The biggest data security blind spot: Authorization

Too many people have access to company data they don’t need. Also, too many companies focus on authentication (verifying identity) as a security measure and overlook the importance of authorization (verifying right to access).


While it’s important to give employees access to the data they require to do their job, granting too much access increases the risk of data breaches. Maintaining proper authorization is particularly important when we’re facing the economic distress that comes with mass layoffs, market fluctuation, and geopolitical uncertainty. Companies are at a higher risk of cybercrime and insider breaches when they are at their weakest and most distracted.

To mitigate these risks, companies need to make sure authorization is a core element of their data security strategies.

Authorization as a core component of security

Authorization is critical to protecting sensitive information as it ensures that only pre-approved employees can access confidential data.

When authorization is overlooked, companies have little to no visibility into who is accessing what. This makes it challenging to track access, identify unusual behavior, or detect potential threats. It also leads to having “overprivileged” users – a leading cause of data breaches according to many industry reports.

Authorization oversight is critical when employees leave a company or change roles within the organization, as they might retain access to sensitive data they no longer need. If access rights never expire, unauthorized users have access to sensitive data. And with layoffs, the risk of data theft increases.

The lack of proper authorization also puts companies at risk of non-compliance with privacy laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which can result in significant penalties and reputational damage.

Most organizations store sensitive data in the cloud, and the majority do so without any kind of encryption, making proper authorization all the more necessary.

With such high stakes, why aren’t companies doing more to ensure that authorization is part of their data security strategies?

The (very real) authorization struggle

Without a clear picture of who exactly has access to sensitive data at any given time, it’s hard to put proper controls in place to prevent unauthorized access. Obtaining this view is tricky for several reasons:

1. Complex data infrastructure: Many companies have complicated data infrastructures with numerous databases, data warehouses, and data lakes. Discovering sensitive data, managing access to it, and securing it across all these data stores can be challenging.

2. Inefficient processes: Large organizations with multiple data sources have an inherently hard time managing data access and applying controls. Without a centralized system, security, data or DevOps teams are manually reviewing permissions requests and managing authorizations – a time-consuming and error-prone process.

3. A constantly changing workforce: As employees move between roles or leave the organization, their access needs to change. Keeping track of these changes and ensuring that permissions are updated accordingly is challenging, particularly in fast-paced environments. With mass layoffs, this becomes even more complicated and authorizations go unchecked for far too long.

Balancing data sharing with risk mitigation

It’s clear that for organizations to stay competitive, they need to share data swiftly and seamlessly. However, from a security standpoint, it’s critical that only authorized users have access to the data they need and that controls are in place to revoke access when it is no longer required.

Effective authorization policies are integral to safeguarding sensitive information and minimizing security breaches while still fostering collaboration and data-driven decision making.

The first step is to get a clear picture of who has access to sensitive data within your company. Then, it’s important to put proper access controls in place. There are a few different approaches, but a just-in-time (JIT) data access approach best balances data sharing while minimizing risks.

By granting temporary access to approved users and revoking it once it’s no longer necessary, companies can lower the danger of data breaches while optimizing productivity. When paired with proper data classification and regular monitoring, companies can overcome authorization oversight and reduce overall risk.

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