SAS 145 Audit Risk Assessment

Information Technology

This blog is about a particular topic of SAS 145, Understanding the Entity and Its Environment and Assessing the Risks of Material Misstatement, which largely stays hidden in plain sight. That topic is audit risk assessment related to information technology (“IT”). Risks related to IT are often (intentionally) overlooked. It’s problematic because some auditors don’t exactly feel IT-empowered, myself included. And even though IT requirements have been there for some time now, we find that SAS 145 has given it particular emphasis, perhaps to draw our attention to its importance. It will be no surprise if IT risk assessment is a target for peer review engagements in 2024 and several years after.

SAS 145 requires auditors to consider IT controls that address risks of material misstatement at the assertion level. The standard breaks this down to 1) the risk of use of IT and 2) the general IT controls that address those risks.

In the codification of auditing standards, AU-C Glossary – Glossary of Terms defines the two related aspects of IT risk assessment as follows:

  • Risks arising from the use of IT. Susceptibility of information-processing controls to ineffective design or operation, or risks to the integrity of information in the entity’s information system, due to ineffective design or operation of controls in the entity’s IT processes.
  • General IT controls. Controls over the entity’s IT processes that support the continued proper operation of the IT environment, including the continued effective functioning of information-processing controls and the integrity of information in the entity’s information system.

Risks arising from the use of IT

Some IT systems inherently have more risk than other systems. Canned software for which the company cannot access the source code is inherently less risky than larger, more complex, internally developed systems subject to source code modifications.

Interfacing applications inherently have more risk of material misstatement than packages that integrate the various applications.

A partial list of risks arising from the use of IT are:

  • Miscalculations: Coding errors could cause miscalculations of the financial data.
  • Unauthorized Access: Weak controls related to data entry or bugs in the system could compromise the financial data.
  • Data Loss or Corruption: System crashes, cyberattacks, and other failures could lead to the loss of critical financial data.
  • Failure to Update Software: Old versions of accounting software could lead to a host of risks, such as security and compatibility issues
  • Limited Data Backup and Recovery. Again, this could lead to the loss of critical financial data.

Electronic Spreadsheet Risk of Use

A particular IT category inherently prone to greater risk of material misstatements is the use of electronic spreadsheets, such as Excel.

Here are two examples of risks arising from the use of IT as it relates to electronic spreadsheets:

  • Example 1: Material Misstatement of Construction Revenue. An Excel spreadsheet is a type of IT tool. Many contractors use it to calculate the percentage-of-completion revenue measurement of individual construction contracts. Such spreadsheets may contain numerous contracts rolled over from period to period. Contract information is often imported from the job activity ledgers, but some companies may manually input the data. The calculations are complex and data intensive.
  • Example 2: Material Misstatement of Accrued Loss on Uncompleted Contracts. Certain contractors also use Excel to pull takeoffs from specs and drawings. The takeoff information is summarized in Excel, and formulas and perhaps pivot tables are used to create a summarized bid for a prospective construction project.

The risks arising from the use of IT associated with Excel in the above two examples are extensive. It includes potential design and operation errors, such as incorrect cell formulas, cells not being protected whereby formulas can be accidentally or intentionally deleted, manual input errors, and human misunderstanding of Excel functionality.

For the first example, there is a significant risk of a material misstatement of construction revenue. The relevant assertions primarily affected by this significant risk of a material misstatement are accuracy and occurrence.

In the second example, there is a significant risk of material misstatement due to the potential failure to record the total amount of the accrued loss on the contract obtained (because, at inception, the bidding error was not discovered by management). The relevant assertions primarily affected by this significant risk of a material misstatement are accuracy and completeness.

General IT Controls

Here is a list of broad general IT controls (not all-inclusive) that auditors should be aware of:

  • Logical Access Controls: Ensure proper access rights and permissions are assigned to appropriate users based on their roles.
  • Change Management: Ensures that software, hardware, and configuration changes are approved and monitored.
  • Data Backup and Recovery: Regularly back up critical data and test the recovery process.
  • Network Security Management: Implement firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and secure network architecture.
  • User Authentication: Use robust authentication methods (e.g., multi-factor authentication) to verify user identities.
  • Physical Security: Safeguard physical access to servers, data centers, and other IT infrastructure.
  • Security Awareness Training: A formalized program to educate employees about security best practices.

Now, here’s the thing that you do not want to miss. General IT controls that address a significant risk of material misstatement arising from the use of IT are subject to design and implementation testing.

For the sake of bringing it all together, general IT controls that address the risk of the use of IT related to electronic spreadsheets (and are subject to design and implementation testing) are:

  • Logical access controls (restrictions as to who can use the worksheet)
  • Change management (controls over who can change the formulas and other functionality of the spreadsheets)
  • Data backup and recovery (always important to make sure these are in place)

Since the above general IT controls address significant risks of a material misstatement from the use of IT (i.e., electronic spreadsheets) to calculate construction revenue and the accrued losses on uncompleted contracts, the auditor should evaluate the design of those identified controls and determine if such controls have been implemented. This evaluation and determination are customarily done through narratives (perhaps internal control questionnaires) and walkthroughs.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons