The word audit is one that carries a lot of baggage. It evokes images of government officials poring over financial ledgers, and lawyers searching for evidence of wrongdoing. In IT operations, network compliance audits aren’t regarded much differently. They are often thought of as thankless tasks that, over time, have grown increasingly difficult to conduct. And, if they aren’t done properly, the benefits of performing a network compliance audit can be hard to identify, so what’s the point? Instead, with the right tools, network compliance audits can be transformed into a routine, simple, and positive part of running and maintaining IT infrastructure.
What Is a Network Compliance Audit?
To start, it’s always useful to define terms that might otherwise have different or ambiguous connotations. A network compliance audit is the process of collecting data about an organisation’s IT estate for the purposes of conducting analyses to assess the health, availability, and reliability of network’s operation, security, and compliance. Checks are done to ensure controls and settings are correct and in-line with requirements. Network compliance audits can also ensure settings are consistent with internal policies and applicable external standards and regulations like PCI-DSS, GDPR, ITIL, ISO27001, NIST, SOX and HIPAA—thus helping to mitigate the risk of a less pleasant security audit following an incident.
After a proper network compliance audit has been performed, IT operations managers will have the insights and information about network operations, settings, and health required to make both tactical and strategic decisions relative to managing the network. These may include adjusting certain configurations and settings, or taking corrective measures to shore up security, as well as preparing for the acquisition of new equipment or services in keeping with the organisation’s long-term business goals.
What Steps Are Involved in a Network Compliance Audit?
For a network compliance audit to provide the information necessary to realise its maximum benefit, it must follow an extensive process involving many different steps. And at each step of the process, documentation must be collected so that records can be made, and reports filed as necessary. Because each network is different in its scale, configuration, and complexity; and because of different compliance requirements based on rules associated with industry and geography, the steps involved in a thorough audit may vary, but should include:
Network compliance audits typically rely heavily on manual processes. With all the steps involved, data collected, and checks required, the process can take days or even weeks, depending on the scale of the network being audited. Because of this, network compliance audits are often only conducted on a bi-annual or annual basis. What’s more, the results are often incomplete and error prone, leaving the organisation exposed. Audit process automation Network automation tools like Restorepoint have made it possible to perform checks daily, auditing network configurations at scale and minimising potential breaches as a result of misconfiguration.
Additionally, tools that manage compliance automation, tools like Restorepoint, enable continuous visibility of your network’s compliance status rather than relying on periodic audits. This means automatically detecting changes in network configurations and sending alerts when unauthorised or questionable changes occur. Restorepoint also supports configuration templates to ensure compliance with approved settings and policies, while also checking software, firmware, and operating systems to ensure all devices and systems are using approved, up-to-date versions.
Why is a Network Compliance Audit Important?
Network compliance audits are more than just important. They are necessary to ensure proper network performance and reliability in support of SLA compliance and to meet user expectations. Network compliance audits are also a vital complement to network security. The 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that human error, including those involving misconfigurations, were a factor in 82% of all data breaches. Network compliance audits play a critical role in identifying such errors and closing the resulting risk gaps.
And when compliance audits are automated, they can be carried out on a continuous basis, meaning errors, unauthorised changes, and unpatched systems can be detected and addressed as needed rather than on a monthly, quarterly, or even annual basis. This has the added benefit of saving costs associated with staff hours dedicated to conducting audits while freeing those skilled IT professionals to take on more strategic tasks. Some studies suggest that IT professionals assigned to network compliance audit teams spend as much as 40% of their time engaged in low-level administrative tasks—tasks that could be automated—rather than doing things befitting their skills. Considering that the average organization spends 15,000 total hours per year on network compliance audits, that translates to 6,000 hours saved.
Understanding the importance of network compliance audits, and the value of enabling continuous auditing through automation, it’s essential that your enterprise invests in the right tools to support network compliance audit automation. Restorepoint can be a key component in your organisation’s automation portfolio, helping to reduce operating and audit costs while improving performance and security by automating critical audit processes.