The risks of unauthorized access

HP unveiled new global research that reports increased threats to sensitive and confidential workplace data are created by a lack of control and oversight of privileged users, including database administrators, network engineers and IT security practitioners.

Key findings of the Ponemon Institute study revealed that:

  • Fifty-two percent of respondents indicated that they are at least likely to be provided with access to restricted, confidential information beyond the requirements of their position.
  • More than 60 percent reported that privileged users access sensitive or confidential data out of curiosity, not job function.
  • Customer information and general business data are at the highest risk, and the most threatened applications included mobile, social media and business unit specific applications.

Many respondents claimed to have well-defined policies for individuals with privileged access rights to specific IT systems. However, almost 40 percent were unsure about enterprise-wide visibility into specific rights, or whether those with privileged access rights met compliance policies.

Organizations attempt to maintain control over the issue in different ways. Twenty-seven percent say their organizations use technology-based identity and access controls to detect the sharing of system administration access rights or root-level access rights by privileged users, and 24 percent say they combine technology with process. However, 15 percent admit access is not really controlled and 11 percent say they are unable to detect sharing of access rights.

“This study spotlights risks that organizations don’t view with the same tenacity as critical patches, perimeter defense and other security issues, yet it represents a major access point to sensitive information,” said Tom Reilly, vice president and general manager, Enterprise Security Products, HP. “The results clearly emphasize the need for better access policy management, as well as advanced security intelligence solutions, such as identity and privileged user context, to improve core security monitoring.”

The global survey focused on more than 5,000 IT operations and security managers across the Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom and United States. Other key findings include:

  • Top barriers to enforcing privileged user access rights are the inability to keep pace with change requests, inconsistent approval processes, high costs of monitoring and difficulty in validating access changes.
  • Areas for improvement include monitoring privileged users’ access when entering root-level administrative activity, identifying policy violations and enforcing policies across an entire organization.
  • The potential for privileged access abuse varies from country to country based on responses, with France, Hong Kong and Italy having the greatest potential, and Germany, Japan and Singapore having the least.
  • Nearly 80 percent of respondents reported that deploying a security information and event management (SIEM) solution was critical to governing, managing and controlling privileged user access rights.

“The intent of the study is to provide a better understanding of the state of access governance in global organizations and the likelihood privileged users will abuse or misuse IT resources,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder, Ponemon Institute. “The findings demonstrate key areas of concern, and clearly identify budget, identity and access management technologies, and network intelligence technologies as the three most critical success factors for governing, managing and controlling privileged user access across the enterprise.”

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