In this ‘always connected’ era, cyber-security is arguably one of the most important business issues. If you are concerned about the security of your business critical assets, remember that it is not the external threats such as denial of service and botnets or malware attacks that might jeopardize your data assets. Your real threat comes from the very persons you trust. Sounds preposterous? Well, just consider the breach of the South Korean Credit Bureau. Considered one of the most sensational scams of all time, it compromised the identities of millions of South Koreans. And who was the mastermind? An insider with administrative access. These malicious insider frauds may cost a company even more time and money than other external cyber security attacks. What is worse? The most dangerous insiders are usually the most trusted ones – employees with privileged accounts. Privileged access breaches not only pose unique security challenges to an enterprise but may also lead to compliance violations, subsequently tarnishing the organization’s brand image. According to the 2015 Insider Threat Report, 59 percent of cyber-security specialists consider privileged users to pose the biggest security risk for their organizations. Against this backdrop, establishing visibility and control around these special-purpose accounts has become more critical than ever. But the question is, how? Well, a privileged access management system can enable you to proactively monitor and protect these sensitive accounts. If you think that your company needs one, first familiarize yourself with the major aspects of the technology.
Understanding Privileged User Account
Privileged user accounts are designed to give users unlimited access to company resources. Users of such accounts can view and modify restricted data, codes, settings, and more. Naturally, only those employees who enjoy a high level of trust can be given access to such accounts. Besides the executives in upper management, database administrators, network engineers, data center operators, and security personnel are the typical users of such accounts. As you can see, these are the people who work directly with sensitive information of your company. They have the blueprint of the entire system infrastructure at their fingertips. In other words, they are in a position to steal your know how and other business information that can be sold in the market for a heavy price. It is precisely this trust factor that makes your assets vulnerable to malicious employee behavior.
There are a variety of privileged accounts designed to fulfill different purposes. Depending on how much control they provide to users, these accounts can be classified into three broad groups:
Employees having access to these types of accounts enjoy the highest level of administrative access to all workstations and servers within a particular domain.
These accounts grant administrative access to a single server or workstation. The IT staff tasked with system maintenance use these accounts.
These accounts give administrative access to applications. The privileged users of this account type gain direct access to the database. This unrestricted reach makes it easy for such users to steal sensitive information.
Depending on the purposes they fulfill, privileged accounts can be further classified into following groups:
Personal Privileged Accounts
As their names suggest, these accounts are created for a single specific employee. High-ranking management executives and database administrators who handle sensitive information use such accounts.
These are automatically created administrative accounts that are usually handled by the IT or the security staff.
These accounts are created as a means to provide an additional security layer for online applications as they interact over the network.
These are need-based accounts that are designed to facilitate smooth handling of emergency situations involving business continuity failure and disaster recovery. The users of such accounts enjoy an enhanced level of privilege.
Privileged Access Threat Sources
Two things make privileged access dangerous – the ease of performing malicious actions and the difficulties in detecting them.
Since privileged users enjoy legitimate access to the system, you cannot say for sure which of their actions are harmless and which ones are not. Even if someone gets caught red handed, you cannot accuse him/ her directly, as the person concerned may simply claim that it was a mistake. Malicious actions by privileged users, thus, may remain under cover for a long time. Sometimes, when it is finally discovered, it becomes too late to rectify the damage.
It is not that only malicious actions lead to data breaches. The latter often result from mistakes or inadvertent actions of privileged users. Even if it is not done with a criminal intent, breaches-by-mistake can be just as costly for your company as a malicious attack. For example, you may lose millions in damages and remediation costs if one of your privileged employees sends an email that contains sensitive data to the wrong person.
Sometimes breaches occur due to the leakage or stealing of credentials. Hacking into a privileged account gives cyber cons unrestricted access to the whole system.
Addressing the Threat
How to address these threats? The simplest answer is by investing in the right access management technology. It introduces a system of checks and balance which helps your organization to significantly cut down on the risks discussed above. Following are the three pillars of the access management mechanism:
Privileged-user Account Management
This part of the system helps you identify the employees who enjoy privileged access. It also ensures that the privileges for each employee do not exceed a certain level. Other benefits include setting proper creation and termination procedures for privileged accounts.
Privileged-user Access Control
This part is for letting you see which of your employees had access to an account, when, and for what purpose. It helps to keep your data protected from unauthorized access through the mechanism of smart passwords and various forms of multi-factor authentication and access monitoring.
It helps to detect insider attacks. It will not only help you control every privileged session but will also let you immediately respond to any incident in real time.
Given the increasingly sophisticated threat landscape, implementing a privileged access management system is no longer an option for today’s businesses, it’s imperative. So, focus on establishing some control around your so called trusted users. Investing in the right access management solution will enable you to keep your sensitive data protected in future from both the internal and external sources. It won’t eliminate the risk, but it will help minimize it.
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