ISO 27001
The evolution of information security audits
BlogsISO 27001
October 7, 2021

The evolution of information security audits

Vanta’s Matt Cooper recently spoke at SecTalks 2021, a virtual cybersecurity conference hosted by Cobalt. The half day conference covers various topics in the cybersecurity world, including how security can impact your business, pioneering tools and platforms, and strategies for keeping your organization secure in the cloud.

Matt, Vanta’s Principal, Cybersecurity and Data Privacy, presented a lightning talk entitled “Compliance Automation: Past, Present, and Future of Information Security Audit.” In the talk, he discusses the business implications of evidencing a security audit, ways to prove an audit, and how Vanta was created out of a frustrating auditing experience.

Three ways to prove a security audit

Why do an information security audit at all? Matt shares that there could be a few reasons for why your organization would go through the process of a security audit, including internal assurances and the ability to report to senior management. However, the most common reason is that an organization wants to sell their product or service to a customer and in order to do that, the org must demonstrate that they have a reasonable security posture.

There are three solutions to prove security posture. The first is through self-attestation --  doing internal checks and assessments and filling out questionnaires for the customer. This solution may not hold much merit for the client, given that it is a self-attestation and the accountability is within the organization.

The next solution is a second party audit. This is common practice if the customer you engage with has a high level of security requirements. The audit would be a contractual agreement that states that if there is a business deal, the consumer will be allowed to do a security audit whenever they choose. This can be a difficult, time consuming, and expensive process. And, moreover, if you’ve agreed to this contract with several customers, you could be audited several times over in a very short period of time.

The final solution is a third party audit. This approach uses an independent, professional auditor to audit against a security framework and then will produce a standard report that can be shared with multiple sources. This is less expensive than other options and considerably less time consuming because the audit can be done once and shared many times over.

Security audit challenges

A third party audit, though seemingly the best option, can still be quite challenging. Here are just some of the reasons why a third party audit can cause frustration:

  • It requires time and effort from a trusted source, like a CISO or Senior IT
  • It is an inefficient use of skilled workers and their time
  • It is only a point in time testing -- not continuously monitored for security
  • There is always the potential of audit fraud
  • You might need more than one audit for different frameworks

The challenges in the information security audit have created opportunities for improvement. As anyone who has gone through an audit can tell you, the process is manual and inefficient, the assurance level is low, it is repetitive, and not a productive use of time.

Isn’t there another way?

Matt shares how Christina Cacioppo, Vanta’s CEO and Cofounder, understood first-hand the challenges of going through the audit process. After getting frustrated over the lack of automation, she decided to challenge the standard audit process and create a more efficient solution.

One of Vanta’s primary innovations was to build standard tests for technical controls that organizations in the cloud have to show for information security frameworks -- standards like firewalls, encryption at rest, and encryption at transit. The test results can be used against the compliance frameworks and can then assess where the security needs are.

The continuous automation platform negates the need to manually collect evidence. It creates continuous automation of security checks, which provides a higher level of assurance. The continuous monitoring alerts the auditee if certain tests are failing in real-time and all the data is stored in an automated audit framework collation. Organizations can maintain a compliant posture continuously without having to cram for the audit each year.

What’s next for information security audits?

After Matt walks us through the history of a challenging audit and the evolution of a continuous automated platform, he shares insight on what the future holds for security compliance.

Watch Matt’s talk and learn more about how security frameworks are changing, whether manual auditing will be extinct, and how better assurances will become the norm from his lightning talk presentation.

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Access Review Stage Content / Functionality
Across all stages
  • Easily create and save a new access review at a point in time
  • View detailed audit evidence of historical access reviews
Setup access review procedures
  • Define a global access review procedure that stakeholders can follow, ensuring consistency and mitigation of human error in reviews
  • Set your access review frequency (monthly, quarterly, etc.) and working period/deadlines
Consolidate account access data from systems
  • Integrate systems using dozens of pre-built integrations, or “connectors”. System account and HRIS data is pulled into Vanta.
  • Upcoming integrations include Zoom and Intercom (account access), and Personio (HRIS)
  • Upload access files from non-integrated systems
  • View and select systems in-scope for the review
Review, approve, and deny user access
  • Select the appropriate systems reviewer and due date
  • Get automatic notifications and reminders to systems reviewer of deadlines
  • Automatic flagging of “risky” employee accounts that have been terminated or switched departments
  • Intuitive interface to see all accounts with access, account accept/deny buttons, and notes section
  • Track progress of individual systems access reviews and see accounts that need to be removed or have access modified
  • Bulk sort, filter, and alter accounts based on account roles and employee title
Assign remediation tasks to system owners
  • Built-in remediation workflow for reviewers to request access changes and for admin to view and manage requests
  • Optional task tracker integration to create tickets for any access changes and provide visibility to the status of tickets and remediation
Verify changes to access
  • Focused view of accounts flagged for access changes for easy tracking and management
  • Automated evidence of remediation completion displayed for integrated systems
  • Manual evidence of remediation can be uploaded for non-integrated systems
Report and re-evaluate results
  • Auditor can log into Vanta to see history of all completed access reviews
  • Internals can see status of reviews in progress and also historical review detail

PCI Compliance Selection Guide

Determine Your PCI Compliance Level

If your organization processes, stores, or transmits cardholder data, you must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a global mandate created by major credit card companies. Compliance is mandatory for any business that accepts credit card payments.

When establishing strategies for implementing and maintaining PCI compliance, your organization needs to understand what constitutes a Merchant or Service Provider, and whether a Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) or Report on Compliance (ROC) is most applicable to your business.

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The PCI Security Standards Council has established the below criteria for Merchant and Service Provider validation. Use these descriptions to help determine the SAQ or ROC that best applies to your organization.

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A SAQ A is required for Merchants that do not require the physical presence of a credit card (like an eCommerce, mail, or telephone purchase). This means that the Merchant’s business has fully outsourced all cardholder data processing to PCI DSS compliant third party Service Providers, with no electronic storage, processing, or transmission of any cardholder data on the Merchant’s system or premises.

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A SAQ A-EP is similar to a SAQ A, but is a requirement for Merchants that don't receive cardholder data, but control how cardholder data is redirected to a PCI DSS validated third-party payment processor.

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for service providers

A SAQ D includes over 200 requirements and covers the entirety of PCI DSS compliance. If you are a Service Provider, a SAQ D is the only SAQ you’re eligible to complete.

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Level 1 for service providers

A Report on Compliance (ROC) is an annual assessment that determines your organization’s ability to protect cardholder data. If you’re a Merchant that processes over six million transactions annually or a Service Provider that processes more than 300,000 transactions annually, your organization is responsible for both a ROC and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC).

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Learn more about how Vanta can help. You can also find information on PCI compliance levels at the PCI Security Standards Council website or by contacting your payment processing partner.

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