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If you are an auditee, an Ordinary Mortal about to be visited for the first time by an IT auditor, you will find herein some clues about the dreadful grilling you are about to endure.
The FAQ should also prove beneficial for students and others nuts brave enough to consider actually becoming IT auditors.
IT auditing is a branch of general auditing concerned primarily with governance, risk, control and compliance in relation to IT, i.e. In short, IT auditors review the organization’s risks relating to IT systems, networks, processes, data and information.
Non-compliance - or rather the potentially adverse consequences and penalties arising from, or relating to, disregard of various internally-derived and externally-imposed obligations (laws, regulations, strategies, policies, standards, contracts, agreements, understandings and ethical codes) in the IT and information sphere (e.g. Management call-in the auditors to review stuff and the auditors in turn produce formal reports and recommendations that circulate to management, but they operate independently in order to avoid management directing them away from or turning a blind ear to the things they would rather not deal with.
Examination - auditing involved the gathering and assessment of factual information from various sources.
Opinion - auditors provide both objective facts and informed but subjective opinions on a given situation. Control improvements - improving the system of controls generally means adding necessary controls that were missing, or at least improving those that were in place before the auditors started poking around. Limit - risks, like fraudulent politicians, porn, spam and bugs, can be reduced but not totally eliminated. Risk – to an auditor - is the chance that something might go horribly wrong to the organization, mostly. For the last, final and ultimate word on this subject, read the IIA’s FAQs about the profession of internal auditing, governance And All That. The independent eye can often see risks in a situation that those intimately involved with it either cannot see or cannot face.
The bottom line here is that auditors inevitably take a greater interest if the stakes are high. One of the most obvious sources of Best Practice for information security is ISO, the coordinating body for most of the world’s national standards bodies.
Professional bodies such as ISACA, (ISC)2, SANS, ISSA and ISF also document and promote infosec Best Practices. Some industry bodies define their own information risk and security related standards too e.g. Governments and legislatures define standards in the forms of laws and regulations for electronic signatures, copyright, privacy, governance etc.
Information risk, security and audit professionals (CISSPs, CISMs and others) typically have in their heads their own unique professional experiences, some of which they genuinely believe to be best practices. Not exactly although some senior auditees would find it convenient to lock it in this particular box, since they can declare that anything not explicitly related to a stated requirement is Out Of Scope (no matter how valid, interesting or concerning it may be).
For more than a decade now, governance has been a genuine solid-gold buzzword, essentially referring to the overall direction, monitoring and control of the corporation as a hole.
Information security managers develop, implement and operate information security control systems for ICT governance.
Whilst that may be reasonably straightforward in theory, there is a lot of confusion about the terms in practice. For a rather formal perspective on the relationship between auditing and governance, read the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB)’s Auditing Standards. Good IT auditors have a solid understanding of the practicalities of implementing their recommendations, yet are able to push certain auditees beyond their comfort zones, with a big pointy stick or electric cattle prod if absolutely necessary. However, different organizations go about IT auditing in different ways and individual auditors have their own favourite and often far more colourful ways of working.
Fieldwork - gathering evidence by interviewing staff and managers, reviewing documents, printouts and data, observing processes in action etc. Analysis - this step involves desperately sorting out, reviewing and trying to make sense of all that evidence gathered earlier. Steps 3 and 4 may on occasions involve the use of automated data analysis tools such as ACL or IDEA, if not MS Excel (perhaps with bolt-on-goodies such as TopCAATs), Access and hand-crafted SQL queries. Step 5 - Reporting - is the official focus of the audit process and a great deal of attention is paid to it by both auditors and auditees.
The actual issues and recommendations are blithely ignored as long as humanly possible until, eventually, cold hard reality finally starts to dawn.
In our limited and distinctly cynical experience, the complete sequence of events for a discrete audit assignment normally takes months from start-to-finish, almost regardless of the amount of time spent actually doing the fieldwork and analysis. As a rule of thumb, roughly equal amounts of elapsed time should be allocated to each of the six or seven steps noted above. Progressive organizations audit their IT development projects and other major change projects throughout the project lifecycles, from cradle-to-grave (well from inception to Post Implementation Review at least). Next, I like to develop some reasonably realistic, business-oriented scenarios in which the high risks could conceivably come to pass.
After all that preparation (which the auditees generally never see and don’t appreciate), the actual audit fieldwork is quite straightforward!
The hardest bit of all involves taking all the information from the previous steps into account, thinking it over, checking the details and making sense of it in your head, then developing rational arguments for why Something Must Be Done. The scope of a particular IT audit is normally defined by the scoping document produced near the start of the assignment. The scope of IT Audit, the function, is hard to define as it depends on the size and make-up of the audit team: in large teams, IT Audit may have a number of dedicated, specialised and qualified staff solely responsible for technology auditing, but more often the IT auditors are expected to contribute to other types of audit (and vice versa). The remit of the Department (for Internal Audit) or the contract (External Audit) in relation to other review and control functions (e.g. External Auditors are always employed by a separate organization and are normally contracted by the client to perform audits as part of the process of preparing formal company accounts, or for accredited certification purposes. Internal Auditors, by contrast, are permanently employed by the organization to examine and comment on its control systems and processes on an ongoing basis, although (as noted earlier) they do not normally report to the organization’s conventional executive management structure.
Certain External Auditors like to sell consultancy services to their audit clients but this creates an interesting moral dilemma and a governance paradox.
IT management or governance audits: review the organization, structure, strategy, work planning, resourcing, budgeting, cost controls etc. If you’re between 62 and full retirement age and you continue to work, Social Security will hold back $1 in benefits for every $2 you earn over $15,480 in 2014.
Under the rules, you have to have been married for at least 10 years, be 62 or older and be unmarried.
Once your husband files for his benefits, you become eligible for a spousal benefit on his work record.

However, if you take your survivor benefit before full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced.
You probably will pay taxes on some of your Social Security if you file as an individual and your combined income is more than $25,000. Our aim in fact is to allay your worst fears by explaining the IT audit process straightforwardly.
Auditors should not be directly involved with the operations or management of a function being audited. It is important that the formal outputs of the auditing process (primarily audit reports containing recommendations for control improvements) are traceable to valid information sources. Auditors need to refer to information regarding the business processes and systems under review (such as completed data-entry forms, system-generated reports and, of course, the people involved in doing or managing the relevant business processes).
Although subjective and often jaundiced, our opinions are based on an interpretation of the facts and are open to legitimate challenge. A control system which is only partially effective may be better than nothing or it may give a false sense of security: either way, the auditor will probably not be entirely impressed. In very rare cases, auditors may actually recommend removing controls, generally because they are ineffective, disruptive or wasteful but this concept is so counter-cultural that Heads of Audit take a lot of persuading, I can tell you. Good business involves minimising unnecessary risks cost-effectively and being prepared for the worst if, despite everything, things go wrong (contingency planning).
With training and experience, auditors come to appreciate that risk is not a purely theoretical concept – bad stuff really does happen sometimes. The insurance man expects his client to install pick-proof locks as a condition of insuring against burglary. Bad managers don’t appreciate the risks, take risks with little thought as to the consequences, or live in hope of being long gone before the brown stuff hits the fan, or they conversely avoid taking perfectly acceptable risks because they misunderstand and inappropriately fear the consequences.
We could argue all day about whether they truly are best, good or indifferent according to the professional’s volume (length, breadth and depth) of experience but in some happy cases, they actually are. Don’t make the mistake of presuming that certified organizations are actually secure - oh no, they were merely sufficiently compliant to have convinced the auditors of that fact at some point. Governance can be considered at various levels such as broad pan-organizational controls (corporate governance) or controls over individual projects or systems (project and systems governance).
This step may include the use of Computer Aided Audit Techniques (CAATs) - more info below. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Treats) or PEST (Political, Economic, Social, Technological) techniques may come in handy. Anyway, somehow the audit findings are expressed, summarised and analysed, and tentative recommendations are made in the First Draft Report. To calculate this, simply enter those dates and times into a spreadsheet and have the spreadsheet calculate and display the difference.
The reporting and closure phases are often very drawn out, especially for those audits that are too broadly scoped, reveal particularly unwelcome news or recommend substantial changes. For the arithemetically-challenged, that means an audit planned to include about a week of fieldwork will take approximately six or seven weeks in total.
The auditors typically sit-in on project management meetings, observing and quietly commenting or mentoring where it helps.
You can use a formal risk assessment method (there’s plenty to choose from) but personally I prefer simply to think carefully and separately about the threats (generally the people, things or situations that could potentially cause loss), vulnerabilities (any weaknesses in the system of controls that might be exploited by threats) and impacts (what would be the [worst case] effects if some of those threats actually materialized and hit some of your vulnerabilities?), or to contemplate the likelihood and severity of various incidents. These help me think-through the risks and are helpful if, later on, people start pushing back when I’m asking those awkward questions. This is an important step, drawing on the control objectives and specific controls that you are going to go looking for. You’re asking me to go directly to step 3 and come up with specific audit questions to ask your sysadmins about access control on a system of which I have no knowledge at all. In really small, unenlightened audit teams, it is not uncommon for the IT auditor to be treated as the Ravenous Bugblattered Beast of Traal.
Whereas some departments refer to formal definitions and relations remain distinctly frosty or strained, audit-friendly or audit-tolerant folk tend to be more chilled-out to the extent that auditors may occasionally be called upon to perform conventional (internal) consultancy roles. In practice, External Auditors are mostly employed for a few months a year to examine and provide a formal opinion on the veracity of the organization’s financial accounts.
External auditors have limited internal knowledge of the organization, just as black box testers start with only a general understanding of the application systems they test. Your basic benefit is keyed to your “full retirement age” (FRA), which is determined by your birth year. Then in the year you reach full retirement age, you’ll be subject to a new earnings limit of $41,400, and $1 in benefits will be subtracted for every $3 earned above that amount. Your ex-spouse must be eligible for benefits, and the amount you could receive on your own work record must be smaller than what you would get on your ex-spouse’s record.
If you are both at full retirement age, you can receive an amount equal to 50 percent of his benefit. You can take it as early as 60, or at age 50 if you are disabled and your disability started before or within seven years of your spouse’s death.
The same holds if you file a joint return with your spouse and your income is more than $32,000.
It will give you four choices as to how much money you want to withhold: 25 percent, 15 percent, 10 percent or 7 percent.
Reading the whole FAQ will give you a good overview of the whole subject and should help put it into context but don’t feel too embarrassed about being bored stiff by the tenth line or earlier if you are a quick reader.
IT auditors are interested in how IT systems, networks and peripherals, plus the related procedures for designing, developing, testing, configuring, implementing, using, managing and maintaining them, handle risks to the organization. They should report to a separate line of management and be free to state the facts of a situation and their honest opinions without fear of recrimination from those in the subject area.
The auditor tries to persuade management that fitting a shiny new 5-lever mortise lock on a rotten door is a false economy. Good managers will often push the boundaries by cutting corners and deliberately taking acceptable risks in order to minimise costs and maximise net gain, but first they make the effort to understand what they are getting into.
An IT auditor might be asked to review certain aspects of accounting within the IT department (e.g.
This is in the nature of a skilled craft - the craftsman brings his own individual mix of skills, competencies, attributes and experience to each job, and is well placed to select and adapt generic standards to the task at hand. Worse still, the scope of the certification may cover only a specific and perhaps minor part of the organization. Similarly in respect of risk management, the scope can apply across the entire enterprise (taking in commercial, operational, market, financial, regulatory and other risks) or just to specific business units, projects, systems, departments or whatever. It often involves retracing one’s steps, going back to the previous steps in an attempt to either fill-in or divert-around unfortunate holes and inconvenient inconsistencies in the gathering dossier of evidence. Neither the best nor the worst organizations do audit follow-ups, in both cases because there is literally no point.
These can help sift through vast amounts of data on a system to identify problem areas such as out-of-range values and Things That Simply Don’t Add Up (aka the Fishy Smell Test).

Conversely, narrowly focused audits on uncontentious material may be completed in just a few days … but then one would have to ask why such audits are ever performed as audit resources are normally best directed to investigate high-risk and generally more controversial issues. In these cases, audits last as long as the projects in elapsed time but hopefully consume just a few percent of the total project man-days and biscuits. Their formal opinion is normally presented in a highly-stylised form in the organization’s annual report to shareholders. In some organizations, the External and Internal Auditors have separate but complementary areas of scope: External Auditors primarily cover the core financial systems whilst Internal Auditors primarily cover the remainder. This gives them no choice but to deal with what they find as they find it, being essentially in the same situation as external hackers.
However, after your full retirement birthday, the earnings limits go away, and you can earn as much as you like. If you file earlier, however, your benefit will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months left until your FRA. We spend the bulk of our audit time dealing with the people rather than the IT but being able competently to audit the IT is what sets us apart from the riff-raff and hoi-palloi. Furthermore, all auditors normally interview staff in the business areas under review and may use other observational techniques to examine business processes in action.
If you have a fool-poof way to calculate the net effect of information security risks and controls, tell me privately and I’ll patent it. If an auditor sees a boy taking his first tentative ride on a new bicycle, he sees the potential for grazed knees. He understands that the insurance man sees the sales bonus, the manager sees the hole in his budget, the carpenter sees the hole in the door and the burglar sees a business opportunity. Outstanding managers consistently make good calls at the perfect time, consider the potential downsides and often have contingency arrangements just-in-case.
The auditors might trace the origin of the unlicensed software to understand why the control processes failed (this is one reason why auditors are turned on by good audit trails). Automated system security analysis, configuration or vulnerability management and security benchmarking tools are also a boon for reviewing security parameters, and of course basic security management functions that are built-in to modern systems can help with log analysis, reviewing user access rights etc.
Audits on well-established IT systems and processes often have the dubious benefit of drawing on a long, painful history of actual security incidents - so incident records and reports may be another source of ammo.
If you want to do a good job and be reasonably certain of not missing any serious risks, you really need to start with steps 1 and 2 above to figure out your own questions. Sensible audit plans allow for a bit of both through mixing broadly-scoped high-level audits (designed to find the most important risk areas) with narrowly-scoped in-depth audits (to give those pesky high risk areas a thorough going-over), and clever audit managers allow staff to blow the budget on certain jobs that somehow deserve more time.
Truly effective audit functions earn their stripes by being consistently thorough and professional, firm but fair. There is an important point here: audit should align itself with risks that should be of concern to the organisation, plus or minus fudge-factors. Internal auditors have much greater knowledge of the organization, just as white (or crystal) box testers have access to application system specifications, designs etc.
At that point, Social Security also will raise your monthly payment so as to give you back, over time, benefits that were denied to you by the earnings limits. I sincerely hope that it answers all your basic questions about IT auditing, but if not, please see the feedback section towards the end – I would really appreciate your feedback and suggestions on how to improve this FAQ. Just pick some slightly-less-boring topics from the weird contents brain thingummy above and browse the hyperlinks until you slump exhausted over your keyboard. Like many IT professionals, we may at times appear to view people as peripheral devices responsible for generating inputs and consuming outputs, and as the principle generators of flaws, bugs and errors, but that’s a cynical perspective. It’s about being freethinking, able to gather the facts and consider situations objectively.
Steadfastly refusing to sign off the company accounts without an adverse audit comment, no matter how carefully crafted, has a strangely galvanic effect on most CEOs.
The obvious problem when designing, implementing, managing and maintaining a system of controls is to strike a balance between the cost of control and the cost of impacts resulting from risks that materialise.
However, beware the advice of recent college graduates without Real World Experience, some of whom scored higher on theory than common sense. They mostly see compliance failures not so much as findings as symptoms of deeper problems, indicators of diseases worth probing in more depth. Undeniable evidence of a few unlicensed copies of Office may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things but might be exactly the lever necessary to get management to wake up and smell the coffee, then fix a broken IT asset management system. It takes a brave audit manager to accept that an audit finding nothing reportable should be stopped early but it does happen, when the planets align and the moon turns blue. A bit of internal marketing by the Head of Audit and indeed Audit Managers and even lowly auditors can definitely improve audit’s brand.
Applicants’ intellectual capacity is presumably less important than their dress sense. If you have a control that is better, in your context, than my control in my context, which is Best? Sometimes a quiet word in the CEO’s ear about the consequences (in terms of share price, career progression or jail sentence) if certain governance issues are not promptly resolved can work wonders.
This realisation is often a trigger to revisit the findings and analysis and to perhaps challenge those split infinitives just for good measure.
That’s why there are high-level and low-level audits, periodic audits, and management requested Special Investigations. These are the things that would keep you, the system owners, the CEO, the shareholders, the business partners and the regulators (if only they knew!) awake at night.
The Social Security Administration and AARP have calculators that can give you an estimate of your future payments.
This sense of perspective and foreboding is what distinguishes a good auditor, or indeed an information security professional from a cynic. At the end of the day, Management not Audit carry the can (except perhaps for Arthur Anderson LLP as a result of the Enron debacle). They are the main areas of concern that you will need to explore in the actual audit fieldwork. It gives auditors something in common with insurance salesmen, weather forecasters and soothsayers. It’s also why Audit Directors and Heads of Audit keep those Little Black Books locked away in their desks. IT auditors genuinely believe that the lottery is, in reality, a tax on the numerically-challenged. Clandestine meetings are held in dimly-lit corridors between senior auditees and senior auditors to reach a negotiated but fragile settlement not unlike the Gaza Strip. And so, eventually, the Final Final Final Definitely The Last Draft Ever becomes Issued with a dull thud, ripple, splash or fireworks depending on the reception it receives.

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