Cloud environments’ scale, complexity, and distributed nature create unique security challenges that traditional security measures do not adequately address. A cyber security audit checklist helps organizations analyze these complexities using a structured approach to cyber security. However, creating a checklist that is the right balance of efficient and secure can be challenging. 

This article will explain the critical cyber security audit checklist concepts security professionals should know, including evaluation criteria and 8 cyber security audit checklist best practices that can improve the quality of an organization’s overall security posture. 

Summary of key cyber security audit checklist concepts 

The table below summarizes the cyber security audit concepts this article will explore in detail.

Cyber security audit checklist concept Description
Review configurations for robustness Evaluate cloud security architecture and design, including firewall rules, access control lists, and intrusion detection/prevention system settings to ensure proper alignment with security policies.
Evaluate endpoint security Assess host intrusion detection/prevention systems and endpoint encryption for robust endpoint security measures.
Review secure coding practices Evaluate SDLC processes to ensure secure coding practices and protection against common vulnerabilities.
Review data backup and disaster recovery plans Evaluate procedures and storage systems for critical data restoration in case of security incidents or system failures.
Assess data privacy and compliance Review data privacy practices, compliance with regulations to ensure appropriate data classification and handling processes are in place.
Review incident response capabilities Evaluate the organization’s incident response plan and test its effectiveness through tabletop exercises or simulations.
Test social engineering resilience Conduct phishing campaigns or physical impersonation to assess employee awareness and resistance to social engineering attacks.
Conduct comprehensive scanning and penetration testing Utilize automated tools to scan systems, applications, and networks for vulnerabilities and simulate real-world attacks to assess security controls.

Cyber security audit checklist 

The sections below break down cyber security audit checklist categories that are essential aspects of modern cyber security. They also explore the critical evaluation factors organizations should consider as they work through a checklist. 

Risk assessment 

To effectively create a cyber security audit checklist, your organization must assess its risk tolerance and existing threats. It is also vital to tie-in your business objectives, the architectural framework required to support your use case, and the inherent threats such a business model and framework would deal with. These elements shape the strength and scope of your audit procedures, ensuring they are accurately targeted to maintain the optimum security posture.

Initiate your audit journey with a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential security gaps. This will help identify potential threats and vulnerabilities, quantify their potential impact, and determine the likelihood of their occurrence. Also, consider your cloud vendors’ security mechanisms and alignment with your requirements as crucial.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is the risk assessment conducted frequently to consider evolving threats? And what methodologies are used? 
  • Are identified risks prioritized and remedial actions determined?
  • Do your cloud vendors’ security mechanisms align with your requirements?

As identifying risks is only the first step, formulating a risk treatment plan acts as a roadmap to help prioritize risks and prescribe remedial actions. Remember, an outdated policy might be just as bad as no policy. Ensure your security policies and procedures are up-to-date, swiftly adapt to changing threats, and align with your risk profile.  

Evaluation factors:

  • Does your risk treatment plan effectively prioritize risks and outline prescriptive remedial actions?
  • Are there any outdated security policies that need to be revised or discarded?

Evaluate cloud security architecture and design 

Examine your cloud’s design blueprints to ensure configurations align with best practices. Analyzing your cloud storage, database services, and serverless functions could provide a wealth of information regarding potential risks. At the micro level, this relates to considering the efficacy of your current security configurations, such as firewalls and access controls. On a macro scale, assess how your cloud security strategy aligns with your overall cyber security architecture. 

Evaluation factors:

  • Does your cloud design configuration adhere to industry best practices?
  • Is there coherence between your cloud security strategy and overall cyber security architecture, or do gaps exist? 

Focus on network telemetry. Check for signs of anomalous data flow that might suggest data exfiltration, lateral movement, or Command and Control (C2) communication. These are key indicators of a potentially compromised environment. 

Evaluation factors:

  • Are there any signs of abnormal data flows in your network telemetry?
  • How efficient are your analytics in establishing baseline behavior and identifying deviations?

Identifying asset coverage

For distributed cloud ecosystems, a comprehensive inventory of assets is the foundation of a cyber security audit. After all, you can’t protect what you don’t know about.

Commence by taking stock of all your assets – applications, data, storage services, containers, network configurations, and the like. This comprehensive list should form the primary basis for your audit checklist.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is the integrity of your cyber asset inventory maintained in the face of cloud dynamism?
  • Is this inventory regularly updated to reflect changes in your cloud environment?

Next, categorize your assets based on their criticality. The sensitivity of data, the business value of applications, the connectivity of network nodes — all contribute to defining an asset’s significance. This classification further feeds into your risk assessment, guides your remediation strategies, and aids in resource allocation.

Evaluation factors:

  • Have your assets been categorized based on their criticality?
  • Does this classification define your risk assessment, remediation strategies, and resource allocation?

Remember that cloud assets have a life cycle. From deployment to decommissioning, each stage could present unique security challenges. Unmonitored assets, such as temporary instances, might drift to becoming orphaned resources that are common exploit targets.

Evaluation factors:

  • Are you effectively tracking the lifecycle of your assets?
  • How are unattended assets identified and managed to prevent them from becoming security liabilities?

Evaluation of access controls 

Check if your access controls are effectively implemented across your cloud environment. Equally critical is the performance of your API Gateway, playing a central role in rate limiting and enforcing JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) for safe, stateless transactions.

Evaluation factors:

  • Are access rights reviewed and adjusted based on changes in job roles and responsibilities?
  • How does your organization manage API keys and monitor their usage?
  • Do your cyber security controls conform with frameworks such as NIST 800-53 and COBIT?

Additionally, make sure to rotate credentials. It’s a proactive defense against compromised passwords and keys. Regularly changing them ensures their strength remains uncompromised.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is credential rotation being regularly practiced and enforced?
  • How are the risks of compromised passwords and keys mitigated?


Robust data protection measures 

Data is crucial, and its protection is paramount. Check if your encryption practices adequately protect data at rest and in transit. Also, analyze if your data loss prevention strategies effectively block unauthorized data exposures.

Evaluation factors:

  • Are your data loss prevention strategies effective at preventing unauthorized data exposure?
  • Are encryption keys appropriately managed and protected?

Are you maintaining a trusted environment for data exchange? If you aren’t sure, inspect the certificate and public key infrastructure (PKI) implementation. Certificates and keys should be configured to prevent misuse and ensure only authorized users have access.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is the legitimacy of certificates used in your organization verified?
  • Are there robust processes for issuing, renewing, and revoking certificates?

Incident response plan

Analyze the structure and completeness of your incident response plan. It should cover identification, containment, eradication, recovery, and lessons learned.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is the incident response plan reviewed and updated to incorporate new threat scenarios and learnings?
  • How well are incidents documented and analyzed for continual improvement?

Look into the functionality of your security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) tools. These not only accelerate threat detection and response but also correlate threat data from multiple sources, minimizing false positives and aiding real-time decision-making. However, understanding that the effectiveness of SOAR tools and response plans largely depends on threat intelligence and automation capabilities is essential.

Evaluation factors:

  • How well is threat intelligence integrated into the SOAR platform to enhance detection capabilities?
  • Is there a process defined to keep automation scripts in sync with evolving threats and infrastructural changes?
  • Are your tabletop exercises comprehensive, covering the functional state of your SOAR, intra-organizational communication, decision-making at various levels, and interactions with media and customers?

It is also important to note that even the most thorough plan only proves its robustness during execution. As a result, a critical part of the audit should involve assessing the responsiveness and expertise of your cyber security team in managing these tools and executing the response plan. 

Evaluation factors:

  • Does your team conduct regular incident drills?
  • Are there processes in place to measure incident response effectiveness?
  • Are you equipped with legal knowledge to address situations involving data leakage and possible punitive actions by regulators?

Continuous audit and monitoring 

Audit and monitoring are cyclical activities that should adapt to the evolving threat and compliance landscape. The efficacy of your Intrusion Detection System (IDS) forms a critical part of this review that helps identify patterns and detect anomalies in your network traffic.  A key aspect is ensuring that your observability stack is trained to differentiate between normal operations and anomalies based on historical data.

Evaluation factors:

  • What strategies exist to maintain and improve the IDS’ threat detection capabilities?
  • How is anomaly detection fine-tuned to minimize false positives?

However, staying ahead of the curve means auditing your cyber assets and the tools that monitor them. Use a platform like Paladin Cloud to regularly review the configuration of scanning agents such as Tenable and Qualys, flagging misconfigurations, missing agents, and outdated versions.

Evaluation factors:

  • Is your monitoring strategy comprehensive enough to include both internal cyber assets and external services of the security stack, including scanning agents?
  • How are alerts and findings from scanning agents managed, prioritized, and remediated?

Training and awareness programs

Training your employees with the right tools, knowledge, and skills to act as human firewalls against threats is a crucial aspect of cyber security.

Comprehensive training programs should cover:

  • Recognizing phishing attempts.
  • Understanding the repercussions of unsafe browsing.
  • Mitigating malware threats.
  • Identifying social engineering tactics. 

These programs should also cover the safe use of cloud services, password management, and incident reporting. Training programs should be regularly updated and reinforced to ensure that your team stays updated on the latest threats and preventive measures.

Evaluation factors:

  • Does the training curriculum adequately cover key cyber security aspects?
  • Are training sessions conducted regularly to account for evolving cyber threat scenarios?

8 cyber security audit checklist best practices 

The resilience of your system configurations can make all the difference. A key part of your audit practice is ensuring system configurations are optimized, secure, and scalable as your operations scale.

Below are eight key configuration best practices that help optimize your security audit strategy. 

Review configurations for robustness

Your system configurations must serve as formidable barriers instead of being an open target. Open ports that aren’t necessary, unchanged default credentials, or publicly accessible cloud storage buckets are common misconfigurations that can lead to potential breaches.

  • Strengthen core services & components
    Fine tune your software components, frameworks, and libraries. Disable or remove unnecessary services and features to minimize attack surface. Only use secure communication protocols, such as HTTPS, backed by robust encryption algorithms and solid key management practices.
  • Align configurations with broader controls
    Auditing and ensuring that configurations align with your organization’s security policies is also important. Analyze your cloud configurations diligently to ensure they are securely set and adhere to technical standards such as the CIS Benchmarks.
  • Leverage CSPM for consistency
    Validate configurations utilizing tools like Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) that provide invaluable visibility into your cloud security state, highlighting areas of misconfiguration and non-compliance.

Evaluate endpoint security

Endpoints face constant threats. Hardening them is an essential aspect of a strong security posture and risk mitigation strategy.

  • Harness the power of automation
    Consider deploying and using advanced endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions. These solutions go beyond traditional antivirus software by analyzing behavior patterns to identify abnormal activities and detect complex threats. A crucial part of a cyber security audit is to examine their breadth of coverage and effectiveness in response management.
  • Tackle evolving threats
    Even the most advanced tools can’t fully protect unpatched systems. Your audit strategy should validate if systems are regularly updated, automated patching is correctly configured in larger environments, and attacks exploiting known vulnerabilities are effectively prevented.
  • Utilize encryption as the cipher
    Encrypted endpoints transform data on your device into an unreadable format, which remains so while in transit to the cloud. An audit must help you assess if your data stays secure and inaccessible to unauthorized individuals when an incident occurs, data is intercepted, or a device is stolen.
  • Never assume safety
    Employing the principles of zero trust security for your endpoints help maintain perpetual vigilance. Auditing zero trust strategies, from implementing least privilege access to the setup of multi-factor authentication (MFA) can significantly enhance endpoint security by ensuring extra layers of verification are optimally configured. 

Review secure coding practices

Every line of code represents a potential attack vector. To safeguard your applications, embrace secure coding practices from the onset. A pragmatic approach is to adopt a security-oriented mindset from the initial design and implementation phases. Following guidelines such as the OWASP Top 10 and CERT Secure Coding can also help identify and mitigate common security pitfalls.

  • Curtail error leaks
    Incorporate secure error handling mechanisms to prevent the accidental exposure of sensitive information during system exceptions. This includes meticulous output sanitization to counter injection attacks and prevent data leakage.
  • Disinfect data inputs
    Enforce strict input validation and sanitization mechanisms. Leverage techniques such as allowlist validation, SQL parameterized queries, and output encoding to combat illicit data entries. 

Review data backup and disaster recovery plans

A data backup and disaster recovery plan is your organization’s roadmap to business continuity in the face of catastrophic events. 

  • Scrutinize backup methodologies
    Administer a thorough review of your backup strategy to assess the efficacy and frequency of backup procedures, the verification of data integrity, and the encryption standards applied during data transmission and storage. Additionally, consider the physical and virtual locations of your backups. Are they spread across different locations to safeguard against regional disasters? 
  • Assess disaster recovery blueprints
    An audit should scrutinize the recovery plan’s comprehensiveness, its testing frequency, and real-world applicability. Also, quantify key metrics like recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs). These metrics indicate how quickly your operations can bounce back (RTO) and the age of backup data that must be recovered to resume operations (RPO). 
  • Validate the reliability of failover systems
    Failover mechanisms ensure a seamless transition during an unexpected outage to minimize downtime and maintain business continuity. Examine your failover mechanisms to check if the process of switching over to a redundant or standby system in the event of a failure or disaster is appropriately configured and tested.

Assess data privacy and compliance

Data privacy guides the handling of personal data in line with stringent legal and regulatory stipulations. An audit without a thorough assessment of data privacy measures? Unthinkable. This rigorous inspection is not merely to maintain compliance, but is often considered a trust-building exercise with your stakeholders.

  • Obtain consent for data collection
    Gaining consent before collecting personal data is a legal requirement in many jurisdictions. This process must be transparent, clear, and easily accessible to individuals. Review how consent is acquired and documented within your systems as part of your audit.
  • Examine compliance adherence
    An audit should probe into the robustness of your compliance structure, ensuring alignment with regulatory bodies like GDPR, CCPA, or HIPAA. Equally important is to validate compliance with policies, procedures, and controls and that required certifications are up-to-date. The guiding principle for this task is to let your industry and specific business use case shape your compliance strategy.
  • Scrutinize vendor compliance
    If you work with third-party vendors, their compliance with cyber security regulations and standards could impact your own. An audit should review your vendors’ compliance status, relevant contractual obligations, and the security controls they have to protect your data.

Review incident response capabilities

Your ability to swiftly and effectively manage security incidents can be the difference between a contained issue and a full-blown disaster.

  • Investigate response protocols
    An audit should dive deep into your incident response plan (IRP). Are roles and responsibilities clear? Ensure there is a well-defined escalation matrix and communication plan outlining who should be notified in case of a security breach.
  • Handle the unexpected
    When an audit reveals a deficiency, it’s time for prompt action. Begin by logging an incident for the identified issue, followed by prioritization based on potential impact. This step marks the official record of the issue and initiates the rectification process. Establish a deadline for resolving each issue and rigorously monitor the progress. It’s essential to track if the corrective actions have been implemented within the defined timeframe and whether they effectively resolve the issue.
  • Explore forensics capabilities
    Examine the readiness of your digital forensics team. Can they effectively identify, isolate, and analyze security incidents? An important part of this analysis involves understanding the established protocols for preserving evidence – a key asset in potential legal proceedings.

Test social engineering resilience

Even the most sophisticated security systems can still fall prey to human error. Social engineering attacks like phishing exploit this, manipulating individuals into revealing sensitive information.

  • Conduct awareness tests
    Your audit should include testing of your team’s resilience to social engineering tactics. Simulated phishing attacks can effectively measure your team’s awareness and response.
  • Create human firewalls
    Assess your security awareness training programs. Are they comprehensive, engaging, and regularly updated to cover the latest threat landscape? An effective program can turn your staff into a first line of defense against social engineering attacks.

Conduct comprehensive scanning and penetration testing

An audit must extend to your comprehensive scanning and penetration testing methodologies. This is where you ascertain the robustness of your defenses.

  • Scan routinely
    Review your scanning procedures. Are these checks regular and thorough, hunting for outdated systems, misconfigurations, and potential entry points for attackers? Remember, routine scanning should be a constant health check for your cyber ecosystem.
  • Evaluate your stress tests
    Audit your penetration testing too. These tests should simulate real-world attacks, deploying ethical hackers to exploit identified vulnerabilities and assess their potential impact. This isn’t about theoretical exercise but assessing the implications of a real attack.
  • Comprehensive vigilance is key
    Your audit should confirm regular comprehensive scanning and penetration testing. Utilize tools such as Paladin Cloud that extend the security coverage by auditing and highlighting misconfigurations of scanning tools like Qualys and Tenable. This ensures your cyber health remains robust, resisting the evolving threatscape.

Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM)

Define your cyber attack surface & identify/visualize your multi-cloud asset inventory

Verify your security controls are protecting your cyber assets, identify coverage gaps

Extend your security posture by monitoring for vulnerabilities & misconfigurations


Migrating to the cloud comes with several business benefits, but it also brings security risks. A cyber security audit checklist is valuable for navigating the intricacies of implementing robust cloud security. But how can we further simplify this intricate journey?

Paladin Cloud’s agentless, Security-as-Code platform enhances your cyber security posture by identifying cyber assets, detecting blind spots, and eliminating misconfigurations. Implementing security best practices as policies, Paladin Cloud not only streamlines the automation of workflows but also enables prompt remediation of security violations. 

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