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The Auditor's View

Auditors tend to view disaster recovery planning as a facet of an organization's efforts to guarantee the security and integrity of its data processing capability. While in the past auditors may have been content with a regular schedule for off-site storage of backup tapes and a paper plan gathering dust on the IT manager's bookshelf, their level of sophistication has grown. Documented and tested disaster recovery plans are increasingly regarded by IT auditors as a necessary component of business operation integrity.

Internal auditors are also taking a more active role in helping develop business recovery plans, often to ensure that corporate management (for whom they serve as the "eyes and ears") is not exposed to lawsuits or regulatory censure in the event of a disaster. Another reason for their interest is a well-founded concern that the integrity and security of corporate information assets will be maintained as contingency plans are rolled out and critical business applications and data are transitioned to backup platforms. The importance of this aspect of contingency plan auditing was underscored in the late 1990s as auditors and IT managers alike troubled over the possibility of hacker attacks during the recovery of Y2K-related application failures.7

External auditors, especially the "Big Five" consulting/accounting firms such as Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Arthur Andersen, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG International, and Ernst & Young, offer disaster recovery planning services to clients. The auditor-as-contingency-planner opens some controversial issues that will be explored later in this chapter.

IT audit handbooks now contain chapters devoted entirely to auditing the IT department's disaster recovery plan. Auditors are paying increasing attention to the following areas as they examine a company's disaster recovery plan.

  • Plan revisions. While IT auditors may have no way to determine a plan's solvency or workability (unless they are invited to participate in an actual test), they may look to see when the plan was last revised. They are also interested in procedures providing for the regular review and revision of the document and for the regular reporting of system changes that must be accommodated within the plan. A list of revision dates should appear in the back matter of the plan document to answer these questions.

  • Plan test schedule and results assessments. An untested disaster recovery plan cannot be assumed to provide an adequate measure of recoverability to corporate data assets. Tests provide the means for assessing the workability of strategies for evacuation and recovery that appear to work well on paper but may not perform well in real life. A schedule of regular testing and documentation of methods and results are important indicators to the auditor of management's attentiveness to the disaster recovery requirement. This is also typically added to the back matter of the plan.

  • Training and awareness. It is often said at IT Security and Disaster Recovery Planning seminars that DR plans are "living documents." A disaster recovery plan addresses two time frames: the future time frame, when the plan will be implemented to cope with some manmade or natural catastrophe, and the present time frame, when the plan is maintained and tested, plan participants are trained, and every corporate employee is made aware of the principles of disaster preparedness and prevention. This dual focus of disaster recovery planning presumes an ongoing training effort. Thus, auditors may ask to see a schedule indicating the dates, topics, and attendance by key recovery personnel at training sessions covering the many aspects of the plan. They may also wish to see evidence of provisions made to increase safety awareness within the company as a whole. Awareness posters in dining areas and elevators, handouts for new employees, and even designated "disaster awareness days" may be some of the ways that this audit requirement can be satisfied.

In addition to these general items, there are many specific requirements of a disaster recovery plan that may be checked or verified by the auditor. These may include:

  • A fully articulated planning rationale, providing an overview of threats and exposures and prioritization of risks based on potential business impact and other factors (e.g., likelihood of occurrence), plus a discussion of mitigation strategies considered and selection criteria applied.

  • Effective disaster prevention and mitigation measures for all critical business process infrastructure components, including strategies for system, network, and end user work area recovery and evidence that these measures can be implemented in whole or part in response to various interruption scenarios.

  • Documentation of relationships with other companies for backup of system platforms in the event of a facility disaster, including contracts with vendors of system backup facilities and services (hot sites, shell sites, mobile recovery facilities, etc.).

  • Contracts and schedules for regular off-site storage for paper files and magnetic media backups, schemes for electronic tape vaulting, and/or remote data mirroring with off-site entities.

  • Provisions for network recovery including contracts with network vendors for on-demand rerouting or automatic switching of voice and data communications services to a designated alternative work site.

  • Specifications for fire protection systems, power continuation systems, water detection systems, and automated detection and alarm systems for other contingencies (disaster prevention capabilities).

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