What is a network security audit, and why are they important?

8 min

According to studies, only 52% of organisations conduct regular network security audits, wit...

According to studies, only 52% of organisations conduct regular network security audits, with 19% confessing never conducting them. With the cost of security threats averaging $4.45 million in 2023, due to the increased rate and sophistication of attacks, it's never been more vital to protect your business from the various risks present in today's digital world.

One way of doing this is to conduct a network security audit. A network security audit thoroughly assesses a company's network infrastructure and security stance. These audits aim to identify vulnerabilities and potential security risks that may be susceptible to exploitation by cybercriminals. The ultimate aim of an audit is to enhance the network's overall security, safeguarding critical assets such as data, systems, and devices.

We've produced this guide to help you and your business better understand network security audits. In this guide, we'll cover the following:

  • What is a security audit?
  • Why are network security audits important?
  • When should you conduct a network security audit?
  • How to conduct a security audit
  • Who should conduct your network security audit?

What is a security audit?

A network security audit is essential for companies operating in the enterprise security space, revolving around the detection of potential network security threats and vulnerabilities. This comprehensive review of a company's network involves scrutinising all aspects of the network, including devices, infrastructure, and management protocols. 

The ultimate goal of a network security audit is to pinpoint vulnerabilities within the network before combating these issues to maintain the integrity and security of an organisation's systems and IT infrastructure. 

Here is a typical summary of what's included in the network security audit checklist:

  • Network management: An audit ensures seamless operations are conducted in the future by determining the efficiency of an organisation's network management procedures.
  • Network performance: Audits evaluate the network's overall performance regarding speed, responsiveness, and reliability while identifying areas for improvement.
  • Network availability: They verify the accessibility and uptime of the network to minimise downtime and disruptions.
  • Network implementation: Audits will thoroughly scrutinise the deployment and configuration of a network's functionality, ensuring the network's components perform at optimal levels year-round.
  • Network security: They assess the effectiveness of an organisation's measures to combat network and cyber security threats.

Network auditing provides enterprises with a comprehensive overview of their networks, shedding light on potential security vulnerabilities that, if left unattended, could result in severe consequences, including reputational and financial damages. 

By identifying and addressing potential issues through a network security audit, businesses can strengthen their networks against cyber threats. Doing so can mitigate the risk of exploitation and potential damage orchestrated by malicious hackers. Ultimately, a carefully crafted network security audit can empower an organisation to safeguard its assets and uphold the integrity of its operations. 

Why are network security audits important?

Network security audits play a pivotal role for enterprises eager to maintain a resilient defence against evolving network and cyber security threats. These audits are indispensable for many reasons, each contributing to the overall security posture of an organisation's network. We’ve listed the key reasons that outline the importance of network security audits.

  • Audits allow you to stay ahead of network security threats

Network security audits serve as a proactive measure to keep your organisation ahead of the latest security threats and vulnerabilities. Regular audits are essential for adapting security measures to emerging risks as cyber security threats constantly evolve and occur on average around every 39 seconds.

With the evolving nature of more sophisticated security threats, it’s crucial for companies to regularly monitor their networks to gain a comprehensive overview of the possible risks. This ongoing vigilance enables the timely discovery of security weaknesses, allowing for prompt mitigation actions before potential threats compromise the integrity of the network.

  • Network security audits provide manual and automated vigilance

Audits can be conducted through manual assessments by skilled network security experts and automated processes that utilise various network security audit tools. Taking a dual approach ensures a thorough evaluation of your network's security, addressing vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. 

These network automation tools can include the following: 

  • Nmap
  • Nessus
  • ManageEngine OpManager
  • SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
  • Professional penetration testing

The most effective way to conduct a network security audit is through penetration testing. Penetration tests offer a thorough examination of the network's defences by simulating scenarios whereby a network security professional deliberately attempts to hack into the network to reveal any vulnerabilities and security gaps. They do so by using network vulnerability scanners - tools used to identify and rectify potential network security weaknesses. 

  • Audits help you adapt to business change

As companies routinely introduce new hardware and software into their network, each addition can potentially introduce new security vulnerabilities. Network security audits provide an overview of a company's security posture, allowing businesses to detect and address security issues before they impact productivity.

  • Network security audits support remote work and BYOD challenges

As remote work is now the norm, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies are common practice in many organisations. With employees working on their own devices, networks face increased exposure to security threats. Security audits can review BYOD practices to avoid potential malware infiltration, unauthorised hardware usage, and the introduction of unknown third-party applications, all posing a risk of data loss and heightened vulnerability to attacks by cybercriminals.

Ultimately, network security audits are a proactive strategy, offering organisations the means to fortify their defences, adapt to technological changes, and safeguard against emerging threats. Regular assessments ensure the network's security and provide the necessary insights for futureproofing against unforeseen challenges. With that said, when should you conduct a network security audit? Scroll to find out.

When should you conduct a network security audit?

Organisations typically perform security audits on an annual or biannual basis, although some conduct audits every month or quarter. For example, enterprises dealing with sensitive data, such as those in the healthcare financial services sector, conduct more frequent security audits due to the critical nature of the information they house.

The timing and frequency of when you conduct a network security audit depends on various factors, including:

  • Your industry
  • Specific goals of your business 
  • Resources available to you
  • How many systems and applications within your network require auditing

Quarterly or monthly audits may be resource-intensive for some companies, including start-ups and smaller brands. However, larger organisations and those handling extensive amounts of data may have the resources and justification to conduct more frequent audits. 

Determining the frequency of your network security audits is also guided by the complexity of the systems you employ and the significance of the data they store. Essential data may necessitate more frequent audits, whereas intricate systems may undergo less frequent evaluations due to the time and investment required.

Regardless of the frequency, routine audits, whether conducted annually or monthly, prove essential in identifying anomalies or patterns within a network. Now, let’s move on to explore the crucial steps for how to conduct a security audit.

How to conduct a security audit

Conducting a security audit involves several steps to ensure a thorough assessment of your security posture. From pinpointing the systems and devices you want to audit, identifying your network policies and conducting a risk assessment, carrying out pen tests, and reviewing the audit's outcome, here's a breakdown of the essential steps for conducting a security audit.

  • Step 1: Pinpoint the systems and devices you want to audit

Knowing how to conduct a security audit starts with pinpointing the specific systems and devices you want to audit within your network. As endpoint security is a primary concern for many organisations, this step allows you to identify all the devices within your network, from the ones used regularly to the ones that go unmanaged. 

An effective network security audit is crucial for addressing the concern regarding the security status of your devices and the potential vulnerabilities they bring. The audit should generate a detailed network diagram highlighting your devices and their respective operating systems. This information allows auditors to identify endpoints and assess their level of risk. Ultimately, this step lays the foundation for a robust security strategy.

  • Step 2: Identify your network policies

When planning a network security audit, it's imperative to have a clear understanding of your existing security policies and procedures. These policies are the fundamental aspect of the audit, guiding auditors in evaluating your organisation's compliance with established guidelines and industry laws and regulations. They also help identify parts of your policy requiring updates or improvements to meet the necessary regulations. 

  • Step 3: Conduct the risk assessment

Next on the list of steps for conducting a network security audit is to conduct the initial risk assessment. This step is a critical part of the auditing process that identifies potential risks your company faces and assesses their impact on your business and stakeholders. 

Additionally, this step is more of an ongoing evaluation that helps identify new risks, monitor changes, and establish an appropriate control environment for your network security. Risk assessment forms a core element of an integrated control program, providing insights essential for shaping your organisation's security strategy.

  • Step 4: Carry out pen tests

We touched on network penetration testing earlier, and we bring it up again for step four of how to conduct a security audit. Pen testing is a proactive measure to identify vulnerabilities that external intruders might exploit. It involves thoroughly reviewing the network and utilising time and resources to test various aspects of it.

As mentioned, network penetration testing is a standard procedure for ensuring network security and involves simulating scenarios that reveal weaknesses within your security. Companies typically mandate pen testing before approving a system's security and revisit these tests frequently to ensure the network's security has the greatest protection against potential threats.

  • Step 5: Review the outcome of the audit

The final step of the network security audit involves reviewing and reporting on the audit's outcome. This critical step aids your auditors and wider business stakeholders in evaluating the risks posed by internal and external security threats. 

At this stage, the auditing team or professional who conducted the audit will prepare a report detailing their findings. This report thoroughly summarises the identified vulnerabilities and provides a comprehensive list of internal and external security threats. With this information, you and your internal network security team can make informed decisions about improving and strengthening your network security infrastructure.

Now you know the steps on how to conduct a security audit; you may be asking yourself who should conduct your network security audit. 

Who should conduct your network security audit?

Determining who should conduct a network security audit for your business depends on factors such as the size of your company, internal resources, and the complexity of your organisation's IT infrastructure. Either internal or external auditors can conduct network security audits, and the following factors often influence the choice of many businesses.

For small to medium-sized businesses, where maintaining an internal IT team may not be feasible, relying on external expertise is an excellent alternative. Here, hiring external network security auditors through contract recruitment can ensure a thorough and unbiased evaluation of the network's security from professionals with specialised skills. Hiring external auditors can also be cost-effective, allowing businesses to access expertise as and when needed.

Larger corporations equipped with an internal networking team and the budget to make permanent hires may opt to continue building out their internal network engineering department. Alternatively, they may also engage with external auditors, taking a dual approach with permanent and temporary talent to provide a multi-faceted evaluation of their networks.

Combining internal network engineers, who possess deep knowledge of the organisation's systems, with external auditors, who bring fresh perspectives and expertise of industry best practices, can result in a more robust security posture for your business.

Ultimately, the decision on who should conduct a network security audit is contingent on your organisation's unique circumstances. Small to medium-sized businesses often benefit from external auditors, while larger corporations may leverage a combination of internal and external expertise to fortify their network security. 

A network engineer is a professional who can support you in conducting a security audit. Learn more about how talent within this space can support your organisation by reading our guide on why your business should hire a network security engineer.

Rounding up the importance of network security audits

Overall, a network security audit is critical for enterprises aiming to boost their defences against evolving cyber threats. By comprehensively reviewing your network components, management protocols, and security measures, these audits identify vulnerabilities within your networks before they can be exploited. 

The proactive nature of audits, conducted through both manual assessments and automated tools, ensures timely adaptation to emerging risks. Network security audits also prove indispensable in addressing challenges posed by remote work and BYOD policies, offering insights to safeguard against data loss and potential attacks. 

Whether conducted annually or more frequently based on your industry, goals, and resources, these audits help your organisation adapt to technological changes and maintain a resilient security posture. 

We’ve also outlined the key steps involved in conducting a security audit, from pinpointing devices, identifying policies, conducting risk assessments, performing penetration tests, and reviewing outcomes to culminate in a thorough evaluation that allows your business to make informed decisions to enhance your network security infrastructure. 

Additionally, whether conducted by internal teams or external auditors, the choice can depend on factors like your company size and resources, with a combination of internal and external expertise often providing a more robust security posture. 

Ultimately, network security audits are a strategic investment empowering organisations to proactively protect their assets and uphold operational integrity in the face of evolving cyber threats.

If you’re looking for support in attracting and retaining talent in the network engineering space, we can help. Scroll below to see how we can support you.

Looking to power your future in network engineering?

If you’re looking to hire permanent or contract network engineers to support your next security audit, we can be the partner you need. Our enterprise security consultants can help match your organisation with the best candidates on the market to futureproof your business and strengthen your stance on network security. 

So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with a member of our network security recruitment team and power your brand with us.