Cybersecurity continues to be a major concern for businesses, with seven in 10 chief audit executives surveyed identifying it as a high or critical priority, according to the just-released 2015 North American Pulse of Internal Audit report. This is not unexpected, but what I do find troubling is something that I’m hearing more and more in my discussions with CAEs around the world.
There appears to be a growing view that cybersecurity issues should reside in the domain of IT and security experts, with internal audit providing little more than support. The question I’m hearing too often is, “What can internal audit contribute?”
The answer is, plenty.
The fundamental truth about cybersecurity is that it is as much a business risk as it is a security risk, and it is imperative that our stakeholders understand this so that internal audit is sought out to provide the necessary assurance and governance guidance in this critical area.
Perhaps there is reticence in leading the fight against cybercrime because of the high stakes involved or the potential for negative publicity around high-profile failures. But our profession has never been one to shrink from complex risks or hard tasks.
Here’s something that should provide some reassurance. There is a dirty little secret about cybersecurity risks that cybercriminals would rather we not know — we have home field advantage.
Cybercriminals have to come into our house, so to speak, so we have a natural advantage. In the large majority of cyber assaults, the cybercriminal does not know what we have of value, where to find it in the system, or what protections we have around that most valuable data. We do and, with proper planning, can force the attackers to play the game according to our rules. This knowledge should color our approach to creating the protocols that secure and protect our data.
Experts in data protection recommend a basic process to identify the most important information, what many refer to as the crown jewels of data. It is that data that must be protected at all costs, and it is up to internal audit to provide assurance to stakeholders that the processes in place to protect it are effective and efficient.
Organizations should begin by segmenting their data into three piles based on its value to the organization:
Information in that final crown jewels pile must be separated from the first two piles, isolated and protected. This allows for resources to be concentrated where they are most useful rather than generically spread across the environment. Once protected, it is up to internal audit to do what it does best — test for effectiveness and efficiency of controls and protocols, and provide management and the board with assurance about those protections.
Daimon Geopfert, national leader for security and privacy consulting at McGladrey, has been a strong advocate of encouraging internal audit to step up on cybersecurity matters. A popular speaker, including at a number of IIA conferences, Geopfert offers straightforward insights that help put the cybersecurity issues squarely in the internal audit camp.
According to Geopfert:
The other bit of good news from Geopfert is a figure rarely seen in media coverage of cybersecurity issues. Basic data protections through sound practices and policies will likely discourage 60 percent to 70 percent of hackers, many of whom are not overly skilled, significantly reducing cybersecurity risks. These practices, e.g. limiting access to sensitive information, appropriate patching and monitoring, encryption on mobile devices and media, third-party-vendor security reviews, etc., already should be on internal audit’s radar.
I’d like to hear your thoughts about what role internal audit should play in cybersecurity.