IT Audit Checklist: Requirements, Steps, & Risks You Should Know

February 14, 2024

In 2019, The Age reported that an auditor-general from Victoria, Australia, managed to infiltrate the IT systems of some of the state's largest hospitals, gaining access to sensitive patient data. Her team reportedly used "basic hacking tools" to accomplish the attack. This incident serves as a powerful reminder of the often-neglected aspect of cybersecurity: IT audits. 

In this blog, we'll guide you through the necessities of an IT audit checklist and how it can help prevent hacking attempts in your business. We'll also explain the documents required for an audit, who needs them, and the steps to thoroughly check your IT. 

Definition of an IT audit checklist

What is an IT audit? 

An IT audit evaluates an organization's information technology infrastructure, policies, and operations. It involves examining the effectiveness of IT controls within the business environment to ensure data integrity, security, and operational efficiency. 

IT auditors normally dive into how well your software and hardware perform, ensuring they're up to the latest standards and safeguarded against hackers. They're also making sure that your digital practices line up with your business goals. An IT audit checklist also looks at data protection, access controls, and even how well your IT policies are being followed. 

Difference between IT audit and IT assessment

IT audit vs. IT assessment: How are they different? 

The main difference between an IT audit and an IT assessment lies in their focus and purpose. An IT audit is more regulatory and compliance-driven, ensuring your IT practices align with legal standards and industry best practices. 

Meanwhile, an IT assessment is strategic, aiming to align your IT capabilities with your business objectives. It looks at your technology's performance, potential areas for improvement, and how to leverage technology for business growth.

So, which one do you need the most? It depends on your goals. If you're looking to ensure compliance and minimize risks, an IT audit checklist is your go-to.

But if you're focusing on enhancing efficiency, fostering growth, and making strategic IT decisions, an IT assessment will serve you better. Often, businesses benefit from both, using audits to ensure compliance and assessments to drive strategic improvements.

Why do you need an IT audit checklist?

Benefits of IT audit checklist for small businesses

For small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), navigating the complex world of IT can be a daunting task. Yet, incorporating an IT audit checklist into your business practices can bring numerous benefits, such as: 

• Enhances security: Regular IT audits help identify vulnerabilities in your system before they can be exploited. This means better protection against data breaches, malware, and other cyber threats.

• Ensures compliance: With regulations constantly changing, an IT audit checklist keeps you in check with current laws, avoiding costly fines and legal issues.

• Optimizes performance: By evaluating your IT infrastructure, you can identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement, leading to better performance and reduced downtime.

• Supports business goals: Align your IT operations with your business objectives. An IT audit checklist can help you reassess your tech needs as your business grows and changes.

• Improves decision-making: Armed with detailed insights from your IT audit, you can make informed decisions about where to allocate resources when to upgrade systems, and how to better support your team.

• Increases customer trust: Demonstrating that you take cybersecurity and data protection seriously can boost your reputation and increase trust among your customers.

• Saves money: Identifying and addressing issues early on can save you from expensive repairs or data recovery costs in the future. It also helps you plan your IT budget more effectively.

• Facilitates strategic planning: Use the findings from your IT audit to plan for the future. Whether it's expanding your IT capabilities or enhancing your cybersecurity measures.

Which industry needs an IT audit the most?

Who needs an IT audit & how often do you need it? 

Who exactly needs an IT audit checklist? The short answer: pretty much any business that relies on technology for its daily operations. This means if you're working in a sector where data, security, and system efficiency are critical, an IT audit checklist isn't just helpful; it's essential. Here's a quick rundown:

• Financial institutions

• Healthcare providers

• Retail businesses

• Educational institutions

• Government agencies

• Tech companies

How often should you conduct an IT audit? At least once a year is the golden rule for most organizations. However, if your business operates in a particularly dynamic sector or handles a lot of sensitive data, you might want to consider doing it more frequently, such as every six months.

Costs of IT audit

How much does an IT audit cost?

The cost of an IT audit checklist can vary widely, depending on the size of your business and the complexity of your IT systems. For a small to medium-sized business, you might be looking at anywhere from $700 to $2,500. Larger enterprises or those with more complex needs could see prices going up to $50,000 or more.

The price tag reflects the depth of the audit—how thoroughly auditors will dig into your systems, policies, and controls. It's an investment, sure, but think of it as safeguarding your operations, protecting your data, and ensuring you're compliant with regulations. 

IT audit checklist

IT audit checklist: How to conduct an IT audit process? 

If you're planning to do your own IT audit, it's better if you know what you're doing. Let's break down the necessary steps to conduct a successful IT audit. 

Step 1: Define the scope and objectives

First things first, you need to know what you're looking for. Defining the scope involves deciding which parts of your IT environment you'll examine. Are you focusing on security, compliance, or both? Setting clear objectives helps you understand what you hope to achieve.

Step 2: Gather documentation

Before diving in, gather all relevant documentation. This includes network diagrams, system configurations, previous audit reports, and any compliance requirements your business must adhere to. Having this information at hand will give you a clear roadmap of your IT landscape and help identify areas that might need extra attention.

Step 3: Review IT policies and procedures

Take a close look at your IT policies and procedures. Are they up-to-date? Do they align with best practices and compliance standards? This step is about ensuring that the guidelines your company follows are robust enough to protect your assets and data.

Step 4: Evaluate physical and logical security measures

Security is a critical component of any IT audit checklist. Assess both physical security (like access to servers and data centers) and logical security (such as user authentication and data encryption). Identifying vulnerabilities in these areas is vital to safeguarding your business's information.

Step 5: Test disaster recovery and business continuity plans

What happens if things go south? Testing your disaster recovery and business continuity plans ensures you're prepared for unforeseen events. This involves reviewing backup procedures, recovery time objectives, and communication plans in the event of a system failure or data breach.

Step 6: Assess IT infrastructure and performance

This step is about getting into the nitty-gritty of your IT systems. Evaluate the performance and capacity of your hardware and software. Are your systems up to date and running efficiently? Do they meet the current and future needs of your business? This is also the time to look for any signs of wear or potential failure points.

Step 7: Analyze IT staff skills and performance

Your IT staff are the guardians of your technology. Assess their skills, performance, and whether they have the necessary resources and training to manage your IT environment effectively. This includes reviewing the process for addressing IT requests and ensuring there's a proactive approach to technology management.

Step 8: Conduct risk assessment

Every business faces risks, but identifying them is the first step to mitigation. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to understand potential threats to your IT systems and data. This could range from cybersecurity threats to hardware failure, and understanding these risks is crucial for developing strategies to address them.

Step 9: Prepare an audit report

After completing your audit, compile your findings into a detailed report. Highlight any issues or vulnerabilities you've discovered and recommend actions to address them. This report is a valuable tool for making informed decisions about your IT environment.

Step 10: Develop an action plan

Finally, turn your audit findings into an actionable plan. Prioritize the identified issues based on their impact and urgency and outline steps to remediate them. This might involve updating software, revising policies, or enhancing security measures.

Risks and problems in an IT audit

Common reasons why an IT audit fails

Not all IT audits can be successful because of different reasons. Here are some of them: 

Lack of preparation

One of the biggest reasons for an IT audit failure is simply not being prepared. This means having incomplete documentation, outdated policies, or not understanding the scope of the audit. Before the audit begins, ensure all your IT documentation is up-to-date and accessible. 

Poor communication

Effective communication is key during an IT audit. Failure often occurs when there's a disconnect between the IT department and the auditors. Make sure there's a clear line of communication and that all parties understand the objectives and requirements of the audit.

Inadequate security measures

With cyber threats evolving rapidly, outdated or insufficient security measures can lead to audit failures. Regularly review and update your security protocols, ensure your software is up-to-date, and conduct periodic vulnerability assessments to keep your defenses strong.

Non-compliance with regulations

Compliance is a critical component of any IT audit. Failing to adhere to relevant regulations, whether it's GDPR, HIPAA, or any other industry-specific standards, can result in audit failure. Regularly review compliance requirements and align your IT practices accordingly.

Overlooking internal controls

Internal controls are mechanisms put in place to ensure the integrity of your IT systems and data. Neglecting these controls or failing to implement them effectively can lead to audit failures. Ensure that access controls, data encryption, and user authentication processes are robust and regularly monitored.

Change management issues

Frequent changes in IT environments are common, but poor change management can lead to audit failures. Implement a structured change management process that includes documenting, testing, and approving changes to prevent disruptions and ensure traceability.

Ignoring previous audit findings

If previous IT audits have highlighted issues and those issues remain unresolved, it's likely that your next IT audit checklist will fail too. Take audit findings seriously and allocate resources to address them promptly.

Why is it better to outsource IT auditors?

Why outsourcing IT auditors makes sense for best practices

Usually, your in-house IT staff creates an IT audit checklist for the business. However, their focus on their main job may affect how they thoroughly audit your IT.  To prevent mistakes, outsourcing your IT audits is a strategic decision; here's why: 

Expert help without the big price tag

When you outsource, you get a team of experts who know the ins and outs of cybersecurity and compliance. They're always up-to-date and can spot issues you might miss. Plus, it's more affordable than hiring your own specialists.

Fair and honest insights

An outside audit team looks at your IT setup without any internal bias. They can spot problems and suggest fixes without being influenced by office politics or personal relationships.

More time for what you do best

Letting experts handle your IT audits means your own team can focus on growing the business. It's about playing to your strengths and leaving the specialized work to those who do it best.

Easy to scale

Outsourcing is flexible. If your business grows or needs change, your audit services can easily adjust. No need to worry about hiring more staff or cutting back.

Stay safe and compliant

Experts in IT audits know how to keep your business safe and in line with laws and regulations. This reduces the risk of fines and helps protect your reputation.

Cutting-edge tools

Outsourced auditors use the latest technology to check your systems thoroughly. This means better security for you without having to invest in expensive software or tools.

Why choose Sterling Technology Solutions?

Plan your IT audit right; choose Sterling Technology Solutions! 

Spotting IT problems before they escalate can save your business time, money, and a lot of headaches. That's where our comprehensive IT audits come into play. 

Sterling Technology Solutions stands out as a premier MSP with years of experience since 2003. With our commitment to top-tier customer service and a proactive approach to technology management, we offer an extensive range of IT services tailored for SMBs.

From IT security to cloud services and beyond, our team of experts is equipped to handle all your IT needs. If you're looking for a reliable partner to help navigate the complexities of IT management and ensure your systems are always running smoothly, Sterling Technology Solutions is the best choice.

Contact us now

How to get started? 

Take the first step towards securing and optimizing your business's IT environment. Contact us today at (704) 271-5001 for Charlotte or (919) 746-9990 for Raleigh.

Discover how we can tailor our IT solutions to fit your unique needs. Let's build a stronger, more secure, and efficient IT foundation together. 

Frequently asked questions

What template should be used for conducting a security audit?

The template for an IT security audit should encompass all critical components, including audit scope, security standards, and risk management strategies. It ensures that the audit comprehensively evaluates the organization's IT infrastructure against potential security risks and compliance with regulatory standards.

How does a workflow enhance the efficiency of an IT audit?

A well-defined workflow streamlines the process of conducting the audit, from planning to execution. It ensures that all necessary steps, such as systems and applications review and systems development assessment, are systematically covered, making the audit thorough and effective.

Why is antivirus software vital in an IT audit?

Antivirus software is crucial for protecting against malware and cyberattacks. In an IT audit checklist, assessing the effectiveness of antivirus solutions is essential to ensure they're adequately defending the information system against security threats.

What role does regulatory compliance play in IT audits?

Regulatory compliance is a cornerstone of an IT audit checklist, ensuring that the organization meets legal and industry-specific security standards. The audit should evaluate how well the organization adheres to these requirements, highlighting areas for improvement to avoid penalties.

How important is documentation and reporting in IT audits?

Documentation and reporting are key to capturing the findings of an IT audit. They provide a detailed account of the audit's scope, the methods used for conducting the audit, and the findings, including any vulnerabilities identified and recommendations for enhancement.

What should be included in your IT audit to ensure a comprehensive review?

An IT audit needs to include a review of the internal audit framework, the use of an RMM tool for real-time monitoring, and the assessment of data backups. This ensures a thorough audit that can identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities in the organization’s IT infrastructure.

Can you explain the types of IT audits and their focus areas?

Types of IT audits vary, focusing on different aspects of the IT environment, such as cybersecurity (to prevent cyberattacks and manage security threats), compliance (ensuring regulatory compliance and adherence to security standards), and system performance (evaluating systems and applications, data backups, and the overall health of the information system).