Why Security Audits Are More Important Than Ever
According to a study by URL Genius, TikTok and YouTube track more user data than any other social media apps. The difference between the two is YouTube is primarily trying to improve its service and user experience…. but no one really knows what TikTok is doing with the information.
Half the time it isn’t even TikTok itself that tracks you on TikTok, as the app openly allows third-party trackers to collect user data. It’s gotten so bad the FBI issued a warning that TikTok could potentially be used to control your device. Republicans even voted on a bill to ban TikTok nationwide.
The truth? Privacy-invasive technology is more prominent than ever. It’s hard to know who you can trust. That’s where security audits come in. Let’s explore how security audits ensure compliance with privacy and security laws, and build user trust.
Privacy-Invasive Technology is A Worldwide Issue
Although more prevalent in the US, invading online privacy isn’t a region-specific problem. If you’re lucky, data use is limited to internal company growth, like perfecting algorithms and increasing user satisfaction. However, not all companies use these basic ethics.
Companies worldwide use trackers, shady data collection practices, and more to gather whatever online data they can. Some companies even profit from allowing third parties to use your data — case, and point, TikTok. This can lead to malware-riddled SMS or email messages hijacking your device.
Why US Citizens Are More Vulnerable
Surveillance marketing is big business in the US. Companies become more privacy-invasive yearly, creating new algorithms and software to gather as much data as possible. Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have cohesive federal legislation to protect citizens’ online privacy.
Plans to adopt legislation similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are in the works, though nothing has passed through Congress yet. Most states have patchy online privacy regulations, and many cover basics but leave room for interpretation.
So far, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is the closest any US state has come to the GDPR — which, despite its flaws, is one of the most comprehensive online privacy laws in the world. Now, several other states are adopting legislation similar to the CCPA, albeit slowly.
The lack of cohesive federal and state legislation means online privacy protection varies across the US, including how websites and services collect, store, and use your personal information. The CCPA hits all the major bases, but it doesn’t protect residents’ data if they travel outside of California.
What does this mean on a larger scale? It means it’s up to you to protect your data if you live in the US..
What Is A Security Audit?
The most trustworthy security audits are independent reviews examining a company’s system records, infrastructure, and activities. Independent reviews are performed by an outside resource to prevent bias. Audits determine if system control measures are valid, ensure compliance with security and privacy policies, and detect system flaws.
A company running an independent cybersecurity audit needs to open its system to outside security experts. It may sound scary, but professional auditors are bound by ultra-specific contractual terms, and they perform their work in a controlled manner. Although independent audits require a lot of time and resources, there’s no better way to build user trust — especially for a VPN.
You rely on a VPN for privacy and security, and independent audits confirm whether your VPN’s claims about your privacy are true. When a VPN provider performs an independent system review, it’s saying “We have nothing to hide and if something is wrong, we’ll fix it”.
Once the security audit is complete, the reviewer recommends ways a company can improve on existing infrastructure to increase security and meet current legal regulations.
The Importance of Regular Security Audits
It’s vital to stress the importance of regular security audits for all companies, especially in the digital age. Still, the need is more pressing for companies consistently handling large amounts of personally identifiable information (PII). This includes VPNs, hospitals, banks, and more. Let’s discover a few ways regular security audits benefit companies.
Identify System Flaws
A security audit gives a company insight into the effectiveness of its current security infrastructure. Audits also decrease the risk of network attacks and data breaches by identifying flaws and ways to improve the system. This includes recommendations for:
- 🔒 How to improve existing system security and privacy (e.g., Measures to include two-factor authentication software for added security, or limiting physical access to system hardware)
- 🔒 Which hardware and software needs replacing (e.g., Using RAM-only servers to wipe user data on reboot instead of an HDD-based option, or repairing software/code containing backdoors which can potentially allow system hijacking)
- 🔒 Whether the system needs an overhaul (e.g., Total restructuring because the system is unfit for purpose and/or non-compliant)
Track Data Flow & Security
An essential part of security audits on companies handling PII is generating findings on data flow and security. This means determining if security/privacy policies, procedures, and controls adequately protect user data. Auditors gauge the effectiveness of the control measures in place in the event of a data breach or system failure.
Ensure Compliance with Current Regulations
All of the online privacy and security regulations in the world are useless if companies refuse to enforce them. Security audits hold companies accountable for upholding laws by checking compliance with current state, federal, and international regulations.
A company then has a set amount of time to fix any non-compliance issues. If issues are addressed by the set date and compliance is confirmed, no other action is necessary. When issues are not addressed in a timely manner, the auditor(s) may escalate the issue or enforce fines.
Trust has to be earned, it can’t be bought or forced. When it comes to your personal information, nothing is more important than trusting the services you allow to handle your data.
Plenty of privacy or no logs claims on websites are just lip service. If you actually read them, you’ll find plenty of loopholes for the company to exploit. It’s important for services to back policies with tangible evidence of follow-through procedures.
One of the most beneficial aspects of an independent system audit is it can increase user trust in a company or service — especially if the service (for instance, a VPN) handles large amounts of sensitive data. Regularly performing system audits for security and privacy is a win, regardless of the outcome.
When an issue is found, you can rest easy knowing a company cares enough to perform an independent audit and face the repercussions of a poor report (e.g., complete system overhaul, security patches/fixes, updated policies, or steps toward legal compliance).
System audits with no areas of real concern in regard to system architecture, controls, compliance, or policy and legislative enforcement, mean the company or service is worthy of your trust.
|Cybersecurity Strategies Gaining Momentum: Zero-Trust Solutions
Many VPNs and other online services now implement zero-trust solutions. This means a zero-trust service only uses the system resources necessary for it to function properly — it won’t request access to anything it doesn’t need.
This isn’t a surprising development considering several VPNs, social media platforms, streaming apps, and websites have experienced data breaches* in the last two years. These are just a few of the companies affected:
*All data breach information gathered from public statements by the companies experiencing the breach.
Building Trust — PIA’s Privacy Mission
PIA’s 2022 audit by Deloitte proved what we have been saying all along, namely that we don’t track our customers, and that we store any logs.
We designed the network to prevent any form of data retention. This safeguard works on multiple levels, as there’s no data to be stolen even in the highly unlikely event of unauthorized access. Not even the smallest trace of user activity is left on our system.
The audit isn’t the only thing to confirm the validity of our zero-logs VPN, our claims have been court-tested. The FBI subpoenaed our VPN to provide user information for two court cases.
We cooperated fully, per federal law, but had no useful information to provide the FBI. PIA could only show which server location a user connected to, but no information on what they used it for because we don’t keep any. Our No Logs policy is solid.
Stay Vigilant, Protect Your Privacy
Be discerning about the companies you trust with your data. Using apps and websites from companies performing security audits is a great step in protecting your data. Security audits keep companies honest, but only if they’re transparent about the findings. This is why your actions to protect your online privacy matter most.
Always check data collection and storage policies for any site or app you use on your device. Look into which permissions apps require, and if any seem shady, don’t install the app.
A security audit is preferably an independent assessment by an auditor or team of auditors, though some companies use internal auditors. It evaluates IT system security and compliance with appropriate state, federal, and international regulations. Learn more about the importance of performing regular security audits above.
Any company regularly handling private data, including a VPN, should perform security audits when needed. Audits find potential issues in system infrastructure, establish the validity of a VPN’s No Logs policy, and assess the security of its server network.
Yes. American federal laws haven’t caught up with more comprehensive laws like Europe’s GDPR. Individual state laws also vary. This leaves plenty of room for companies to interpret the laws as they see fit.
Luckily, when you can use PIA VPN and get secure nationwide coverage. We have servers in all 50 states and DC, allowing you to mask your online data anywhere in the US with the click of a button.
Yes. Deloitte Audit completed an independent security audit of PIA in June of 2022. The audit confirmed our server configurations are in alignment with our privacy policies — we don’t pinpoint your activity or personally identify you. Find out more about PIA’s security audit and discover why we are one of the best VPNs for privacy and security.