What is a cyber security checklist?

A cyber security checklist is a list of actions and precautions organizations and individuals can take to protect themselves against cyber threats. It outlines key areas to address and best practices to implement for robust cyber security.

Why is a cyber security checklist important?

A cyber security checklist is important for several reasons:

  • It provides a framework to develop a comprehensive cyber security strategy rather than a piecemeal approach.
  • It helps identify gaps and weaknesses in existing security measures.
  • It ensures vital aspects of cyber security are not overlooked.
  • It allows monitoring and measurement of progress on security initiatives.
  • It aids in meeting compliance requirements which often require demonstrating due diligence in cyber security.

In essence, a cyber security checklist lays the foundation for robust protection against ever-evolving cyber threats. Given the increasing sophistication of cyber criminals and the high costs of data breaches, having a rigorous set of security controls in place is essential.

What should be included in a cyber security checklist?

A comprehensive cyber security checklist should cover the following domains:

1. Organizational policies and procedures

This involves establishing information security policies, standards, procedures, and guidelines that set the overall security posture of the organization. It includes elements such as:

  • Information security and acceptable use policies
  • Password policies
  • Data classification guidelines
  • Incident response plans
  • Disaster recovery plans
  • Breach notification procedures
  • BYOD (bring your own device) policies

2. Physical security

This focuses on securing the physical perimeter and access to facilities and information systems. Key elements include:

  • Perimeter fencing, gates, barriers, and access controls
  • Secure server room and cabling protections
  • Surveillance cameras and entry/exit logging
  • ID cards and onsite personnel security checks

3. Endpoint protection

This covers the security of endpoints which access the corporate network such as desktops, laptops, servers, mobile devices, and point-of-sale terminals. Areas to address include:

  • Full-disk encryption on devices
  • Secure system configurations and patch management
  • Anti-malware, anti-ransomware, and anti-virus tools
  • Host-based intrusion detection/prevention systems
  • Restricting administrative privileges

4. Network security

This involves safeguarding the underlying network infrastructure and traffic. Key aspects are:

  • Segmenting internal network zones based on function and sensitivity
  • Hardening network devices and disabling unnecessary services
  • Firewall, IPS, and proxy filter rules to restrict traffic
  • Secure remote access methods and encryption
  • Network monitoring to detect anomalous patterns

5. Vulnerability management

This is the practice of continuously identifying, classifying, and remediating security weaknesses. Key practices include:

  • Routine vulnerability scanning and penetration testing
  • Vulnerability lifecycle tracking from detection to patch installation
  • Regular system patching, updating, and hardening to address vulnerabilities
  • Risk-based prioritization and remediation of vulnerabilities

6. Application security

This focuses on securing in-house and third-party business applications. Essential measures include:

  • Input sanitization and validation on fields
  • Encrypting sensitive data in transit and at rest
  • Preventing common application attacks like SQL injection
  • Static and dynamic application testing
  • Identity and access management controls

7. Data security

This aims to properly protect critical and sensitive business data. Key elements are:

  • Encrypting sensitive data like credentials, PII, and intellectual property
  • Wiping data on end-of-life storage devices
  • Classification schemes to indicate protection levels
  • Access controls, monitoring, and logging of access
  • Data retention policies and secure archiving

8. Identity and access management

This governs the provisioning of access and levels of privilege users have. Key aspects include:

  • Role-based access model aligning access to job functions
  • The principles of least privilege and separation of duties
  • Access deprovisioning when no longer required
  • Password policies and multi-factor authentication
  • Monitoring user permissions and activity

9.Security awareness training

This aims to establish a security-focused mindset among employees. Important training topics include:

  • Spotting phishing emails
  • Strong password hygiene
  • Social engineering red flags
  • Malware threats
  • Data handling rules
  • Incident reporting processes

10. Ongoing audits and assessments

This provides insight on the effectiveness of the overall cybersecurity program. Key activities are:

  • Annual risk assessments
  • Ongoing security posture reviews
  • Cybersecurity audits and penetration testing
  • Third-party vendor risk assessments
  • Compliance audits

Cyber Security Checklist

Based on the key domains outlined above, here is an example high-level cyber security checklist:

Category Action Item
Policies and Procedures Develop information security policies and standards covering key areas
Policies and Procedures Establish incident response and disaster recovery plans
Physical Security Implement access controls and surveillance monitoring at facilities
Physical Security Protect server rooms and technology infrastructure
Endpoint Protection Deploy antivirus/antispyware software to endpoints
Endpoint Protection Enable full-disk encryption on laptops and mobile devices
Network Security Segment internal network into logical enclaves and restrict traffic between them
Network Security Implement firewalls, IPS, proxies, and content filtering
Vulnerability Management Perform periodic vulnerability scanning and remediate critical flaws
Vulnerability Management Apply latest software patches and firmware updates
Application Security Validate and sanitize all application inputs and outputs
Application Security Test applications and infrastructure for security weaknesses
Data Security Encrypt sensitive data in transit and at rest
Data Security Enforce data access controls and activity logging
Identity & Access Management Implement principle of least privilege access
Identity & Access Management Enforce strong password policies and rotate periodically
Security Awareness Training Conduct new hire and ongoing staff security awareness training
Ongoing Assessments Perform annual cybersecurity risk assessment
Ongoing Assessments Conduct regular third-party vulnerability scans and penetration tests

This covers the high-priority cybersecurity domains and serves as a starting point for organizations to develop a comprehensive checklist tailored to their specific environment and risk profile.

How to develop and implement a cybersecurity checklist

Here are best practices on developing and rolling out a cyber security checklist in an organization:

1. Get stakeholder buy-in

First, ensure key leadership and decision-makers understand the importance of a cybersecurity checklist and support the initiative. Establish agreement this is a business priority and critical risk management activity.

2. Perform risk assessments

Conduct initial risk assessments focused on identifying vulnerabilities, threats, and potential business impacts. This will guide risk-based prioritization decisions when tailoring the checklist.

3. Review standards, regulations, and best practices

Research relevant cybersecurity standards (e.g. ISO 27001, NIST CSF), regulations (e.g. HIPAA), and industry best practice frameworks (e.g. CIS Controls) that can inform checklist content.

4. Engage key stakeholders

Solicit input from information security, IT teams, legal/compliance, and business unit leaders on priority areas, key risks, and technical considerations.

5. Create initial checklist draft

Compile inputs, research, and risk data into a master checklist covering essential cybersecurity domains and spanning people, process, and technology controls.

6. Refine and finalize the checklist

Circulate the draft checklist for feedback from stakeholders. Address any gaps or issues raised to refine and finalize the checklist contents.

7. Implement checklist controls

With the checklist established, have project teams implement the prescribed controls and safeguards within their respective areas.

8. Integrate checklist into processes

Incorporate the checklist items into organizational processes like vendor assessments, risk audits, and security policy reviews to drive adoption.

9. Review and update regularly

Revisit the checklist at least annually to add new controls and amendments as the risk landscape evolves.

Benefits of a cybersecurity checklist

Using a cybersecurity checklist offers numerous benefits including:

  • Improved security posture – Checklists cover important protections that may otherwise be overlooked.
  • Risk reduction – A checklist serves as a guide to implement key controls that reduce cyber risk exposure.
  • Awareness – They keep cybersecurity top of mind for leadership and staff.
  • Due diligence – Checklists demonstrate security diligence to auditors and regulators.
  • Accountability – Checklist items can be assigned to individuals or teams responsible for implementation.
  • Measurability – Checklist completion percentages provide a quantitative measure of security progress.

Challenges with cybersecurity checklists

Some potential challenges to consider with cybersecurity checklists include:

  • Viewing the checklist as a one-time project rather than an evolving, ongoing process.
  • Failing to customize the checklist to address industry or organization-specific risks.
  • Overlooking important controls not explicitly called out on the checklist.
  • Checklist fatigue setting in over time, hindering consistent usage and updating.
  • Focusing solely on technology controls at the expense of people and process issues.
  • Checklist items not being thoroughly implemented or enforced long-term.

Best practices for using cybersecurity checklists

Some best practices for maximizing the effectiveness of cybersecurity checklists include:

  • Getting buy-in from senior leadership on its importance
  • Keeping the checklist an active and “living” document subject to updates
  • Linking the checklist to organizational policies and processes
  • Making completion of key checklist items mandatory not optional
  • Using the checklist to guide agenda topics for security meetings
  • Tying the checklist to security awareness training for staff reinforcement
  • Checking off and documenting completed items for internal and external audits

Customizing your cybersecurity checklist

While general checklists serve as a good baseline, organizations benefit greatly from customizing to address industry and company-specific risks such as:

  • Healthcare – PHI confidentiality, HIPAA compliance, medical device security
  • Financial – GLBA and PCI DSS requirements, fraud and theft risks
  • Retail – POS system security, customer privacy risks
  • Government – CUI data protections, legislative mandates

Checklist customization should also take into account business size and resources, tolerance for disruption, in-house vs outsourced operations, insider threat risks, and other factors unique to the organization.


A well-constructed cybersecurity checklist is a core component of an effective security program. It provides a structured approach to managing cyber risk rather than an ad-hoc or reactive stance. Organizations should develop checklists tailored to their specific industry, size, and risk profile. Regular review and updating is essential given the ever-changing nature of cyber threats. Used conscientiously, checklists enable organizations to improve their security posture and resiliency.