Sunday, August 29, 2010

Trust, but Verify

"The most prevalent control is trust, and that is the most easily defeated"

Although the blinders we wear when we trust are probably inherent in human nature, there are remedies for ensuring that those to whom we've given privileged access don't misbehave. Security professionals advise the following precautions:

  • Do more extensive background checks.

  • Segregate duties and privileges

    Suppose an operator has privileged access so he can back up information on a server. He may need those privileges to do the job, but he doesn't need to see the data he is backing up. Encrypt those confidential data such as customer information or medical records.

  • Carefully control the privileges you grant.

    Give only the privileges that the system administrator needs to do her / his job and nothing more.

  • Use encryption more widely.

    Put encryption as close to the source of the data as possible to minimize the number of those who can see it in plaintext.

  • Tighten controls on the use of privileged accounts.

    Explicitly describe the reason the user has been given privileged access. Then monitor his activity. When privileged access ends, make sure you reset the password.

  • Restrict privileged access of employees whose behavior causes concern.

    Monitor more diligently the behavior and job performance of such individuals.

  • Manage passwords more strictly.

    Give out passwords for certain purposes only. When they have been used and the job is done, change the password.

  • Make sure that usernames of those with privileged access tie the use of an account to a named person.

    Don't allow a username such as "SysAdmin" that doesn't identify the person using the account.

  • Do more extensive security and threat awareness training.

  • Prevent "privilege creep" by rescinding access when it is no longer necessary.

  • Finally, allocate resources based on risk.

    The more risk a transaction carries or the more crucial the functioning of a system, the more closely you should monitor it.
It's the vigilance that is the most important safeguard. It's a question of what controls are most prevalent. The most prevalent control is trust, and that is the most easily defeated.

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