How to Prevent Findings for Common Cybersecurity Audit Evidence Hazards

A cybersecurity audit is a critical component of an effective cybersecurity strategy. It provides a thorough examination of your organization’s security measures, helps identify and mitigate risks, ensures compliance with regulations, and ultimately protects your business from cyber threats.  

Audit Hazards to Watch Out For

The promises of an audit are difficult to deliver on, however, when your evidence is compromised. Here are a few hazards you could be facing: 

  1. Incomplete Evidence: Audit evidence might not capture the full scope of cybersecurity threats or vulnerabilities due to limitations in data collection methods or tools. This could result in an incomplete understanding of the organization’s security posture. 
  1. Inaccurate Data: Evidence may be inaccurate or outdated, leading to incorrect assessments of cybersecurity risks. This could occur due to misconfigured security tools, human error, or changes in the organization’s IT environment that are not properly reflected in the audit evidence. 

    Read: You Need a Mission-Oriented Risk Management Approach. Here’s Why
  1. Manipulated Evidence: In some cases, audit evidence could be deliberately manipulated or tampered with to conceal security breaches or compliance failures. This could involve falsifying logs, altering configuration settings, or deleting incriminating data. 
  1. Lack of Context: Without proper context, audit evidence may be misinterpreted, leading to erroneous conclusions about the effectiveness of cybersecurity controls. For example, a high volume of security alerts may be indicative of either a sophisticated attack or a misconfigured system generating false positives. 
  1. Dependency on Tools and Technology: Audit evidence heavily relies on cybersecurity tools and technologies for data collection and analysis. If these tools are flawed or compromised, the integrity of the evidence they produce could be compromised as well. 

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  1. Legal and Regulatory Risks: In some cases, the collection and handling of cybersecurity audit evidence may raise legal and regulatory concerns, especially regarding privacy and data protection laws. Mishandling sensitive information during the audit process could lead to legal liabilities and penalties. 
  1. Scope Limitations: Audit evidence may be limited in scope, focusing on specific aspects of cybersecurity while neglecting others. This could result in a skewed assessment of overall security risk if critical areas are overlooked during the audit process. 

In addition, evidence collection could be a manual process or evidence isn’t stored in a central ticketing system. Staff also may not understand the full extent of the control, what is specifically needed, and when. This can cause a reactionary environment for audit evidence rather than a strategic initiative with a proactive approach to evidence and artifact collection. 

To mitigate these hazards, cybersecurity auditors should employ robust methodologies, validate the accuracy and integrity of evidence, consider contextual factors, and adhere to relevant legal and regulatory requirements. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and reassessment of cybersecurity controls are essential to ensure that audit evidence remains relevant and reliable over time. 

The Role of NIST SP 800-53 Rev 5 

NIST SP 800-53, Revision 5, titled “Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations,” is a publication by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It provides a comprehensive set of security and privacy controls for federal information systems and organizations but is widely used as a framework by both public and private sector entities. 

The purpose of NIST SP 800-53 is to help organizations establish, implement, and maintain effective security and privacy programs to protect their information systems and data. It offers a catalog of security and privacy controls that organizations can tailor to meet their specific needs and requirements.  

Controls and how an organization’s system meets them are tested on an annual basis or when there is a significant change to the system. For controls in scope, a Third-Party Assessment Organization (3PAO) will request evidence to support what the organization has in place. 

Learn more: Introduction to NIST Cybersecurity Compliance

Examples of Audit Evidence Hazards That May Result in Findings 

Below are some examples of audit evidence hazards that may result in a finding during an assessment. 

  1. Change Control Board Meetings CM-3: Make sure meetings are noted in your organizations calendar. Document who attended the meeting and what topics were discussed and any decisions that were made. Make sure to retain the records to provide to the 3PAO. 
  1. Role-Based Training IR-2, IR-9(2), CP-3: Controls state training is required within 10 days of assuming an incident response or contingency planning role. If the training is conducted through a training module, ensure that records show the date the training was assigned and taken. If the training is provided via mentoring, open a ticket to document who the mentor is, what is to be accomplished and evidence that it was completed. Make sure that information spillage is included in the training and is specifically called out or documented. Contingency Planning (CP) training is typically by participating in a CP test. Make sure to document who participated in the test in a ticket if a ticket is opened. 

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  1. Access Agreements PS-6/Rules of Behavior PL-4: Organizations have employees sign Access Agreements and Rules of Behavior upon hire, but at times fail to have them re-sign annually. An effective way to meet this control is to have Access Agreements and Rules of Behavior re-signed at the same time annual Security Awareness Training is rolled out. Access Agreements are to be reviewed annually and Rules of Behavior reviewed annually for a high system and every (3) three years for moderate and low systems. Evidence of the reviews can either be in a revision table or opening a ticket to document the review and any changes to the documents. Access Agreements and Rules of Behavior must be updated to reflect any changes. Once documents have been updated, they must be re-signed. 

    Read: How to Identify and Respond to Insider Threats

More Actions You Can Take to Prevent Audit Evidence Hazards 

What else can be done to avoid audit evidence hazards? 

  • Note controls that require you to perform reviews. This would include access reviews, documentation reviews.   
  • Open tickets to make sure the reviews are assigned and completed. If possible, provide an example of what was provided previously. Attached the evidence to the tickets for easy retrieval. The ticket can be provided as audit evidence. 
  • For every solution documented or put into place think about what evidence can be provided to verify the solution. 
  • If you are unsure of evidence to provide, work with your audit team to discuss. 
  • Use tags for documentation to tie back to an audit. This will allow documentation associated with an audit to quickly be obtained. 
  • Use tags for tickets to pull all tickets associated with the audit. 

38North Security can help you identify and mitigate risks, ensure compliance with regulations, and ultimately protect your business from cyber threats. Get in touch with a cybersecurity expert today.