Mastering Cloud Security Audits: Checklist & Steps

7 mins to read

A cloud security audit is an assessment of whether a cloud environment’s security is sufficient. It is conducted typically by a third-party often to ensure industry compliance regulations, but can also be an internal effort to ensure unique company benchmarks are met. The audit can consist of evaluating security procedures, operations, a physical inspection of any hardware, and auditor inquiry and analytics.

Preparing for and passing an audit can be an arduous task for a large enterprise, especially working in a multi cloud environment. Luckily, there is work enterprises can do upfront to establish a strong foundation that helps them proactively prepare for audits.

Below, we’ll review the basics of a cloud security audit, what you can do to prepare for one, a cloud security checklist and how you can maintain an optimal level of security continuously.

Importance and Benefits of Cloud Security Audit

At its core, passing a cloud security audit is a testament to your organization’s dedication to strong security hygiene and business and customer data privacy and protection. Additionally, your organization may face industry-specific compliance regulations that only a passed audit can assure you’re in accordance with.

For example, if an organization handles sensitive information like credit card information, they must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS.) This entails passing a PCI DSS audit so you can turn in a report to your bank and maintaining this compliance until your next audit.

A cloud security audit is also a time to review your organization’s access controls, consider third-party security, and verify any backup or incident response plans. If risks are found, this is a chance to fix and better secure your environment. Cloud security audits offer proactive risk management, catch security threats before there’s an incident, and ultimately protect data.

Key Components of Cloud Security Audits

Cloud Infrastructure and Architecture

A cloud ‘platform’ comprising infrastructure and controls is a foundational aspect to a cloud. An audit will want to ensure all platform best practices are met and the most secure controls are in place. This can include audit and logging being enabled, applications having sufficient authorization controls, and services not being public facing.

Data Storage and Encryption

Data is either at rest, in transit, or in use at all times in the cloud. It is often the heart of a business and holds sensitive information that can be damaging to both the business and its customers. An audit will ensure that all data in any form of storage is protected with proper authentication and authorization controls. Additionally, where necessary, that data is encrypted.

Identity and Access Management

Identities hold a lot of power in the cloud as they are what hold access to business data and applications. Access management is one of the most important parts of a cloud security audit and often is relevant to compliance regulations. If your IAM is not secure, your data is not secure. An audit will look for proper inventorying, policies like Least Privilege being enforced, and best practices like not using root users inappropriately. 

Incident Response and Disaster Recovery

An audit will look for documentation around how an organization will respond in a programmatic fashion in the event of a security incident. The goals of IR are addressing the full lifecycle of an incident and mitigating the damage in the quickest and most efficient manner. Disaster Recovery is also an element considered in audits. An audit will look for an organization’s plan for transferring or recovering lost data & regaining access to infrastructure. 

Compliance with Industry Standards and Regulations

As previously mentioned, audits and compliance go hand in hand. To meet compliance, many organizations need to prove they passed an audit. For example, GDPR is required for any organization with EU business relations. GDPR requires that there be an up-to-date list of all processing activities and pass a data protection impact assessment.

Monitoring, Logging, and Reporting

Logging and reporting are critical to passing an audit. Logging will include a trail of all activity in your cloud from infrastructure changes to identity access and behavior. An organization needs constant monitoring of and access to their cloud logs to answer any audit inquiries. 

How to Prepare for a Cloud Security Audit

Before you actually conduct an audit, it’s important to understand what you’re accountable for, the scope of the audit at hand, and what resources this will require.

  1. Understanding Regulatory, Legal, and Compliance Requirements
    • Understand what your organization is accountable for, and the details of what those regulations entail. Plus, consider the legal obligations and potential ramifications if compliance is not met.
  2. Setting Objectives and Goals
    • Establish exactly what your audit is intended for – is it compliance? Internal reviews? Policy updates? In response to a breach? Define what outcomes you want to achieve on the other end of the audit.
  3. Defining the Scope of the Audit
    • Is this audit across your entire cloud footprint and multicloud? Is it just considering a particular project or account? The cloud computing is sprawling, disparate and complex – it’s good to get a picture of what is being reviewed.
  4. Identifying the Key Stakeholders
    • Who cares about this and who may be involved? There may be several individuals internally who an auditor would need to speak with to understand procedures and policies.
  5. CISO Tried-and-True Tips
    • Creating a template or list to track all of your controls. This will help you review and test your processes.
    • Automate evidence collection to save time and personnel resources.

How to Conduct a Cloud Security Audit: A Checklist

Get in Sync with Your Cloud Provider

It’s important to have a relationship with your CSP and get in touch before you enter your audit. Your CSP’s security is your security if you outsource a lot of the management of cloud services, so review their security posture as well. Plus, your CSP can help give you whatever necessary information or documentation for your audit.

Here’s how to evaluate a cloud service provider.

Measure Your Attack Surface

This includes a proper inventory of everything – all infrastructure, workloads, what services are running where, all data storage and containers, all identities and their Effective Permissions. Classifying all data helps establish what data and applications are most sensitive and therefore should be prioritized. Focus where it matters the most, first.

This is also a time to consider any third-party touchpoints as enterprises can outsource work or include external APIs in their environment.

Evidence Gathering

Because the cloud is constantly changing, proper monitoring and logging is essential. This data is critical evidence to evaluate and turn into reporting to hand into auditors. Evidence can be data, screenshots, paperwork, etc. and it needs proper storage and protection.

Specifically, have insight into identity activity and data access. What privileges do identities hold? Are they using them? Is X datastore being accessed? Be able to provide insights into how identities are authenticated and data access is authorized.

Perform Risk Assessment

Once you have a proper collection of evidence, analyze the data to understand where the security risk lies. Prioritize what ties back to the most impactful blast radius.

Testing Security Controls and Policies

Before you hand in any sort of official report or work with an auditor, it can be helpful to self-assess your security controls and policies. This can give you an idea of your compliance with industry standards or where your weak points are.

Documenting and Communicating Findings

The final effort is compiling all reports, data, and paperwork into documentation you hand in.

Post-Audit Activities: Remediation and Continuous Improvement

Continuous Monitoring

Clouds are always changing. Passing an audit once, or cleaning up your security hygiene once, doesn’t matter if there is no plan to upkeep it. Having logging and audits enabled in your cloud whether internally or with your CSP’s services like AWS CloudTrail, gives you data to analyze and detect anomalous activity. A third-party cloud security tool can help with this anomaly detection and continuous monitoring.

Operationalizing a Remediation Plan

Once your environment detects risky changes or anomalous behavior, your teams need a process for remediation. Automating this process as much as possible is very helpful in maintaining proactive security and alleviating your resources and team. Automation can come in the form of organized workflows and ticketing workstreams, or remediation efforts like bots or automatically deployed policies.

Conducting Regular Cloud Audits and Security Assessments

Consider conducting your own bi-annual, quarterly, or annual audits and assessments can help your organization stay ready for the real deal. This is a chance to review procedures and catch issues without any of the consequences of a failed audit.

Training and Education for Employees

Raising awareness around audits at the employee level can encourage people to document efforts and follow security best practices. Audits can be overwhelming for people and a large burden, but it doesn’t have to be this way with the proper proactive work and right cloud auditing tools. Doing the ‘right thing’ regarding security (e.g. developer security best practices regarding provisioning identity access rights) consistently can make the audit work later easier.

Pass Your Audit the First Time with Sonrai

Passing an audit doesn’t need to be an arduous task burdening your team – but it does require a strong foundation. With Sonrai you can gain visibility into your infrastructure, workloads and identities, protect your audit data, configure the right controls and gather evidence – all in an automated and streamlined fashion. Don’t believe it? Watch a demo or ask us why customers came to us for help after failing audits.


What is a cloud security audit?

A cloud security audit is an assessment of whether a cloud environment’s security is sufficient. It is conducted typically by a third-party often to ensure industry compliance regulations, but can also be an internal effort to ensure unique company benchmarks are met.

How often should cloud security audits be conducted?

While there is no set rules, ideally a cloud security audit takes place at least once or twice a year.

How is a cloud security audit conducted?

An audit consists of an auditor gathering evidence via observation of security procedures, operations, a physical inspection of any hardware, inquiry, analytics, and potential re-performance.

What are the most common cloud security audit frameworks?

Some of the most common frameworks include: ISO27001; FedRAMP; PCI DSS; CIS Benchmarks; CSA Cloud Controls Matrix; HIPAA
For more information read these common cloud frameworks.