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What is a Cloud Security Audit? (and How to Conduct One)


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A cloud security audit is a review of an organization’s cloud security environment. During an audit, the security auditor will gather information, perform tests, and confirm whether the security posture meets industry standards.

PAA: What is the objective of a cloud security audit?

The main objective of a cloud security audit is to evaluate the health of your cloud environment, including any data and applications hosted on the cloud.

PAA: What are three key areas of auditing in the cloud?

From the list of “6 Fundamental Steps of a Cloud Security Audit.”

  • Inspect the security posture
  • Determine the attack surface
  • Implement strict access controls

PAA: What are the two types of security audits?

Security audits come in two forms: internal and external. In internal audits, a business uses its resources and employees to conduct the investigation. In external audits, a third-party organization is hired to conduct the audit.

PAA: How do I become a cloud security auditor?

To become a cloud security auditor, you need a certification like the Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) or Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP). Prior experience in IT auditing, cloud security management, and cloud risk assessment is highly beneficial.

Cloud environments are used to store over 60 percent of all corporate data as of 2022.

With so much data in the cloud, organizations rely on cloud security audits to ensure that cloud services can safely provide on-demand access.

In this article, we explain what a cloud security audit is, its main objectives, and its benefits. We’ve also listed the six crucial steps of a cloud audit and a checklist of example actions taken during an audit.

What Is a Cloud Security Audit?

A cloud security audit is a review of an organization’s cloud security environment. During an audit, the security auditor will gather information, perform tests, and confirm whether the security posture meets industry standards.

Cloud service providers (CSPs) offer three main types of services:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Businesses use these solutions to store data and drive daily operations.

A cloud security audit evaluates a CSP’s security and data protection measures. It can help identify and address any risks. The audit assesses how secure, dependable, and reliable a cloud environment is.

Cloud audits are an essential data protection measure for companies that store and process data in the cloud.

An audit assesses the security controls used by CSPs within the company’s cloud environment. It evaluates the effectiveness of the CSP’s security policies and technical safeguards.

Auditors identify vulnerabilities, gaps, or noncompliance with regulations. Addressing these issues can prevent data breaches and exploitation via cybersecurity attacks.

Meeting mandatory compliance standards will also prevent potentially expensive fines and being blacklisted.

Once the technical investigation is complete, the auditor generates a report. This report states their findings and can have recommendations to optimize security.

An audit can also help save money by finding unused or redundant resources in the cloud system.

Main Objectives of a Cloud Security Audit

The main objective of a cloud security audit is to evaluate the health of your cloud environment, including any data and applications hosted on the cloud. Other important objectives include:

  • Decide the information architecture: Audits help define the network, security, and systems requirements to secure information. This includes data at rest and in transit.
  • Align IT resources: A cloud audit can align the use of IT resources with business strategies.
  • Identify risks: Businesses can identify risks that could harm their cloud environment. This could be security vulnerabilities, data access errors, and noncompliance with regulations.
  • Optimize IT processes: An audit can help create documented, standardized, and repeatable processes, leading to a secure and reliable IT environment. This includes processes for system ownership, information security, network access, and risk management.
  • Assess vendor security controls: Auditors can inspect the CSP’s security control frameworks and reliability.

What Are the Two Types of Cloud Security Audits?

Security audits come in two forms: internal and external. In internal audits, a business uses its resources and employees to conduct the investigation. In external audits, a third-party organization is hired to conduct the audit.

The internal audit team reviews the organization’s cloud infrastructure and data. They aim to identify any vulnerabilities or compliance issues.

A third-party auditor will do the same during an external audit.

Both types of audits provide an objective assessment of the security posture. But internal audits are rare since there is a higher chance of prejudice during analysis.

Who Provides Cloud Security Audits?

Cloud security assessments are provided by:

  • Third-party auditors: Independent third-party audit firms that specialize in auditing cloud ecosystems. These auditors are often certified and experienced in CSP security policies. They also use automated and manual security testing methods for a comprehensive evaluation. Some auditing firms extend remediation support after the audit.
  • Cloud service providers: Some cloud platforms offer auditing services and tools. These tools vary in the depth of their assessments and the features they provide to fix problems.
  • Internal audit teams: Many organizations use internal audit teams. These teams assess the controls and processes using CSPM tools. They provide recommendations for improving security and mitigating risks.

Why Cloud Security Audits Are So Important

Here are eight ways in which security audits of cloud services are performed:

  • Identify security risks: An audit can identify potential security risks. This includes weaknesses in the cloud infrastructure, apps, APIs, or data. Recognizing and fixing these risks is critical for data protection.
  • Ensure compliance: Audits help the cloud environment comply with regulations like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and ISO 27001. Compliance with these standards is vital for avoiding legal and financial penalties.
  • Optimize cloud processes: An audit can help create efficient processes using fewer resources. There is also a decreased risk of breakdowns or malfunctions.
  • Manage access control: Employees constantly change positions within the company or leave. With an audit, businesses can ensure that everyone has the right level of access. For example, access is completely removed for former employees. Auditing access control verifies if employees can safely log in to cloud systems. This is done via two-step authentication, multi-factor authentication, and VPNs.
  • Assess third-party tools: Multi-vendor cloud systems include many third-party tools and API integrations. An audit of these tools and APIs can check if they are safe. It can also ensure that they do not compromise overall security.
  • Avoid data loss: Audits help companies identify areas of potential data loss. This could be during transfer or backup or throughout different work processes. Patching these areas is vital for data safety.
  • Check backup safety: Cloud vendors offer services to back up company data regularly. An audit of backup mechanisms can ensure they are performed at the right frequency and without any flaws.
  • Proactive risk management: Organizations can address potential risks before they become major incidents. Taking proactive action can prevent data breaches, system failures, and other incidents that disrupt daily operations.
  • Save money: Audits can help remove obsolete or underused resources in the cloud. Doing this saves money while improving performance.
  • Improve cloud security posture: Like an IT audit, a cloud audit can help improve overall data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

How Is a Cloud Security Audit Conducted?

The exact audit process varies depending on the specific goals and scope.

Typically, an independent third party performs the audit. It inspects a cloud vendor’s security posture. It assesses how the CSP implements security best practices and whether it adheres to industry standards. It also evaluates performance against specific benchmarks set before the audit.

Here is a general overview of the audit process:

  • Define the scope: The first step is to define the scope of the audit. This includes listing the CSPs, security controls, processes, and regulations to be assessed.
  • Plan the audit: The next step is to plan the audit. This involves establishing the audit team, a timeline, and an audit plan. This plan outlines the specific tasks to be performed and the evaluation criteria.
  • Collect information: The auditor can collect information using various techniques. This includes analytics and security tools, physical inspections, questioning, and observation.
  • Review and analyze: The auditor reviews all the information to evaluate the security posture.
  • Create an audit report: An audit report summarizes findings and lists any issues. It is presented to company management at an audit briefing. The report also provides actions for improvement.
  • Take action: Companies form a team to address issues in the audit report. This team performs remediation actions.

The audit process could take 12 weeks to complete. However, it could take longer for businesses to complete the recommended remediation tasks. The schedule may be extended if a gap analysis is required.

Businesses can speed up the audit process using automated security tools. This software quickly provides a unified view of all security risks across multiple cloud vendors.

Some CSPs, like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, also offer auditing tools. These tools are exclusive to each specific platform.

The price of a cloud audit varies based on its scope, the size of the organization, and the number of cloud platforms. For example, auditing one vendor could take four or five weeks. But a complex web with multiple vendors could take more than 12 weeks.

6 Fundamental Steps of a Cloud Security Audit

Six crucial steps must be performed in a cloud audit:

1. Evaluate security posture

Evaluate the security posture of the cloud system. This includes security controls, policies, procedures, documentation, and incident response plans.

The auditor can interview IT staff, cloud vendor staff, and other stakeholders to collect evidence about information systems. Screenshots and paperwork are also used as proof.

After this process, the auditor analyzes the evidence. They check if existing procedures meet industry guidelines, like the ones provided by Cloud Security Alliance (CSA).

2. Define the attack surface

An attack surface includes all possible points, or attack vectors, through which unauthorized users can access and exploit a system. Since cloud solutions are so complex, this can be challenging.

Organizations must use cloud monitoring and observability technologies to determine the attack surface. They must also prioritize high-risk assets and focus their remediation efforts on them.

Auditors must identify all the applications and assets running within cloud instances and containers. They must check if the organization approves these or if they represent shadow IT.

To protect data, all workloads within the cloud system must be standardized and have up-to-date security measures.

3. Implement robust access controls

Access management breaches are a widespread security risk. Unauthorized personnel can get credentials to access sensitive cloud data using various methods.

To minimize security issues related to unauthorized access, organizations must:

  • Create comprehensive password guidelines and policies
  • Mandate multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • Restrict administrative rights

4. Strict data sharing standards

Organizations must install strong standards for external data access and sharing. These standards dictate how data is viewed and accessed in shared drives, calendars, and folders.

Start with restrictive standards and then loosen up restrictions when necessary. External access should not be provided to files and folders containing sensitive data. This includes personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI).

5. Use SIEM

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems can collect cloud logs in a standardized format. This allows editors to access logs and automatically generates reports necessary for different compliance standards. This helps organizations maintain compliance with industry security standards.

6. Automate patch management

Regular security patches are crucial. However, many organizations and IT teams struggle with patch management.

To create an efficient patch management process, organizations must:

  • Focus on the most crucial patches first
  • Regularly patch valuable assets using automation
  • Add manual reviews to the automated patching process to ensure long-term security

How Often Should Cloud Security Audits Be Conducted?

As a general rule of thumb, audits are conducted annually or biannually. But an audit should also be performed when:

  • Mandated by regulatory standards. For example, Level 1 businesses must pass at least one audit per year to remain PCI DSS compliant.
  • There is a higher risk level. Organizations storing sensitive data may need more frequent audits.
  • There are significant changes to the cloud environment.

Ultimately, the frequency of audits depends on the organization’s specific needs.

The Major Cloud Security Audit Challenges

Here are some of the major challenges that organizations may face:

Lack of visibility

Cloud infrastructures can be complex with many services and applications across different providers. Each cloud vendor has their own security policies and practices. They also provide limited access to operational and forensic data required for auditing.

This lack of transparency prevents auditors from accessing pertinent data. To gather all relevant data, IT operations staff must coordinate with CSPs.

Auditors must also carefully choose test cases to avoid violating the CSP’s security policies.


Data in the cloud is encrypted using two methods — internal or provider encryption. Internal or on-premise encryption is when organizations encrypt data before it is transferred to the cloud. Provider encryption is when the CSP handles encryption.

With on-premise encryption, the primary threat comes from malicious internal actors. In the latter method, any security breach of the cloud provider’s network can harm your data.

From an auditing standpoint, it is best to encrypt data and manage encryption keys internally. If the CSP handles the encryption keys, auditing becomes nearly impossible.


Many cloud providers use the same physical systems for multiple user organizations. This increases the security risk. It also makes it challenging for auditors to inspect physical locations.

Organizations should use cloud vendors that use mechanisms to prevent unauthorized data access. For example, a cloud vendor must prevent users from claiming administrative rights to the entire system.

Lack of standardization

Cloud environments have ever-increasing entities for auditors to inspect. This includes managed databases, physical hosts, virtual machines (VMs), and containers. Auditing all these entities can be difficult, especially when there are constant changes to the entities.

Standardized procedures and workloads help auditors identify all critical entities within cloud systems.

Cloud Security Audit Checklist

Here is a cloud security audit checklist with example actions taken for each general control area:

The above list is not all-inclusive. Each cloud environment and process involved in auditing it is different.

Industry Standards To Guide Cloud Security Audits

Industry groups have created security standards to help companies maintain their security posture. Here are the five most recognized standards for cloud compliance and auditing:

  • CSA Security, Trust, & Assurance Registry (STAR): This is a security assurance program run by the CSA.

The STAR program is built on three fundamental techniques:

  • CSA’s Cloud Control Matrix (CCM)
  • Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire (CAIQ)
  • CSA’s Code of Conduct for GDPR Compliance

CSA also has a registry of CSPs who have completed a self-assessment of their security controls. The program includes guidelines that can be used for cloud audits.

  • ISO/IEC 27017:2015: The ISO/IEC 27017:2015 are guidelines for information security controls in cloud computing environments.
  • ISO/IEC 27018:2019: The ISO/IEC 27018:2019 provides guidelines for protecting PII in public cloud computing environments.
  • MTCS SS 584: Multi-Tier Cloud Security (MTCS) SS 584 is a cloud security standard developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore. The standard has guidelines for CSPs on information security controls.Cloud customers and auditors can use it to evaluate the security posture of CSPs.
  • CIS Foundations Benchmarks: The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Foundations Benchmarks are guidelines for securing IT systems and data. They help organizations of all sizes improve their security posture.

Final Thoughts on Cloud Security Audits

Cloud security audits are crucial for ensuring your cloud systems are secure and compliant. This is essential for data protection and preventing cybersecurity attacks.

Auditors must use modern monitoring and CSPM tools like Prevasio to easily identify vulnerabilities in multi-vendor cloud environments. This software leads to faster audits and provides a unified view of all threats, making it easier to take relevant action.

FAQs About Cloud Security Audits

How do I become a cloud security auditor?

To become a cloud security auditor, you need certification like the Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) or Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP). Prior experience in IT auditing, cloud security management, and cloud risk assessment is highly beneficial.

Other certifications like the Certificate of Cloud Auditing Knowledge (CCAK) by ISACA and CSA could also help. In addition, knowledge of security guidelines and compliance frameworks, including PCI DSS, ISO 27001, SOC 2, and NIST, is also required.

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