What is IT audit readiness and why should IT managers pursue it?

Published | Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

As an IT manager, you’ve got a long list of responsibilities—and as the major hub of almost any organization, it’s not surprising that between regulations, risks, controls, and frameworks, things can get pretty complicated.

Being audit ready means you’re managing your IT risks, efficiently dealing with security, controls, and compliance, and you’ve done the necessary work to avoid any unpleasant surprises in an IT audit report.

Everything is in place for the auditors to come in and do their job. Sure, it requires some upfront work, the right people, and of course, the right technology, but when you’re IT audit ready, you’ll spend less time actually dealing with audits and have more time available for mission-critical work.

9 steps to IT audit readiness

These steps will help give you an idea of the path towards IT audit readiness. You can get more detail, plus challenges and technology requirements for each step in our IT Audit Readiness eBook.

1. Identify, assess, and classify IT risks

First, you need to know what risks your IT department faces. Looking at all of your IT assets, both tangible (information) and intangible (reputation), determine what could be compromised. Now think about all the ways those assets could be at risk. An example of this would include unauthorized systems access.

Now classify your risks by impact: low, medium, or high. This will help you prioritize which to tackle first. Read more about assessing low-, medium-, and high-priority risks.

2. Identify controls

With your list of risks defined and prioritized, it’s time to pair them with controls. Starting with the risks that you identified as high impact, find ways to mitigate or manage the risk—these are your controls. A control in the previous unauthorized access example would be a firewall to prevent external system access, or in the case of SOC reporting, ensuring that anyone accessing the system remotely is authorized.

3. Map controls to a master framework library

How many of your controls also tick a box in the current frameworks followed by your organization? In the above example, the control (making sure anyone who logs into the system remotely has proper authorization) will mitigate the risk (data breaches), which also mitigates the enterprise risk (reputational and strategic). But this is also a required control in order to be SOC compliant. So you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone.

5. Assess effectiveness of existing controls

Your controls are now active, but are they operating as expected? There’s a few ways to test this. Firstly, use analytics to query your data and spot problems, like identifying high-risk passwords that are set to never expire. And the second way to test your controls is by sending self-assessment surveys and questionnaires to control owners.

Watch a short video on sending questionnaires in ACL to learn more.

6. Capture, track, and report deficiencies

When you find a control that isn’t working as expected, it’s important to act fast. In many cases, recurring data analysis can be used to strengthen controls or add an extra layer of control. For example, if controls over access to sensitive data aren’t fully effective, you can use regular data analyses to find instances of risky access. By finding this early and often, you can deal with it before it becomes a major issue.

7. Monitor and automate testing of controls

Daily, weekly, or monthly monitoring using analytics means you’ll always be up to date on how effective your risk management and control activities are. It will vary by organization, but common IT activities that can be monitored include use of admin and special systems access, firewall changes, segregation of duties, physical access logs, or remote access logs.

8. Flag exceptions, review, investigate, and remediate

During this step, often called exception/issue management, you’d take the issues identified from your automated testing and weed out the false positives from the actual control breakdowns. Once you have your control breakdowns isolated, you’ll action them. This could include various forms of remediation including restricting or revoking access to systems or data, or changing the control to mitigate the chance of this breakdown happening again.

9. Ongoing improvement of processes

This is the final step in your journey towards IT audit readiness. It’s the constant tweaks and improvements that will be made over time as your program matures. This practice will result in a reduction of risks over time and an improvement of your control process through ongoing testing, monitoring, and addressing the exceptions.

Congratulations! You’re now in that highly coveted state of IT audit readiness!

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