Many IT Professionals dread the often painful IT Audit. The fact that an (internal) audit is intended to help provide a first line of defense to steer clear of audit and regulatory violations does not seem to allay these concerns and I have known many IT professionals (some of them my boss at the time) who would do almost anything to cover up issues that were potentially discoverable by IT auditors. This avoidance behavior can increase risk in many ways and should it-self be avoided whenever possible. The first problem is that covering up issues could result in even more serious findings – especially if senior officials discover that you failed to answer questions honestly. The second problem with covering up is that the risk and poblems that could have been identified still remain and could be potentially discoverable by external auditors or even regulatory authorities. This gets very serious when a system outage occurs (that impacts customers) and it is discovered that there was an underlying issue that should have been identified and addressed. Finally, failure to identify and correct key IT deficiencies leaves the organization at continued risk for serious and costly production errors. In this article I will discuss some of the common audits issues often found in IT organizations and how you can address these risks and ultimately get your auditors to put away their pens!
Concerns About Audit
I believe that much of the concern around internal audit is unfounded, and with some suitable preparation you can comply with audit requirements and maybe even improve your productivity and quality. The first step is to understand the scope and purpose of the audit. Some audits are intended to test internal controls and affirm compliance with either corporate policy or perhaps industry regulatory requirements. Auditors often begin their search by assessing internal controls for change management. For configuration and release management, the requirement is for the organization to control and manage changes to production (or controlled test environments). Having a well-defined change management process is specified in almost every configuration management related industry standard and framework. For organizations that must comply with section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002, the ISACA Cobit framework provides guidance. I have worked in organizations that were contractually required to have processes defined within the guidelines of CMMI Levels 1 and 2. Other companies wanted to demonstrate that they have a quality management system (QMS) in place and thus achieve ISO 9001 certification. The scope of the audit is essential to understand so that you can gather the required information and be fully prepared.
Preparation is Key
No matter how well prepared you are, it always seems like auditors can find something to write up. Sometimes this seems reasonable and at other times, you may feel that they are nit picking. It is usually better when the auditor identifies issues that are relevant and result in findings that help identify risks that we would want to mitigate instead of having an external auditor discover them or even worse a regulatory official such as the Office of the Currency or the Fed. Many government agencies have findings that have been made public by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
You also need to consider which stakeholders should participate in the audit. Your company may have an audit liaison who should be included in all discussions with internal audit. There are times when you may need to have a subject matter expert (SME) with you or perhaps even your boss. As the build and release engineer, I am often interviewed to verify that there is a separation of controls when it comes to building, packaging and deploying releases. Equally important is the ability to conduct a configuration audit to verify that the correct physical configuration items (CI) are in place. There is also a functional configuration audit that verifies that the CIs are behaving as they should. This is well defined in the IEEE 828 Configuration Management standard among other industry standards and frameworks. If your team has a well written CM Plan based upon industry standards (e.g. IEEE 828, EIA 649B) then your audit may be completed quickly enough for you to be home in time for dinner and your favorite movie. Given that you proactively established the essential IT controls – it is no surprise that you do not need to fear the dreaded (by others) IT audit.
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