May 29, 2011

Understanding the Importance of Auditor Confidentiality

Many people are envious of the CISA's position. They see nice cars, lunches with important people, expensive suits, and comfortable expense accounts. Nobody seems to pay attention to the humorous situation of six auditors sharing one folding table while sitting in a closet, balancing laptop computers with only one network jack and one telephone to share. Frankly, the auditor position grants you the luxury of being well-paid observers with professional benefits. Occasionally, your office and travel accommodations may not be the best. However, the reality is that most people look up to auditors with respect.
Your clients expect you to be authoritative and professional regardless of the circumstances. Your office is mobile, so you are depended on to handle decisions in the field. Your clients include the highest levels of management within an organization. Those clients expect you to assist them with your observations and occasional advice. You will deal with the challenges of providing advice in a manner that does not interfere with the independent audit. Remember the independence question raised earlier in this chapter?
Personnel at every level of your client's organization have an expectation of your appearance. You are going to be judged by your speech, mannerisms, clothing, and grooming. You should always wear professional attire to a level more formal than the attire of your client. Your neat and pressed appearance instills respect and confidence. Your courtesy of manner and speech dictates that you should use reassuring words. Any humor by the auditor should always be restrained and professional.

The client entrusts the auditor with sensitive information. A good auditor would never betray that confidence nor allow sensitive information to be revealed at any time. Any breach of confidentiality would be unforgivable. It is conceivable that during your audit, you may discover information that could cause some level of damage to the client if disclosed. You should prepare for the possibility of detecting irregular or even illegal acts that have occurred.
To protect yourself, you must exercise caution and least privilege in all activities. The concept of least privilege refers to providing only the minimum information necessary to complete a required task. It is the auditor's responsibility to implement security controls to maintain confidentiality. Auditors use working papers composed of reports, checklists, and spreadsheets that contain details plus secrets that need to be protected. The information you're privy to may be alarming to some, damaging to others, or trigger additional actions by a perpetrator.
To ensure confidentiality, the auditor should adopt the following operating principles:
  • Sensitive information is the property of the owner and should not be removed from the owner's office by the auditor.
  • The auditor should contact legal counsel for advice concerning confidentiality and laws that would dictate disclosure to authorities. You should follow basic principles of confidentiality at all times.
  • Many auditors use automated working papers (WPs) during an audit. Spreadsheets and report-writing templates are common tools to increase efficiency. We refer to audit checklists, procedures, computer-generated output, templates, and databases as working papers. The next level of automation is entering our workplace to aid even the smallest auditor. This includes more-advanced database automation, evidence tracking, and report-generation tools. The data must be protected with access control and regular data backup. Make sure to back up your work. It would be unforgivable to lose your audit work and client data by failing to implement your own recommended controls.
  • Every auditor should seriously consider using locking security cables and privacy viewing screens for laptops. You will gain respect by demonstrating your concern for maintaining confidentiality while protecting assets. The laptop could still be stolen with broken parts lying on the floor, but at least you would have some evidence that the theft was not completely your fault. At prior audit firms where I worked, these controls were mandatory for continued employment.
  • A document file archive is created during each audit. The archive is subject to laws governing records retention. Every auditor is advised to leave all records in the custody of the client unless criminal activity is suspected. The client shall maintain sole responsibility for the safe retention of the archive.

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