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Infosec 2013: Debate on whether external auditors are a threat or help to information security

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At Infosecurity Europe 2013, an Oxford Union-style debate was held on the role of external auditors.

The topic voted for by Infosecurity attendees was: “The auditor is a bigger challenge to information security than the cyber criminal”. Part of an Infosecurity 'Big Debate' concept, where delegates vote for an important topic they wanted to see discussed.

In the ‘for' side of the light-hearted debate was Paul Simmonds, board member of the Jericho Forum and a former CISO at AstraZeneca. He argued that external auditors caused problems to CISOs when it came to delivering a good security strategy for their businesses.

He said that as well as charging exorbitant fees, external auditors' motivations were not to validate well aligned strategies, but were more about making as much money as possible for the partner they worked for. “That's how they get bonuses. It's for billable hours,” stated Simmonds.

“And it's a pyramid scheme. Every drone doing the audit makes money for their next level of manager, who makes their manager money.

“Ultimately the partner is up there making big bucks. That's how audit firms work. They make more money by charging you an exorbitant day rate for their audit fee, and send you fresh faced kids out of college with a pen and a checklist.”

On the defence side was Jitender Arora, senior program manager for security and risk at GE Capital EMEA, who said that in the past, he had a perception that auditors (both internal and external) were the enemy, but that perception changed based on his personal interactions with auditors as he progressed in his career and took leadership roles.

He said that internal auditors were there to help the business and on the same side as security, while he had no fear of external auditors.

Arora said: “They can't dictate the agenda - they can't define irrelevant scope for what they are going to audit us on. It's in my interest to make sure the scope is defined properly so I'm getting the best value for my money. They are like any external supplier and need to be managed accordingly."

Simmonds went on to say that auditors "are incentivised to find as many issues as possible with your company, irrespective of what the risk behind those issues is".

Arora, who went on to ‘win' the debate, said that his first encounter with auditors was early in his career when his department was chosen for an audit, and he followed the lead of management team members who he said were panicking not something that he would recommend. He finished off by saying that working in partnership with auditors can go long way and if managed effectively, can help in improving security posture of the organisation.

 This is an updated version of a previous story

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