Contributor:
Andrew Avanessian
May 21st, 2014

Caught between a rock and a hard place

At the recent InfoSec event in London, I talked about why removing admin rights is the one big thing you can do to immediately improve your security posture. But instead of being at the top of the agenda, it’s often neglected. Why?

The issue is clear. 51% of organizations currently say their corporate network is under attack and Gartner claims that at any one time, 5% of a business’ endpoints are actually breached.

Meanwhile, Ponemon’s recent ‘Cyber Strategies for Endpoint Defense 2014′ report showed an average of 31% of staff currently have admin privileges, while 40% claim the percentage of users with admin rights is increasing year-on-year.

The threat of giving too many privileges is considerable – we need only look at the case of Edward Snowden – but the importance is still not fully understood.

Here comes the challenge: In the first instance, the cyber security landscape has changed. It’s not just about external threats and perimeter security anymore. I’ve spoken before about how the eggshell approach – a hard stance externally but a soft interior – just won’t work.

While the natural response is to lock down access in favour of security, Gen Y employees, who were brought up with the internet, demand the sort of experience they have on their home network on their corporate machines, and staff need access to do their jobs. The figures back this up too. Cisco found that 80% of Gen Y employees disregard security policies in place to get the sort experience they desire.

It would be fair to say then, that businesses find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you lock down networks, productivity will suffer and help desk costs will rise; but if you extend admin rights, security will be compromised.

Part of this is down to an adherence to an old security logic: Ponemon found that only 9% consider end user experience as important when rolling out a security project – so the focus remains on external threats. In the real world this doesn’t work. If people can’t be productive, if you can’t get the balance right between flexibility and control, your security project will fail.

I’m still surprised at how many IT people still don’t know that there is a middle ground to be found in the form of privilege management technology, which allows you to strike a balance between high security and user flexibility.

Getting this right can put an end to the over-privileging that has led to even the most unsophisticated hacker having the access to extract important data or corrupt systems.

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