includes data related to the organization’s operations, such as supply chain information, business strategies, and internal communications.
  8. Legal and Regulatory Information: Data related to compliance with laws and regulations, such as audit logs, compliance reports, and legal documents.
  9. Research Data: Data collected for research purposes, which may include sensitive or proprietary information.
  10. Educational Records: Student records, grades, and other information related to educational institutions.

How do you prepare for a security audit?

By preparing for a security audit, you can better position your organization to identify and address security risks efficiently. Here’s a general outline of how to prepare for a security audit:

1. Define the Scope of the Audit

  • Determine which systems, networks, and data will be included in the audit.
  • Identify the objectives and goals of the audit, such as compliance with specific regulations, assessing overall security posture, or identifying vulnerabilities.

2. Review Previous Audits

  • Examine previous audit reports to identify any recurring issues or unresolved vulnerabilities.
  • Assess the effectiveness of previous remediation efforts.

3. Gather Documentation

  • Collect policies, procedures, and standards related to information security.
  • Compile records of previous security incidents, risk assessments, and training logs.

4. Develop a Plan for the Audit

  • Determine the methods and tools that will be used for the audit, such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing.
  • Schedule the audit and communicate the plan to relevant stakeholders.

5. Prepare Staff

  • Inform employees about the upcoming audit and their roles in the process.
  • Provide any necessary training or guidance to ensure they understand security policies and procedures.

6. Test Backup and Recovery Procedures

  • Verify that backup systems are functioning correctly and that data can be restored in the event of an incident.

7. Update and Patch Systems

  • Ensure that all software and systems are up to date with the latest security patches.

8. Establish Communication Channels

  • Determine how findings and recommendations will be communicated during and after the audit.
  • Set up a process for addressing any urgent issues that may arise during the audit.

11 Steps to perform a data security audit

Now that you’ve prepared for the audit, it’s important to note that this should not be a one-time exercise. Regular audits should be conducted to identify emerging threats and ensure that your data is properly secured.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Conduct a Risk Assessment

  • Identify potential threats to your organization’s data, including both internal and external risks.
  • Assess the likelihood and potential impact of these risks to prioritize areas for examination.

2. Review Security Policies and Procedures

  • Examine your organization’s security policies and procedures to ensure they are up-to-date and comprehensive.
  • Evaluate the implementation of these policies in practice.

3. Assess Physical and Technical Security Controls

  • Evaluate physical security measures, such as access controls to facilities and hardware security.
  • Examine technical security controls, including cloud configurations, Data Loss Protection (DLP) controls, and patch management.

4. Inspect Access Controls and Authentication Mechanisms

  • Review user access controls and permissions to ensure that they follow the principle of least privilege.
  • Assess the strength and effectiveness of authentication methods, such as passwords, multi-factor authentication, and biometrics.

5. Analyze Network Security

  • Conduct vulnerability scanning and/or a penetration test to identify weaknesses in your network security.
  • Examine network segmentation (for assumed breach scenarios), monitoring, and intrusion detection capabilities.

6. Evaluate Data Protection Measures

  • Review data encryption practices, both at rest and in transit.
  • Assess the effectiveness of data backup and recovery procedures.

7. Monitor the Dark Web

  • Use specialized services to monitor the dark web for any leaked or stolen data related to your organization.
  • Reset any leaked employee or customer credentials and terminate any relevant session tokens.
  • Clean any employee devices infected with stealer malware.

8. Analyze Incident Response and Recovery Plans

  • Review your organization’s incident response plan to ensure it is up-to-date and effective.
  • Evaluate the readiness of your team to respond to and recover from a security incident.

9. Document Findings and Recommendations

  • Compile a comprehensive report detailing the audit findings.
  • Provide recommendations for addressing any identified vulnerabilities or weaknesses.

10. Develop a Remediation Plan

  • Prioritize the recommendations based on risk and impact.
  • Create a plan for implementing the necessary changes and improvements.

11. Monitor Progress and Follow-up

  • Track the implementation of the remediation plan.
  • Conduct follow-up assessments to ensure that vulnerabilities have been addressed and security controls are effective.


By conducting a cyber security audit, organizations can help mitigate the risk of a breach.

When conducting the risk assessment step, one of the most common threats facing companies today is leaked employee credentials.

In fact, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 86% of breaches involve stolen, weak, or default passwords.

If your security team needs to reset these credentials before criminals exploit them, book a demo to see how Breachsense can help.

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