What are network audits?

A network audit is a process that involves mapping and taking inventory of network hardware and software. The process usually employs manual and automated methods. Sometimes, a network audit is carried out as part of a larger security audit. Most of the time, however, it’s done independently.

This article, discusses the importance behind network audits, situations that call for a network audit, steps for carrying out a network audit, and more Parallels® RAS offers you secure network auditing.

Importance behind network audits

Some organizations perform network audits on a regular basis, and rightfully so. But why? What are the benefits of conducting a network audit? Here are some of them.

Provides an accurate and updated view of your network

When you conduct a network audit, you’ll end up with an updated inventory and mapping of your network. You’ll be able to answer questions like:

These are just a few examples of the types of information you’ll be able to acquire at the end of a network audit. This level of visibility can provide insights, inform decision making, etc.

Minimizes risk

Since a network audit gives you a detailed snapshot of your network, it will inform your decision making. This information can minimize risk when you perform tasks like network upgrades, hardware/software deployments, and others. It will enable you to determine beforehand if a particular activity might adversely impact a network component and, in turn, disrupt business operations.

Exposes potential vulnerabilities and issues

The information gathered from a network audit can expose potential vulnerabilities. For example, you’ll be able to identify any hardware or software that’s about to reach its end-of-Llife (EOL). Once a product reaches EOL, its vendor will cease to provide support. Meaning, if a vulnerability is discovered later on, that vendor will no longer be able to provide a security update. That can leave you with a large gaping hole in your network.

Uncovers areas that require optimization or improvement

The information you get from a network audit can reveal areas in your network that can use some optimizations or improvements. In some areas, you might need to apply a patch. In others, you might just need to do some reconfiguration. Others still might require a complete overhaul or replacement.

When to carry out network audits

Ideally, network audits should be carried out on a regular basis. However, there are some situations that may call for an ad hoc network audit. Here are some of them.

Inventory update

When was your last network audit? A couple of years ago? Over that period, you might have already added a server, a router, a firewall, and several virtual machines, to name a few. Now you’ve decided to update your inventory. You’ll need a network audit for that. Through a network audit, you can discover new assets in your network. Maybe some of them aren’t even supposed to be there.

Network upgrade

Lately, you’ve been encountering a growing number of malware-related incidents and other unwanted network traffic. As a result, you decide to purchase that shiny new next generation firewall (NGFW) to prevent threats from entering. Not so fast. Before you deploy that NGFW, you’ll want to know how it’s going to affect other components in your network.You’ll also need a network audit for that.

Network problem resolution

Your users have been experiencing a significant drop in network performance, but you somehow can’t pinpoint the root cause, even after spending two full days troubleshooting. Is it malware? Is it your internet service provider (ISP)? Perhaps that newly deployed NGFW? Or could it be something else? A network audit can provide useful insights that might help you troubleshoot the issue.

Regulatory compliance

You’ve just been reminded of an upcoming Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) audit, and you realize you’ve introduced several changes in your network since the last one. You’re no longer sure if the old network segmentations still apply. You’re also not sure how the new servers your IT staff deployed over the last couple of months impact the scope of your cardholder data environment (CDE). A network audit can help you in that regard. The visibility a network audit provides can help you easily identify areas where you are non-compliant.

Checklist for network audits

Your network doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Other factors impact its security and performance. You’ll need to take into account these factors in a network audit. Below is a checklist of things to consider before conducting an audit.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policy

BYOD environments, where employees are allowed to bring their own personal mobile devices into the workplace, can undermine network security and performance. Personal devices are often exposed to various threats and might even be carrying malware. Also, because several non-work-related apps consume a lot of bandwidth, your network-dependent business processes can suffer.

By reviewing your BYOD policy, you’ll gain a better understanding of the potential impact of mobile devices on your network. You’ll also know which devices and apps are allowed and which ones are violating your BYOD policy. You can incorporate information you gather in that regard into your network audit report so that decision makers can take appropriate action.

Network vulnerabilities

If left unchecked, network vulnerabilities can lead to data breaches, data loss, and downtime. Vulnerabilities can pop up anywhere—on servers, routers, applications, operating systems, virtual machines, and even security solutions like poorly configured firewalls.

In most network audits, part of your objective is to discover these vulnerabilities. A network audit can, for instance, reveal unused open ports, outdated software, weak passwords, flimsy firewall rules, and unused virtual machines. These vulnerabilities are just waiting to be exploited, so a network audit provides vital information that cybersecurity teams can act on.

Bandwidth capacity and consumption

Network bandwidth and consumption always have a substantial impact on your network’s performance. If the bandwidth consumed by users and processes constantly maxes out your network’s capacity, network performance can suffer. Hence, you need to keep a close eye on these metrics and make sure capacity is enough to meet demand.

The results of a network audit can help you gauge if you have enough bandwidth capacity. The results can also help you pinpoint processes and users that consume the most bandwidth. This will in turn enable your decision makers to take the right course of action.

Infrastructure problems

Your network infrastructure consists of hardware (e.g., routers, switches, access points, and cables) and software (e.g., operating systems, and applications). These various components can have issues that can adversely affect the performance and security of your network.

A network audit will enable you to produce an updated mapping of these components and their respective statuses. This will in turn help you spot potential issues and deal with them proactively.

Network upgrades

Outdated network components can likewise adversely impact the performance and security of your network. But with so many network components, it can be difficult to determine which ones already require updates.

A network audit will help you identify which network components are due for an upgrade. Once you’ve identified the components in question, you can then incorporate the upgrade process into your schedule. This will help you plan out a suitable approach with minimal disruption to business operations.

How to carry out network audits

It’s time to discuss the general steps involved in carrying out a network audit.

  1. Plan for the audit

Before you conduct the audit, devise a plan. This will ensure you cover all bases, and your audit will be carried out efficiently. A plan will allow you to avoid wasting precious time and resources.

As part of your plan, define the scope of your audit. Should it include software? Should it include PCs, laptops, and other end- user devices? Knowing which types of network assets will be included will help you determine the tools and specific procedures to employ.

Lastly, obtain the necessary access privileges. Some IT assets will require you to login before you can retrieve the information you need. You may have to obtain a selection of usernames and passwords, keys, tokens, etc. You can ask your network administrator to create an account and grant that account the necessary access rights.

  1. Perform the audit

Once you’re ready, you can proceed with the audit proper. Depending on the size of your network, the audit can be very time -consuming. Speed up the process by employing network discovery tools. Aside from cutting down your audit time, these tools can also reduce accidental omissions. Apply automation whenever you can.

Of course, not all IT assets are discoverable through network discovery tools. Your network might also be too small to warrant purchasing a tool (some tools are free, by the way). In these cases, you may have to physically walk over to the network device and retrieve the information you need.

  1. Conduct post-audit activities

Once you’re done gathering data, you’ll want to put together a report that presents relevant, actionable information in an organized format. Present the information so that it’s easy for your target audience to understand, appreciate, and act on. Some network discovery tools can automatically generate reports, so that’s also another reason to use them.

Oftentimes, your target audience will be key decision makers who lack the technical background to interpret every piece of information outlined in your report fully. For this reason, you need to lay down recommendations and just use the details in your report as supporting information.

Use of data from network audits

Let’s dive a little deeper into the part where you interpret network audit data. How do you make use of the data you collected?

One way is by comparing your recently collected data with data from previous audits. This will give you an idea whether deficiencies uncovered in the previous audit have already been rectified. If not, that’s a red flag. If those items involve serious vulnerabilities, there’s a good chance those vulnerabilities would have already been exploited. Your organization will probably need to follow up your audit with a more thorough investigation.

Network mappings and other related information can also help you determine if existing network issues can be resolved by a simple software or device upgrade or reconfiguration, or if you really need to undertake a major architectural change.

Simplify your networks audits with Parallels RAS

Parallels RAS is an all-in-one virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution that can greatly simplify and streamline your network audit initiatives.

As a VDI solution, Parallels RAS enables you to host virtual applications and desktops in a centralized location such as a data center or a public cloud. Meaning, instead of installing those applications and desktops on your end- user devices (e.g., PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, and thin clients), you just install them in one place—that centralized location.

Moreover, Parallels RAS also enables you to deploy, manage, and monitor those applications and desktops from a single pane of glass. If you see that an application or OS needs updating, you can perform the update in that same central location.

So how does this simplify and streamline network auditing? In the past, if the scope of your network audit included end- user devices and software, you would have had to go to each individual device and gather all pertinent information like OS, version, installed applications, and so on.

That would be very time -consuming, especially if you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of end-user devices. With Parallels RAS, all that information can be obtained in one place.

Not only that, Parallels RAS also provides reporting and monitoring tools that allow you to obtain pertinent information about your Parallels RAS infrastructure, user sessions, and even end user devices with ease. For example, for each device, you can obtain its internet protocol (IP) address, model, media access control (MAC) address, OS version, last user logged in, and so on.

You can even get reports on application usage, server health (e.g., CPU and RAM usage), and user activity (e.g., active time, idle time, and disconnected time)

Practically everything you need to know about your endpoint devices, servers, and users can be found in one administrative interface. In other words, many network auditing tasks, as long as they involve end user devices, can be carried out easily through Parallels RAS.

Combined, these attributes can greatly simplify and shorten your network auditing process as well as free up time for your auditors. That way, they can focus on more pressing responsibilities such as finding vulnerabilities and network performance-impacting issues.

Not sure if Parallels RAS is right for you? You can take advantage of the 30-day, full-featured trial.