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2014 Trends – The Year of the Insider Threat

As more and more organizations are adopting cloud strategies, there is now an added layer of complexity and sophistication

If last year underscored anything, it was the significant and far-reaching impact of breaches by trusted insiders - case in point, the Edward Snowden affair. What makes this such a critical trend for 2014 is the fact that as more and more organizations are adopting cloud strategies, there is now an added layer of complexity and sophistication when it comes to protecting who can access what types of sensitive data. The cloud makes it easier for organizations to conduct business, but that simplicity also translates into easier ways for insiders or un-trusted individuals to steal data - identity has become the new perimeter.

The number of organizations around the globe turning to a combination of traditional computing, virtualization, and public-cloud infrastructure to deliver business applications quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively is growing exponentially. As they migrate systems to the cloud, or leverage the scalability and elasticity of cloud computing to deliver entirely new applications, they can run headlong into security and compliance issues that must be solved to protect systems and make auditors happy. In addition to protecting privileged access to servers and network gear, virtualization and cloud computing add important new items that need to be locked down. First, organizations need to protect virtualization and cloud management consoles that provide unprecedented administrative power to create, configure, delete and copy network and server resources. Second, organizations must ensure the cloud management application programming interfaces (APIs) that transfer enormous administrative power to scripts, programs and DevOps tools are adequately controlled. Companies that want to ensure their data remains safe regardless of whether it is in a traditional database, in the cloud, or some variation of both, now need to seriously consider the security ramifications of having a lax privileged user policy - especially in an era where a few clicks of the mouse in the console, or a few commands in a script can wreak havoc.

The Snowden breach is a perfect example of the ramifications organizations typically overlook when they consider the negatives of a breach. According to different reports, the NSA has spent millions of dollars replacing software and hardware systems to mitigate the risk of undetected compromises on resources to which Snowden had access. These sorts of costs - forensic analysis, re-imaging, and repairing or replacing compromised systems - are frequently overlooked when assessing the potential value of privileged identity management programs. Harder to measure are the impacts arising from the disclosure or theft of sensitive and confidential information. Not to mention the potential for embarrassment and loss of trust from essential stakeholders including partners, customers, and others.

Another factor we see catapulting privileged users and insider threats as a key trend in 2014 is the increased attention toward regulations and compliance. Regulators are extending security and privacy mandates to cover the risks posed by privileged users and administrative accounts. High-profile insider breaches (e.g., Snowden, Wikileaks), plus increasingly advanced spearfishing and APT-based attacks, have heightened regulator and auditor attention to privileged user threats. And there are specific regulations that apply to specific industries. Some of the regulations include penalties for non-compliance, and many of these mandates continue to be updated to contend with the latest threats. A good number of them have been updated with specific requirements relevant to privileged identity management.

Privileged identity management protects organizations from the risks privileged users pose to systems and data. Privileged users - people like systems administrators, contractors, and third-party vendors - have routine access to the most sensitive IT resources. It's no wonder studies consistently show the largest and most damaging breaches are often traced to these individuals. Privileged identity management software supports and enforces the policies and controls needed to mitigate risks created by privileged users, those with elevated rights and access to administrative accounts, credentials, and systems.

Privileged identity management isn't just about privileged identities, though being able to positively identify powerful users and vault and manage their passwords is a key part of the equation. Next generation privileged identity management platforms also control, monitor and audit privileged users, ensuring they can access only explicitly authorized resources. Comprehensive privileged identity management tools also record privileged sessions so you know exactly what happens during each session - and you can prove it to your auditor. These tools also enable you to lock down virtual and cloud "super-user" administrative consoles, such as VMware's vCenter Server and the Amazon Web Services Management Console.

The fallout of the NSA/Snowden leak and other "insider threat" and "privileged user" incidents has significantly broadened interest in privileged identity management tools, and we expect that to only increase as cloud and virtual technologies continue to evolve. Inbound inquires to Xceedium, and likely other PIM vendors, have increased beyond the usual suspects, such as the traditional security leaders in banking and financial services or organizations with critical infrastructure and those other markets governed by strict security regulations. We're now seeing a big increase in interest across numerous industries and geographic regions.

As insider threats continue to shine a light on the need for next generation privileged identity management solutions, the important thing to remember is to focus on solutions that go beyond simple password management. The ability to attribute actions taken to specific individuals, as well as real-time logging and session recording, make it easier to proactively alert security teams to issues and conduct forensic analysis. If questions arise about an individual's activities, it's a straightforward task to determine exactly what they did and when. Cloud computing introduces important new administrative systems that need to be controlled and monitored. While security breaches are bound to happen, a modern privileged identity management system can make sure you are in a position to appropriately investigate what happened and keep the fallout to a minimum.

More Stories By Dale R. Gardner

Dale R. Gardner is Director of Product Marketing at Xceedium. He's developed and launched multiple network, systems, and security management products for the enterprise market. A former META Group analyst, he started his career as a programmer and networking specialist.

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