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Audit is not a 4-letter word

Posted by Preston on 2009-02-20

As a system administrator, I loathed being audited. Not because I feared that it would expose holes in the security or policies of my systems, but rather because for the most part, auditing was usually conducted by incompetant staff at big name auditing/taxation companies. Now, I have no doubt that when it comes to their original auditing domains, namely taxation and accounting, such companies do usually offer excellent services.

For the most part though I’ve found that for anything outside of absolute basic system administration reviews, such companies offer poor feedback that’s often erroneous to the point of being farcical. (For example, having a password field of ‘x’ in /etc/passwd pointed out as being “insecure” having failed to note the use of shadow password files…)

So, having undoubtedly just annoyed quite a few people, I’ll go on to explain why auditing shouldn’t be a terrible experience if you’re in the storage and data protection domain. More importantly, I’ll explain how auditing can be changed from an unpleasant experience where it’s necessary to explain to management they wasted their money, to one where you, and your company, get value out of it.

The best auditing is conducted by experts in the field. Not the field of auditing, but the field of what you want audited. So, in order to get a decent and useful audit of your storage and data protection systems, you need to follow these rules:

  1. It should be done from someone outside your company.
  2. It should be done by someone who won’t be assigned any work as a result of the audit.
  3. It should be done by someone with creditionals (e.g., registered partners of companies, or like-companies for the products you’re using).

This isn’t to say that whomever does the audit should never get any further work from your company, but rather, if they make recommendations that you have to buy X, Y and Z to resolve the issues they’ve highlighted, they’re doing it out of honesty because they won’t get to sell them to you.

Moving on, there’s a few more rules you should also follow in order to get a successful audit:

  1. You must assign a champion within your company who has sufficient authority to ensure that the staff conducting the audit get access and feedback they require.
  2. You must provide direction to the auditing company – that is, outline what you need investigated and the structure of the results you want. However, this can be dangerous if mishandled, so most importantly follow the next rule…
  3. You must provide freedom for the auditing company to expand beyond your direction to encompass and point out other issues that you may not have anticipated in your directional statement.

Finally, the audit process should start with a brainstorming/whiteboarding session, and the results should be presented in a similar session.

There’s more to auditing than the above, but if you step away from the ‘regular’ auditing companies that can offer little assistance in storage and data protection, you will actually get a quality result.


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