Contributor:
Andrew Avanessian
August 8th, 2014

Security Controls: Securing the perfect balance between usage and effectiveness

Growing instances of cyber threats have dawned a new era in IT security, as protecting the endpoint becomes a major concern for organizations everywhere. We know that improving security is a goal that most organizations strive for, but many struggle when it comes to developing effective strategies.

To demonstrate the point, we compared the research findings of a recent Ponemon report to the Australian Department of Defense’s (ADoD) Top 35 Mitigation Strategies report, which ranks security solutions based on their effectiveness. This is a report we reference regularly, because its findings are based on the analysis of real-world attack data.

The findings show a substantial difference between the strategies that IT departments believe to be effective, and those which measure up in practice.

Effectiveness and usage are detached

So what’s the disconnect? It likely boils down to the organization’s security toolkit and the solutions IT is choosing to use. For instance, when it comes to preventing cyber intrusions, the mitigation control with the highest usage rate is antivirus (AV) software, with virtually all organizations (92%) using it today.

But despite its widespread popularity, AV’s effectiveness is much less impressive. In fact, it was ranked as one of the least effective technology-based security controls by the Australian Government.

It seems that the technologies that IT professionals are implementing first are reactive technologies (like AV) that are perceived to be much easier to implement. However, while it may appear the most painless route, it’s not the most effective and doesn’t pay off in the long run.

On the other hand, administrative rights are quietly emerging as one of the biggest threats to IT security, given that malware not only requires admin rights, but actually targets them to bury into systems, and ultimately wreak havoc on an entire corporate network.

The research shows that the provisioning of administrator rights is actually on the rise, which is giving more power to employees than ever before. In fact, 42% of organizations revealed that the number of staff with admin privileges increased from last year due to growing demand from employees – many of whom are tech savvy Gen-Yers.

While we know that removing admin rights can significantly reduce the attack vector on the endpoint, many organizations just don’t understand the full impact that this can have.

So, why is usage slow to pick up?

Many argue that locking down admin accounts has a negative impact on productivity; a valid concern given that users require admin rights to perform even the simplest tasks. Figuring out how to limit admin rights, without limiting productivity, is often what creates a sense of perceived frustration with this type of solution. But with the right technology in place, striking this balance between security and user freedom is possible.

Overcoming the discord

Proactive measures like limiting admin rights rank high on effectiveness, but their usage rates could definitely benefit from a boost. As more organizations come to realize the benefits of an approach like privilege management, and its potential to ease the deployment of these kinds of technologies, they can begin to overcome this disconnect between effectiveness and usage.

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