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Preparing for Your First Audit

Your project is at an advanced state of engineering and you have decided to hire an auditor to maximize security and legitimacy. Great decision! However, not all audit experiences are equal, so follow this guide to maximize your mileage.

During auditing, you are employing security consultants to go over your code. For auditors, studying your code and issuing an audit report is a complex balance. Auditors need to have some level of confidence to sign off on your project, yet they will not spend infinite time to gain this confidence. The time allotted has typically been scoped based on your code size and apparent complexity, using extensive past experience.

Unpleasant Truth #1: At the end of an audit, no professional auditor will ever claim 100% confidence. Sometimes the auditor will explicitly assess that they do not have as high confidence as they would like, but the time they can allocate is simply over!

To enhance the auditor's confidence and facilitate their work:

  1. Provide Succinct, But Sufficient, Documentation: Before auditors start their work, provide them with clear and comprehensive documentation that explains the intent and design of your project. This is not merely about code specifics, but should also provide an understanding of the project at a high level. Of course, when one understands both levels, it should match the specifics.
  2. Use Consistent Naming and Comments: Try to use consistent variable and function names to explicitly document the intent of the code. Use comments to document complex parts of the code but also make sure these are consistent with the code. If you can write invariants or explain the intent of complex parts, this can go a long way.
  3. Set Up a Communication Channel: Establish a synchronous communication channel between your team and the auditors to facilitate information sharing. If requested, walk the auditors through your code before they start the audit or when they prefer to (e.g., after they have read the documentation, or after one pass over the code). Be responsive during the audit period.
  4. Ensure the Project is Fully Tested and Compiles: By the time an audit begins, make sure the project compiles without errors and is fully tested. This will allow the auditors to focus on the difficult parts of the code, rather than discovering that some functions are uncallable or do not do what they are expected to do under straightforward inputs. Deploy your code on a testnet and exercise it to its limits, focusing on unexpected, corner-case, and possibly adversarial behavior.
  5. Understand the Limitations of an Audit: An audit is not a testing service or a magical way to find all bugs. Auditors will not know your specification (i.e., your mathematical formulas, your desired behavior) if you do not clearly communicate it. Auditing will likely miss violations of functional correctness when the definition of correct calculations is not given.
  6. Focus on Adversarial Environmental Conditions: Auditors' time is best spent thinking about adversarial environmental conditions and not simply uncommon inputs. The latter is a functional correctness issue, best uncovered via testing.

Unpleasant Truth #2: Auditing sometimes misses issues that the programmers themselves find. This is not surprising. The auditor is not the owner of your code. You are!

Auditors will think about all issues to the best of their ability, but, in the end, they are only “involved”, not “committed” to your project. Therefore, you will benefit the most from an audit if you have the right frame of mind. You are the owner. Your project will face an adversarial world. You have the final word, the final command. Thankfully, good people are here to help you. Help them help you. And magnify their help. If an issue is found, ask yourself: how did I miss it? How does it generalize? What other analogous issues may I have missed?

We are looking forward to working with you to best secure your project!