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Manual Security Audits vs. Continuous Audits

Author: Eric Kedrosky | Date: April 13, 2021
Read Time: 5 minutes
Skill Level: Technical
Skill Level: Technical
Key differences between manual, periodic audits and continuous audit and why Sonrai Dig enables organizations to achieve continuous monitoring for audit.

The public cloud has introduced a profound paradigm shift in how enterprise organizations operate their technology environments. Periodic audits no longer work and continuous audits are the way of the present and future. The adoption of Cloud Service Providers (CSP) such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud (GCP) is accelerating and introducing a whole new set of risks. Now there are tens of thousands of compute pieces and an explosion of non-person identities with which to contend. Identities are now the perimeter. Cloud threats pose complex challenges for organizations, with 68% of business leaders claiming their risk is increasing.

An audit is integral to an organization’s  security program and standard operating procedure for enterprise businesses across all verticals. Presently, however, organizations struggle to audit their cloud security controls effectively. With the old auditing method, we saw periodic auditing happening quarterly, biannually, or – even worse – annually. It's not enough and will no longer keep your organization secure. The cloud moves much faster than periodic auditing can cover. The solution is continuous audit.

What Is a Security Audit?

Teams perform a comprehensive review of an org's security controls to ensure that they are correctly implemented and functioning as expected. Organizations evaluate the security controls against criteria based on external regulations and established control frameworks. 

Manual Security Audits vs. Automated Continuous Audits

Manual Security Audits

Internal security teams or a third party perform manual security audits. Auditors first conduct an initial end-to-end security audit, which involves interviewing employees, conducting vulnerability scans, and assessing permissions and policies. Next, they typically deploy periodic testing and evaluation, conducting assessments every three to five days.

Limitations of Manual Auditing

Teams undertake manual security auditing after months of harmful activities have already occurred, making the value of manual efforts debatable in terms of regulatory compliance or assessing real risk. For example, there could have already been an incident in between audits due to risk that went unnoticed.

Assessing past procedures and processes has a positive impact on future activities, of course, and you shouldn't halt these practices before implementing continuous auditing, which will enable you to take more immediate action against risks. Now we will describe the key difference between periodic audits and continuous audits.

Continuous Security Audits

A continuous security audit provides 24/7, 365 security monitoring across your entire technology environment, alerting responsible parties of any deviations from your security baseline.

Security teams use continuous auditing with ongoing monitoring to get an accurate view of actual cloud environment risks. Appropriate teams are automatically alerted when a risk arises. Once alerted, they can immediately remediate issues before they spiral into massive problems.

Manual cloud security audits and risk assessments are already time-consuming under periodic circumstances, and they'll be impossible to maintain with continuous auditing.

Prevent Catastrophic Data Loss in the Cloud

What Are the Requirements for Successful Continuous Audit?

Continuous audit techniques that are practical include to:

  1. Identify the high priority areas their operation
  2. Determine the rules for continuous auditing
  3. Determine the process frequency
  4. Configure parameters and execute the audit
  5. Manage, analyze, and report the results
  6. Follow up on flagged areas
  7. Identify and assess any emerging risks for addition to future audit and risk assessments

Top Benefits of Continuous Security Audit

The proper continuous audit tooling can bring considerable benefits to organizations. Automation enables a more hands-off process management approach. Analyzing and reporting, two of the most demanding parts of the process, become straightforward with all the data organized and laid out for review. Teams can quickly gather and analyze data risk on activities while they're still occurring.

Advanced Insights

Continuous auditing goes beyond simply detecting risk. It provides security teams with emerging insights into the risk landscape. For example, a company may detect continuous access from an IP address outside of approved regions, implement controls, then continuously monitor for misconfigurations.

Sonrai Security comes out of the box with established frameworks (such as NIST, HIPAA, PCI, and other compliance reporting) and the ability to customize frameworks. Teams will remain empowered to direct policy and stay ahead of the curve. 

Misconfiguration Prevention

According to IBM Security, the top risk factors that organizations face adapting to cloud include fundamental security issues such as governance and misconfigurations. Cloud misconfigurations increase risk and occur silently in the background, undiscovered until bad things occur. For example, a popular online gaming site recently misconfigured its Elasticsearch server, exposing the personal details of 66,000 users. 

Organizations should have the ability to identify possible misconfigurations before they get discovered – preventing costly breaches.

Risk and Security Monitoring

Companies should be able to track and manage these identities to prevent data access. It's easier said than done due to the sheer volume of non-person identities created in most environments. For example, it's not uncommon for an enterprise to have thousands of person identities and tens of thousands of non-person identities in their environment.

What Kind of Solution Do You Need for Continuous Audit?

Continuous audit entails ongoing monitoring with reporting on the state of security of your environment, based on any change from the state that you set with your security controls. The tool should have the capability to deconstruct workloads, understand frameworks as they relate to identities and data, and automatically apply remediation and protection controls continuously. The solution should also provide robust reporting, communicating risk widely to security teams and auditors. 

Four Key Steps to Continuous Audit

Discover

Automatically map out and visualize your multi-cloud to identify all data stores and resources and the effective permissions of every identity. Sonrai Security, for example, grabs all the audit logs plus targeted API calls (as necessary) to get more details. Sonrai Dig's graph with patented analysis provides a comprehensive risk assessment, enabling you to set the security baseline for what you will continuously monitor for continuous audit.

Classify

Describe what your data is specifically. Identify data based on criteria such as sensitivity (credit card numbers) or PII (names, addresses, phone numbers). You should also be able to classify data based on organizational needs with custom classifiers. Establish what crown jewels are in your environment. Ideally, you will be able to normalize, i.e., standardize your data findings, across clouds.  

Lock it Down

Just like you would put your most valuable possessions in a safe, secure your crown jewel data – such as sensitive PII –through lockdown. Taking highly sensitive data and locking it down means you're setting security controls (policies) that prevent certain behaviors, such as access to crown jewel data by specific roles and identities.

Protect

Through continuous audit, monitor your environment with change detection for when there is drift from your security baseline. Sonrai Security, for example, provides a 24/7, 365 timeline of what has changed, so you can set controls to remediate the risk. The responsible team(s) get alerted of such changes.

Achieve Continuous Audit With Sonrai Dig

You no longer need to wait for your next security audit to see what to fix to continue passing your audits. Today's leading enterprises use Sonrai Dig to improve security, ensure compliance and increase operational efficiencies for their AWS, Azure, GCP, and other cloud platforms.

To learn more about how Sonrai Dig can help your organization continuously reduce risk, request a demo today

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