IT compliance testing is a crucial discipline to keep your organization safe from hacking and painful audit findings. That’s why you may have created an IT controls manual, procedures and other documents. However, you may not have a plan in place to regularly and thoroughly test those controls.
Why You Need To Know About IT Controls Testing Mistakes
Winning management time, support and resources for IT compliance takes a variety of methods. Some stakeholders will be interested in keeping with IT best practices. Others will only invest resources when they see the consequences front and center. Review these common mistakes and see which ones apply to your organization’s goals.
Mistake 1: Failing to identify all of the IT controls in place
Most technology systems, especially those in the enterprise, have some kind of controls in place. In some cases, controls may be passive, such as collecting log data of system changes. In other instances, IT controls may be more sophisticated, like requiring manager or executive approval for specific actions like payments for large dollar value invoices.
This mistake matters! Without a full picture, you run the risk of testing only those controls that you personally know. As a result, you are likely to have a false sense of confidence in your IT control environment.
Mistake 2: Not assessing IT control effectiveness regularly
Your company’s IT controls may have been designed several years ago. Ask yourself how much the organization’s technology and context have changed since IT controls were developed. For instance, you may have implemented several more cloud applications or acquired another company. All of these changes can impact IT control effectiveness.
A failure to assess IT control effectiveness matters because controls can act as a warning light on a plane. If pilots did not have warning systems about landing gear problems, the risk of a crash or other problem would be much higher. A pilot would not feel comfortable flying if those warning systems were not working or had not been tested. The same principle applies to your IT security and controls.
Mistake 3: Failing to seek outside external assessment
Maintaining objectivity in IT compliance testing is a tough assignment. After you have reviewed the same controls quarter after quarter, it is natural to develop blind spots. You might think, “I’ve checked this control a dozen times and never seen a problem, so I’ll skip it this time.” That’s not the only issue. Your organization’s overall control framework may lag behind industry best practices if you never get an outside perspective.
Take inspiration from the Institute of Internal Auditors, which requires external assessments for audit departments periodically. These outside reviews help auditors detect gaps, obtain adequate budgets, and keep up with their peers. If an external expert has never reviewed your IT compliance testing approach, you may be lagging behind your peers.
Mistake 4: Not designing IT controls based on risk
Depending on your company’s size and complexity, there are many different ways to build and implement IT controls. In some areas, you might have detective controls to flag problems. In other functions, like finance, you might emphasize preventive controls. Some companies choose their IT controls based on what is most comfortable to implement.
Instead, it is wiser to design your IT controls based on risk. For example, you may build a password policy and system to add additional controls for privileged users. Since privileged users have tremendous authority, such accounts require additional protection from abuse. By contrast, an application that is only occasionally used and has no access to confidential data may be assessed as low risk. In that case, it may be reasonable to use a simple set of IT controls.
From an IT compliance testing point of view, risk also matters. You may have 1,000 IT controls in your organization and limited time to test all of them. Therefore, it may be wise to prioritize your IT compliance testing program in the highest risk areas. After your organization has high-risk functions and applications protected with controls, you can always expand to medium and low-risk areas later.
Mistake 5: Excessive reliance on manual IT controls
In principle, there is nothing wrong with manual IT controls. It is possible to have employees use spreadsheets and emails as a type of simple IT control. Once work gets busy, manual IT controls tend to break down. A manager becomes preoccupied with a mission-critical project and forgets to review an essential IT control for a few weeks. As a result, the company stands exposed to greater risk.
This mistake can be easily reduced in severity by investing resources in automated IT controls. For example, consider Apollo to manage employee password resets. This specialized IT security chatbot system systematically follows your password expectations every time. Automatic IT controls are usually easy to test as well since the system automatically creates logs.
Solving The “Not Enough Time” For IT Controls Challenge
A lack of time is the final barrier to IT compliance testing success you may face. This problem typically happens in companies that lack a dedicated IT compliance testing department or employee. In that situation, the solution is simple. You need to free up some capacity in your IT department to carry out IT control testing. There are a few ways to do that. You might decide to hire more staff dedicated to IT compliance testing. That can be a good choice. However, what if you need to find a way to get more done with your current staffing arrangements? In that case, take a look at these two ideas.
Start by reducing the time required to set up new employees with user accounts. When managers and IT have to set up each new user manually, precious hours are wasted. Using a group self-service software solution can simplify this process for you.
Finally, look at ways to streamline the IT compliance testing process. For example, find out how much time is spent collecting data related to your IT compliance testing. In some cases, information gathering is the most labor-intensive process of evaluating IT control effectiveness. Fortunately, there are software solutions that make this easier. Consider implementing a solution like Compliance Auditor to make your compliance tests faster.