Spreadsheet Risk Issues

It is interesting to note that the riskiness of operational spreadsheets are overlooked even by companies with high standards of risk management. Only when errors amount to actual losses do they realize that these risks have been staring them in the face all along.

Common spreadsheet risk issues

Susceptibility to trivial manual errors

Due to the fundamental structure of spreadsheets, a slight change in the formula or value in any of their inhabited cells may already affect their overall output. An

  • accidental copy-paste,
  • omission of a negative sign,
  • erroneous range selection,
  • incorrect data input or
  • unintentional deletion of a character,cell, range, column, or row

are just some of the simple errors spreadsheet users frequently encounter. Rarely are there any counter-checking controls in place in a spreadsheet-based activity and manual errors therefore easily go undetected.

Possibility of the user working on the wrong version

How do you store spreadsheet files?

Since the most common reports are usually generated on a monthly basis, users tend to store them using variations of these two configurations:

spreadsheet storage

If you notice, a user can accidentally work on the wrong version with any of these structures.

Prone to inconsistent company-wide reporting

This happens when a summary or ?final? spreadsheet is fed information by different departments coming from their own spreadsheets. Even if most of the data in their spreadsheets come from one source (the company-wide database), erroneous copy-pasting and linking, or even different interpretations of the same data can result to contradicting information in the end.

Often defenceless against unauthorised access

Some spreadsheets contain information needed by various individuals or department units in an organisation. Hence, they are often shared via email or through shared folders in a network. Now, because spreadsheets don’t normally use any access control, any user can easily open a spreadsheet file and view or modify the contents as he wishes.

Highly vulnerable to fraud

A complex spreadsheet system with zero or very minimal controls provides the perfect setting for would-be fraudsters. Hidden cells with malicious formulas and links to bogus information can go unnoticed for a long time especially if the final figures don’t deviate much from expected values.

Spreadsheet risk mitigation solutions may not suffice

Inherent complexity makes testing and logic inspection very time consuming

Deep testing can uncover possible errors hidden in spreadsheet cells and consequently mitigate risks. But spreadsheets used to support financial reporting are normally large, complex, highly-personalised and, without ample supporting documentation, understandably hard to follow.

No clear ownership of risk management responsibilities

There?s always a dilemma when an organisation starts assigning risk management responsibilities for spreadsheets. IT personnel believe users in the business side of the organisation should be responsible since they are the ones who create, edit, store, duplicate, and share the spreadsheet files. On the other hand, users believe IT should be responsible since they have always been in-charge of managing IT infrastructure, applications, and files.

To get rid of spreadsheet risks, you’ll have to get rid of spreadsheets altogether

One remedy is to have a risk management activity that involves both IT personnel and spreadsheet users. But wouldn’t you want to get rid of the complexity of having to distribute the responsibilities between the two parties instead of just one?

Learn more about Denizon’s server application solutions and how you can get rid of spreadsheet risk issues.

More Spreadsheet Blogs


Spreadsheet Risks in Banks


Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry


How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence


Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment


Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework


Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations


Spreadsheet Risk Issues


Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back


Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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Virtualisation

Using an IT solution that can provide the fastest (but still reliable) disaster recovery process is essential for the success of any business continuity plan. Although virtualisation is still considered leading edge technology by many business continuity specialists, it definitely brings a promise that, once fulfilled, can result in the cheapest, fastest, and most comprehensive solution for business continuity.

One great advantage of virtualisation over traditional BC (Business Continuity) methods is the relatively cheaper cost needed to achieve a certain level of business continuity assurance. Thus, more companies will find it easier to reach their required minimum for BC assurance. By contrast, some BCPs (Business Continuity Plan) based on a physical environment require companies to invest more than what they are willing to in order to reach the same minimum level of assurance.

Virtual machines, which can already encapsulate your operating systems and their corresponding applications, can be transported as a file from one machine running a compatible hypervisor to another. This makes the business continuity tasks of backup, replication, and restoration simpler and faster.

As of 2008, about 54% of IT professionals in Europe were willing to implement virtualisation within a maximum of two years. Furthermore, the expected compound annual growth rate of installed virtualised servers from 2008 to 2012 is already pegged at 33%.

If you want your organisation to take advantage of the benefits of this revolutionary technology, we’d be more than willing to help you discover what it can do for you. Then once you decide to make that transition to virtualisation, we can guide you every step of the way.

  • As not all applications are suited for virtualisation (e.g. some are too demanding on I/O and memory access), we’ll start by reviewing your entire IT system to see which portions can be implemented on a virtualized environment.
  • Using virtualisation and replication, we can conduct disaster recovery tests using up-to-date data without interrupting operations in your main IT site. Running these tests will increase your team’s preparedness and will allow you to discover possible weak points.
  • Provide a simple but comprehensive protection and backup system that encapsulates not only data, but also system configurations and application installations. This kind of setup allows for faster and easier disaster recovery operations. Because of these same characteristics, you can enjoy zero downtime while performing scheduled maintenance operations.
  • Since virtual machines are hardware-independent and transparent to operating systems, we can help you run a mix of legacy and new systems as well as open source and proprietary systems, allowing for more flexibility in your BCP budgeting.

We can also assist you with the following:

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The Better Way of Applying Benford’s Law for Fraud Detection

Applying Benford’s Law on large collections of data is an effective way of detecting fraud. In this article, we?ll introduce you to Benford’s Law, talk about how auditors are employing it in fraud detection, and introduce you to a more effective way of integrating it into an IT solution.

Benford’s Law in a nutshell

Benford’s Law states that certain data sets – including certain accounting numbers – exhibit a non-uniform distribution of first digits. Simply put, if you gather all the first digits (e.g. 8 is the first digit of ?814 and 1 is the first digit of ?1768) of all the numbers that make up one of these data sets, the smallest digits will appear more frequently than the larger ones.

That is, according to Benford’s Law,

1 should comprise roughly 30.1% of all first digits;
2 should be 17.6%;
3 should be 12.5%;
4 should be 9.7%, and so on.

Notice that the 1s (ones) occur far more frequently than the rest. Those who are not familiar with Benford’s Law tend to assume that all digits should be distributed uniformly. So when fraudulent individuals tinker with accounting data, they may end up putting in more 9s or 8s than there actually should be.

Once an accounting data set is found to show a large deviation from this distribution, then auditors move in to make a closer inspection.

Benford’s Law spreadsheets and templates

Because Benford’s Law has been proven to be effective in discovering unnaturally-behaving data sets (such as those manipulated by fraudsters), many auditors have created simple software solutions that apply this law. Most of these solutions, owing to the fact that a large majority of accounting departments use spreadsheets, come in the form of spreadsheet templates.

You can easily find free downloadable spreadsheet templates that apply Benford’s Law as well as simple How-To articles that can help you to implement the law on your own existing spreadsheets. Just Google “Benford’s law template” or “Benford’s law spreadsheet”.

I suggest you try out some of them yourself to get a feel on how they work.

The problem with Benford’s Law when used on spreadsheets

There’s actually another reason why I wanted you to try those spreadsheet templates and How-To’s yourself. I wanted you to see how susceptible these solutions are to trivial errors. Whenever you work on these spreadsheet templates – or your own spreadsheets for that matter – when implementing Benford’s Law, you can commit mistakes when copy-pasting values, specifying ranges, entering formulas, and so on.

Furthermore, some of the data might be located in different spreadsheets, which can likewise by found in different departments and have to be emailed for consolidation. The departments who own this data will have to extract the needed data from their own spreadsheets, transfer them to another spreadsheet, and send them to the person in-charge of consolidation.

These activities can introduce errors as well. That’s why we think that, while Benford’s Law can be an effective tool for detecting fraud, spreadsheet-based working environments can taint the entire fraud detection process.

There?s actually a better IT solution where you can use Benford’s Law.

Why a server-based solution works better

In order to apply Benford’s Law more effectively, you need to use it in an environment that implements better controls than what spreadsheets can offer. What we propose is a server-based system.

In a server-based system, your data is placed in a secure database. People who want to input data or access existing data will have to go through access controls such as login procedures. These systems also have features that log access history so that you can trace who accessed which and when.

If Benford’s Law is integrated into such a system, there would be no need for any error-prone copy-pasting activities because all the data is stored in one place. Thus, fraud detection initiatives can be much faster and more reliable.

You can get more information on this site regarding the disadvantages of spreadsheets. We can also tell you more about the advantages of server application solutions.

Firewalls

There are two main reasons why some companies are hesitant to plug into the Internet.

  1. They know they’ll be exposing their company data to outside attacks from malicious individuals and malware.
  2. They fear their employees might get too many distractions: games, porn, chats, videos, and even social networking sites.

One vital component for your overall security strategy against such concerns? A firewall.

A firewall can block unauthorised access to certain Internet services from inside your organisation as well as prevent unauthenticated access from the outside. It is also used to monitor users’ activities while they were online.

In an enterprise setting, one may expect a collection of firewalls either for providing layered protection or segmenting off different units in the organisation. Some areas only need a standard line of defence while others require more restrictions. As such, certain firewalls may have different configurations compared to others.

Naturally, the more intricate an organisation’s defence requirements get, the more complex the task of monitoring, testing and configuring the firewalls becomes. That’s why we’re here to help.

  • We’ll evaluate your network as well as the security requirements of each department under your organisation to determine which firewall architecture is most suitable.
  • To achieve maximum efficiency, we’ll point out where each firewall should be positioned.
  • We’ll work with your key personnel to make sure all firewall configurations are set and optimised with your business rules in mind.
  • If a large number of firewalls are required, we’ll help you set up a firewall configuration management system.
  • Firewalls should be regularly tested and assessed to ensure they are in line with the organisation’s security policies. We’ll perform these routine tasks as well.

Firewalls aren’t very good at defending against sophisticated viruses. There are much better solutions for malware-related vulnerabilities, and we can help you in that regard too.

Other defences we’re capable of putting up include:

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