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They may simply slide a sales brochure across the table and say, "Our record speaks for itself. If they're serious about bidding for your business, the auditors will put together a statement of work SOW , which details how they plan to meet your objectives--the methodologies and deliverables for the engagement.

The devil is in the details, and a good SOW will tell you a lot about what you should expect. The SOW will be the basis for a project plan. The SOW should include the auditor's methods for reviewing the network. If they balk, saying the information is proprietary, they may simply be trying to hide poor auditing methods, such as simply running a third-party scanner with no analysis.

While auditors may protect the source of any proprietary tools they use, they should be able to discuss the impact a tool will have and how they plan to use it. Most good auditors will freely discuss their methods and accept input from your organization's staff.

Basic methodology for reviewing systems includes research, testing and analysis. Agree on the appropriate payment plan. The bottom line for the bid is how much it will cost and what you're getting for your money. Some auditing firms quote a flat rate in return for a report detailing their findings and recommendations.

Others may estimate the number of days an audit will take, with both sides agreeing to a flexible cost, within limits. For a complex audit of an entire company, many unanticipated issues could arise requiring extensive time from the auditors, making a flat rate more attractive for the contracting organization.

If the organization has good documentation or if the scope is limited, a flexible rate may be more economical. Auditors must make certain assumptions when bidding on a project, such as having access to certain data or staff. But once the auditor is on board, don't assume anything--everything should be spelled out in writing, such as receiving copies of policies or system configuration data. These assumptions should be agreed to by both sides and include input from the units whose systems will be audited. Nobody likes surprises. Involve the business and IT unit managers of the audited systems early on.

This will smooth the process and perhaps flag some potential "Gotchas!

Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment

Consider the case of one respected auditing firm that requested that copies of the system password and firewall configuration files be e-mailed to them. One of the targeted organizations flatly refused. In fact, they thought the request was a social engineering test. Their security policy prohibited external release of any files requiring privileged access to read. If the audited organizations had been involved in the process from the start, problems like this might have been avoided. So, set the ground rules in advance:. Your managers should specify restrictions , such as time of day and testing methods to limit impact on production systems.

Most organizations concede that denial-of-service or social engineering attacks are difficult to counter, so they may restrict these from the scope of the audit. Make sure the auditors conform to your policy on handling proprietary information. If the organization forbids employees from communicating sensitive information through nonencrypted public e-mail, the auditors must respect and follow the policy. Give the auditors an indemnification statement authorizing them to probe the network. This "get out of jail free card" can be faxed to your ISP, which may become alarmed at a large volume of port scans on their address space.

As part of this "prep work," auditors can reasonably expect you to provide the basic data and documentation they need to navigate and analyze your systems. This will obviously vary with the scope and nature of the audit, but will typically include:. The entire process of analyzing and then testing your systems' security should be part of an overall plan.

Make sure the auditor details this plan up front and then follows through. The auditor should begin by reviewing all relevant policies to determine the acceptable risks. They should check for unauthorized implementations such as rogue wireless networks or unsanctioned use of remote access technology. The auditor should next confirm that the environment matches management's inventory. For example, the auditor may have been told all servers are on Linux or Solaris platforms, but a review shows some Microsoft servers. If the auditing team was selected for Unix expertise, they may not be familiar with Microsoft security issues.

If this happens, you'll want the auditor to get some Microsoft expertise on its team. That expertise is critical if auditors are expected to go beyond the obvious. Auditors often use security checklists to review known security issues and guidelines for particular platforms.

Those are fine, but they're just guides. They're no substitute for platform expertise and the intuition born of experience. The auditor will use a reputable vulnerability scanner to check OS and application patch levels against a database see cover story, "How Vulnerable? Require that the scanner's database is current and that it checks for vulnerabilities in each target system.

While most vulnerability scanners do a decent job, results may vary with different products and in different environments.

IT security auditing: Best practices for conducting audits

The auditor should use several tools see "The Auditor's Toolbox" and methods to confirm his findings--most importantly, his own experience. For example, a sharp auditor with real-world experience knows that many sysadmins "temporarily" open system privileges to transfer files or access a system. Sometimes those openings don't get closed. A scanner might miss this, but a cagey auditor would look for it.

IT Security Risk Control Management

Discovering security vulnerabilities on a live production system is one thing; testing them is another. Some organizations require proof of security exposures and want auditors to exploit the vulnerabilities. This can be dangerous.


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A successful system compromise may be a graphic way to convince management of the dangers of the exposure, but are you prepared to risk compromising or even bringing down a live system? The SOW should specify parameters of testing techniques. And the auditor should coordinate the rules of engagement with both your IT people and the business managers for the target systems. If actual testing isn't feasible, the auditor should be able to document all the steps that an attacker could take to exploit the vulnerablility.

For example, if the system password file can be overwritten by anyone with specific group privileges, the auditor can detail how he would gain access to those privileges, but not actually overwrite the file. Another method to prove the exposure would be to leave a harmless text file in a protected area of the system.

It can be inferred that the auditor could have overwritten critical files. The audit's done, and you look at the report. Did you get your money's worth? If the findings follow some standard checklist that could apply to any organization, the answer is "no. While some commercial vulnerability scanners have excellent reporting mechanisms, the auditor should prove his value-added skills by interpreting the results based on your environment and a review of your organization's policies.

That analysis should reflect your organization's risks. Tools lack analytical insight and often yield false positives. You hired expert people, not tools, to audit your systems. So, how do you know if the auditor's risk assessment is accurate? For starters, have your IT staff review the findings and testing methods and provide a written response. The auditor's analysis should follow established criteria, applied to your specific environment. This is the nitty-gritty and will help determine the remedies you implement.

IT Auditing and Controls – Planning the IT Audit

Specifically, the report should outline:. The auditor's report should include a brief executive summary stating the security posture of the organization. An executive summary shouldn't require a degree in computer science to be understood. A statement such as "fingerd was found on 10 systems" doesn't convey anything meaningful to most executives.

Information like this should be in the details of the report for review by technical staff and should specify the level of risk. Finally, there are occasions when auditors will fail to find any significant vulnerabilities. Like tabloid reporters on a slow news day, some auditors inflate the significance of trivial security issues. What do you say if there's nothing to say? Rather than inflate trivial concerns, the auditors should detail their testing methods and acknowledge a good security posture.

To add value, they could point out areas for future concern or suggest security enhancements to consider. However, it should be clear that the audited system's security health is good and not dependent on the recommendations. Remember, the purpose of the audit is to get an accurate snapshot of your organization's security posture and provide a road map for improving it.

Do it right, and do it regularly, and your systems will be more secure with each passing year. She has more than 20 years experience in Unix system administration, primarily focused on security.

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Maintenance is one area where Carole Fennelly, Contributor. How to manage a successful audit Establish a security baseline through annual audits. Spell out your objectives. Choose auditors with "real" security experience.

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Involve business unit managers early. Ray Pompon is currently the Director of Security at Linedata. With over 20 years of experience in Internet security, he works closely with Federal investigators in cyber-crime investigations and apprehensions. He has been directly involved in several major intrusion cases, including the FBI undercover Flyhook operation and the NW Hospital botnet prosecution.

He is a lecturer and on the board of advisors for three information assurance certificate programs at the University of Washington. Ray has written many articles and white papers on advanced technology topics and is frequently asked to speak as a subject matter expert on Internet security issues. National journalists have solicited and quoted his thoughts and perspective on the topic of computer security numerous times.

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