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Your Guide to Cloud Security Audits: Tips, Challenges, and a Definitive Checklist

Your Guide to Cloud Security Audits: Tips, Challenges, and a Definitive Checklist

Your Guide to Cloud Security Audits: Tips, Challenges, and a Definitive Checklist

Migrating to the cloud is a massive step for any business to take. As a company moves to and expands within the cloud, it becomes necessary to maintain awareness of its key processes and infrastructure.

In fact, how a company collects and analyzes information related to its cloud activity can have a huge impact on the overall effectiveness of its operation.

This assessment is carried out through what is known as a cloud security audit. In this article, we break down the key challenges that companies typically face, impart some useful tips, provide a definitive checklist, and take a look at how a cloud security audit can play a crucial role in your company’s future.   

What is a cloud security audit?

A cloud security audit is an in-depth examination of the security controls, processes, and overall infrastructure that protect a company’s data and other assets within the cloud. It normally takes a week to 10 days to complete, although depending on the scope it could take anything from a day to several months. A cloud security assessment is typically conducted by an independent company – usually, a cloud security expert – who will analyze the company’s cloud posture, run various tests, and go through a cloud security audit checklist.  

Why is a cloud security audit important?

Let’s take a look at the many reasons why a security audit is crucial for companies operating within the cloud.


A rigorous cloud security assessment ensures that the organization is complying with all relevant up-to-date regulations. Cloud compliance ensures that all cloud computing services meet the correct standards and compliance regulations required by customers and collaborators. 

Traffic flows within a cloud architecture are far more complex than legacy computing systems, particularly within a hybrid or multi-cloud approach. Therefore, a thorough security audit will guarantee that all parts of your network comply with stringent regulations.

Data security 

Data is one of the most valuable assets for companies. Ensuring all data is well protected by a solid infrastructure and is safe from cyber attacks is a key factor when it comes to carrying out a security assessment.

Data can be classified to identify the most critical processes and systems that can be strengthened, thereby minimizing data loss.

Security posture

Security audits give a panoramic view of the overall effectiveness of a company’s cloud security. Audits can pinpoint specific weaknesses within the cloud architecture, points that act as sources of data loss. 

Through a cloud security assessment, each weak point of a company’s security posture can be addressed and fixed to minimize the volume and impact of a cloud security incident.

APIs and third-party tools

Modern companies that have adopted the cloud typically use a whole host of APIs and tools from many different collaborators and third parties. This multi-layered landscape creates a whole new level of complexity when it comes to security, and every API or tool is a potential security risk.

A detailed security assessment can identify the effectiveness of each element, the weaknesses in each API or tool, and ensure that effective solutions are put in place.

Backup strategies

Secure backups are an integral part of any cloud security strategy. An audit assures that these backups are carried out regularly and performed for all critical systems throughout the entire infrastructure.

A security assessment also helps to effectively safeguard these backups to make sure they are in place should a severe incident happen.

Key challenges when carrying out an audit

Security audits for the cloud can be challenging for many reasons. Below are the most common challenges faced by companies and cloud security auditors when carrying out a cloud assessment.


To carry out a thorough assessment, auditors need access to an inventory of data, security policies, and security controls across the cloud environment. A large part of this inventory is controlled by cloud providers and is not always easy to source. 

Constantly evolving environment

Cloud environments are ever-evolving. New tools, technologies, and systems are constantly emerging, making it especially hard for audits to be carried out effectively. This is why audits should be carried out by experts, with up-to-date knowledge of all technologies and processes. 

Lack of standardization

Different cloud providers have distinct security policies, while all APIs, tools, and technologies have varying security controls in place. This leads to a potential lack of consistency across the cloud landscape, making a rigorous assessment of risks and vulnerabilities a difficult task.


Cloud environments are usually very large and complex. What’s more, as providers develop more features and new tools and technologies emerge, the size and complexity of the cloud environment continue to increase. Whereas legacy IT environments had a limited number of servers to test, auditable components in a cloud environment could include anything from physical hosts and virtual machines (VMs) to serverless functions and managed databases.

How to choose a security audit provider

Choosing the right security auditor to support your company is crucial. When assessing whether a provider is right for you, consider the following:

  • Do they inspire confidence in cloud security best practices?
  • Does the provider have experience auditing a cloud architecture similar to yours and knowledge of your cloud provider’s policies?
  • A good audit provider should have both manual and automated test processes to conduct a proper assessment. 
  • They should be equipped with both automated and manual security testing abilities to conduct a wholesome security audit.
  • A good audit provider will not only conduct a full analysis of your cloud security posture but offer solutions to fix problems and weaknesses.
  • They should understand your particular security compliance goals and be able to help you meet them.

Security audit checklist

This cloud audit checklist breaks down the different aspects of a cloud security assessment. It will help you to know what to expect when an expert carries out an audit and prepare you to gain a deeper understanding of the audit process. 

Evaluate the security posture of cloud providers and third parties

The security posture of your cloud provider (or providers, if you are taking a multi-cloud approach) has a big impact on your company’s security posture. An evaluation of the privacy policies of providers and the security systems they have in place, together with the security risks carried by API and tools offered by third parties, is an essential part of the audit.  

Identify the attack surface

Gaining a better understanding of your attack surface will help you better prepare for and mitigate any potential incident. Your cloud security audit provider will pinpoint the key parts of your systems that could potentially allow an attacker to infiltrate while prioritizing high-risk areas and offering remediation.

Identity and access management (IAM)

Breaches of access management are one of the most common forms of cloud security breaches. That’s why your auditor will make a thorough assessment of access levels and privileges within the cloud security environment while testing password standards and policies. They may offer several suggestions to improve your IAM, including:

  • Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • Overhauling password policies
  • Adopting a zero-trust approach
  • Automating workflows
  • Making the least privilege principle a company policy

Assess data security

Data is the most important commodity and, as such, its security will be a key focus of a cloud security audit. The security and privacy of your company’s data will be assessed, across all networks, within all relevant applications, and across all containers, workloads, and environments.

Identifying and protecting high-value data is also a key part of data security. Your cloud security auditor will locate high-value assets (HVAs), which are sets of data that, if lost, damaged, or compromised, would have the biggest impact on the company.

Test the incident response (IR) process

Cloud security posture is not only about the level of protection in place. It also takes into account how your organization can respond to an incident. Your audit provider will assess your IR capabilities to find out if you have the key protocols and adequate training in place, as well as the appropriate tools to detect, monitor, and neutralize threats.

Evaluate the software development life cycle

Auditors should make a thorough assessment of any software development processes. They will recommend and, if they provide remedial services, implement a secure software development life cycle (S-SDLC) to incorporate robust security standards at every stage of the development process. This helps to compartmentalize each step, removing complexity and instilling security best practices.  

Assess compliance and regulations

An assessment of your company’s data sharing and security best practices will be carried out, as well as whether all relevant standards and regulations are being met. Implementing security information and event management (SIEM) systems is an excellent way to meet these standards and regulations. SIEM helps to collect and aggregate real-time data to analyze and detect malicious activity within the cloud.

The takeaway

While a cloud security audit can be a challenging, complex undertaking, choosing the right cloud security partner to conduct the assessment and taking steps to implement the right security practices within your organization can have a huge impact.
If you have any doubts or questions about the cloud security audit process, contact Ackcent today.