I'm not an auditor or CPA, thank goodness. The first time I heard of SAS 70 (Statement on Auditing Standards No. 70, Service Organizations) happened when I visited Symantec in October. Last week, however, one of my clients asked what I knew about SAS 70. I knew Symantec used its SAS 70 results as a way to avoid having every Symantec managed security service client perform its own audit of Symantec. My client wanted to know if his company might also benefit from getting a SAS 70 audit.
I found an exceptionally helpful CSO Online article by Michael Fitzgerald about SAS 70. I'd like to share some insights from it.
A spokeswoman for the body that created SAS 70 doesn't actually recommend it for security purposes. "It isn't a measure of security, it's a measure of financial controls," says Judith Sherinsky, a technical manager on the audit and test standards team at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which created SAS 70...
For security audits, Sherinsky recommends a different AICPA standard: SysTrust, an attestation engagement that includes criteria for system security. SysTrust was developed to help CPAs gauge whether systems meet the following criteria: availability, security, processing integrity, online privacy and confidentiality.
That's extraordinary. It means all the customers who get a SAS 70 audit from a service provider aren't getting any real security assurances. It sounds like Common Criteria.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is essentially a mandate to establish internal controls so that corporate executives can't fudge their numbers. Sarbox requires that companies verify the accuracy of their financial statements, and establishes SAS 70 Type 2 audits as a way to verify that third-party providers meet those needs...
A SAS 70 audit does not rate a company's security controls against a particular set of defined best practices. In a SAS 70 audit, the service organization being audited must first prepare a written description of its goals and objectives. The auditor then examines the service organization's description and says whether the auditor believes those goals are fairly stated, whether the controls are suitably designed to achieve the control objectives that the organization has stated for itself, whether the controls have been placed in operations (as opposed to existing only on paper), and in a Type 2 engagement, whether these controls are operating effectively.
The fact that a company has conducted a SAS 70 audit does not necessarily mean its systems are secure. In fact, a SAS 70 may confirm that a particular system is not secure, by design.
"You can have control objectives to make any statement management may want to make," says Robert Aanerud, chief risk officer and principal consultant at security consultancy HotSkills. In effect, he says, management could decide that the company is OK with bad access control, and the auditor (who must be a CPA) then needs to ensure that access control is at least bad. The SAS 70 opinion would essentially say that, yes, the company has achieved its stated control objectives. (emphasis added)
It sounds like reading the SAS 70 report is important!
Unfortunately, consultants say many companies are skipping the hard work and treating SAS 70 as a security rubber stamp. Sharon O'Bryan, head of O'Bryan Advisory Services, says she's aware of companies taking SAS 70 reports for potential service providers, sticking them someplace and never reading them...
Service providers say they're being asked more and more often for SAS 70 audits, often instead of governance standards like Cobit or ISO 17799. That's even true for companies that handle security functions, traditionally more oriented toward granular best-practice tests than the broad audit test of SAS 70.
Michael Scher, general counsel and compliance architect at Nexum, a security product and service provider, says his company is preparing to undergo its first SAS 70 audit. "It's an efficiency-type move," Scher says. It will save his company the trouble of having to be audited by every potential client, or generate reams of documentation in answer to questions.
If SAS 70 is so bad for security, is there an alternative? The AICPA quote earlier in the article mentions SysTrust. AICPA provides a comparison brochure for SAS 70 vs SysTrust. It includes the following:
SAS 70 intended purpose: To provide user auditors with information about controls at the service organization that may affect assertions in the user organizations' financial statements. This generally enables a user auditor to perform an audit.
Trust Services intended purpose: To provide assurance that an organization's system's controls meet one or more of the Trust Services principles and related criteria. Areas addressed by the Principles include: security, online privacy, availability, confidentiality and processing integrity.
It seems SAS 70 is not at all what the customers think it is. Alternatively, they know they are not getting any security assurances, but just want a rubber stamp. Apparently this is more make-work for CPAs, since SAS 70 work must be done by a CPA.
Speaking of work for CPAs, their What Skills Do I Need to Provide SysTrust Services? site is hilarious in a sick way:
Application of Current Skills and Knowledge. CPAs have the ethical standards and principles needed to evaluate and provide assurance on the reliability of systems. CPAs have skills in evaluating evidence, determining the effectiveness of internal controls, and reporting to third parties on the results of the work performed.
New Skills and Knowledge May Be Required. CPA in public accounting and CPAs industry may require additional competencies in addition to those from the traditional accounting, audit, and tax arena in order to provide services related to SysTrust. In order to deliver SysTrust-related advice or assurance, CPAs may need to use automated techniques.
So, in brief: CPAs are ethical but are going to rely on "automated techniques" to validate security effectiveness. Right...
What about the various ISO standards? Here Wikipedia is helpful:
ISO/IEC 27001 is an information security standard published in October 2005 by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Its complete name is Information technology -- Security techniques -- Information security management systems -- Requirements. The current standard replaced BS 7799-2:2002, which has now been withdrawn.
ISO/IEC 27001:2005 specifies the requirements for establishing, implementing, operating, monitoring, reviewing, maintaining and improving a documented Information Security Management System (ISMS). It specifies requirements for the management of the implementation of security controls. It is intended to be used in conjunction with ISO 17799:2005, a security Code of Practice, which offers a list of specific security controls to select from.
This is also the first standard in a proposed series of standards which will be assigned numbers within the ISO 27000 series. Others are anticipated to include a re-publication of ISO 17799, a standard for information security measurement and metrics, and potentially a version of the current BS7799-3 standard.
Prior to the release of the ISO 27001 standard, organizations could only be certified against the British Standard Institute's BS7799-2 standard. Now organizations can obtain the ISO 27001 certification, as the BS7799-2 certification is being phased out, and the standard itself has been withdrawn...
It should also be noted that this certification scheme now aligns with other ISO schemes, such as those for ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.
This blog entry has some opinion on ISO 27001 too.
Do any of you recommend a certain standard to show your company is implementing effective security practices?