So what is an audit trail?

“Audit trail” is a term that can have slightly different definitions depending on the industry and businesses being discussed.

However, in most cases, audit trails match up with the definition provided by the Fundamentals of Law for Health Informatics and Information Management. According to this health industry document, an audit trail is “a record that shows who has accessed a computer system, when [the computer system] was accessed, and what operations were performed.”

In other words, audit trails are essentially archived records of how people in your organization are accessing and using your shared computer system.

All audit trails include three pieces of information: a login ID, a summary of system actions, and a time stamp.

Please note that, for our purposes, we will be discussing audit trails in how they are related to document management software (DMS). As a result, these three pieces of information would usually apply to records access, modification, or deletion.

What is the Purpose of Audit Trails?

If your business utilizes DMS to facilitate sharing, collaboration, or storage of various files, documents, and data, then an audit trail would be an invaluable aid to the security of the system.

With a complete audit trail in place, companies would be able to keep an eye on and follow who in the organization was accessing different files and what they were doing with those records.

Audit trails of computer systems, like a document management system, include a complete chronological record of everything that happens in your organization’s DMS. It shows a detailed transaction history.

In addition to auditing and tracking employee movements within your DMS system, audit trails can be used for several other purposes. For instance, if an error was made in editing a document, or if your organization for some reason lost a bulk of data, an audit trail would allow you to look back at older versions of existing files.

This capability is key for data correction or reconstruction. An audit trail can also help an organization to detect unauthorized system access, predict DMS failures or vulnerabilities, and more.

What Type of Security Control is an Audit Trail?

Audit trails are a type of detective control – which means you can use them to help find errors or problems in your processes. The audit trail functions as a log of every action taken in relation to your documents. Using this log, you can track and understand the circumstances of when and where an issue occurs.

Governmental Audit Trail Requirements

Numerous regulatory agencies and governing entities require organizations to have audit trails, including HIPAA, the SEC, and FINRA.

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), for instance, has stipulations regarding audit trails included in its “Security Role.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services website, the requirement is that “A covered entity must implement hardware, software, and/or procedural mechanisms to record and examine access and other activity in information systems that contain or use e-PHI.”

As defined by HIPAA, e-PHI stands for “electronic protected health information.” Any organization that works with this information—which includes patient names, addresses, social security numbers, and other pieces of sensitive personal information—must use audit trails in its DMS.

The audit trail requirements for the SEC and FINRA, meanwhile, are linked. In 2012, the SEC passed a new rule (Rule 613) called the “Consolidated Audit Trail” rule.

This rule “requires FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and the national securities exchanges to jointly submit a National Market System (NMS) plan,” detailing the implementation of an effective audit trail system.

The core requirement here is that organizations collect data on “every order, cancelation, modification and trade execution for all exchange-listed equities and options across all U.S. markets.”

Note: If your organization is not involved in equity trading or health care, make sure to review the regulations laid forth by any relevant governing agencies to learn about any related audit trail requirements you might face.

Internal Auditing 

An internal audit is when a department or company evaluates their own accounting processes and other relevant workflows to make sure things are running correctly and fully compliant. Having the capability for audit trails in the software you use makes this process much simpler, as you’re able to identify and address issues directly. In any work with sensitive information, following governance and compliance standards is key, and any lapses could mean serious issues, or even fines. Internal audits make sure your organization is secure and ready for external audits as well.  

External Auditing 

An external audit is performed by a third party not associated with the department or company being audited. The auditor reviews and analyzes  financial statements in accordance with specific sets of laws or rules depending on the industry standards. Once again, if you have excellent audit trails with the software you use, an external audit won’t be a source of stress. 

Audit Trail Example

Audit trails can range from simple to complex depending on the level of security or number of people who need to see and approve a receipt or document. 

Audit trails can be helpful in common processes like purchase orders. If an employee needs new equipment or supplies, they’ll need to submit a purchase order with specific details and pricing to the department in charge. It may then be reviewed by another employee, and then if it’s a larger purchase amount it may need to be approved by a higher-up. Audit trails make it easy to ensure that all necessary steps in a process are being followed. You’ll be able to see when the purchase order was submitted, for how much, and who approved it. You’ll also be able to see if a document or receipt is edited or shared with other members of your organization. With compliant audit trails in place, it’s much harder for mishandling of funds or fraud to happen.

Audit Trails and Rubex by eFileCabinet

If your organization needs to become compliant with audit trail guidelines from HIPAA, SEC, or any other governing body, then Rubex by eFileCabinet is the document management system for the job.

A secure and feature-rich DMS ideal for enterprise applications, Rubex also comes with a built-in function for audit trails.

With Rubex’s audit trails, you will be able to keep track of each and every user who accesses your DMS—authorized or otherwise.

The audit trail will follow and track each user’s access and activity throughout the entire system, logging everything a person searches, opens, modifies, or deletes.

Whether a worker is digging around in files they should not be accessing, or editing templates or profiles for no clear reason, Rubex’s audit trail will tell you.

This feature is something that well-known or freeware DMS programs, such as Dropbox, do not offer.

Another huge benefit of Rubex’s audit trails is that they’re designed with external auditor capability. If an auditor needs to access documents or files or review your DMS for compliance, they can do so in the Cloud—without the need for an on-site visit.

The audit trail doesn’t just make it easier for you to audit what your employees are doing on your DMS. Indeed, it also makes it easier and more convenient for auditors.

Audit trails are also a good way to find out whether a transaction is being conducted accurately and truthfully. If every transaction has a proper audit trail, an auditor can quickly determine if the transaction is valid or not. Auditors can also move quickly, which means less money spent on audit fees and time spent in the field.

Finally, with Rubex, you can rest assured that your audit trails are always going to be there. In particular, Rubex is a respected DMS because it uses file storage redundancy to make sure that files are never lost.

In the same vein, any audit trail logs generated by the eFileCabinet system cannot be deleted. If you need to go back and restore an accidentally deleted file or find out where an employee made a mistake in a specific document, you can appreciate what an important security feature an audit trail can be in a DMS.

Discover everything you need to know about audit trails and other useful features in Rubex.