To Err Is Human: Why Your Users’ Identity Is Your Security’s Weakest Link

With 2014 sometimes called “The Year of the Breach,” many organizations have realized their most serious security threat isn’t the external attack. Instead, it’s the user who can compromise or leak the organization’s most sensitive data — its “crown jewels” — either intentionally or accidentally. According to IBM’s “2014 Cyber Security Intelligence Index,” 95 percent of all security incidents involve human error or a breached identity.

The issue becomes more difficult to deal with as the definition of “insider” moves beyond employees and privileged IT staff to include business partners, suppliers and contractors who may have inappropriate or outdated access rights, as well as third-party service providers with excessive administrative privileges. If not properly controlled, these users have the opportunity to cause security breaches.

The Role of User Awareness

Unfortunately, there’s no one silver bullet to solve the problem, but there are a number of actions organizations can take. Most experts agree that organizations should use a multipronged approach of user education, strong internal security policies and identity management solutions that extend across an enterprise’s operations, including supply chains and partners.

User education can help ensure staff members are aware of their accountability for particular activities, such as sharing passwords. However, despite improved awareness, some users are still going to be careless in their behavior and become victims of social engineering. Technology and restrictions need to be in place to protect users from themselves and the unavoidable tendencies of some to share company documents, peek at confidential data or click on links to cat videos sent in a phishing email.

Mitigating Insider Threats With Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management solutions can help address the problem of both negligent and malicious activity. All user groups with internal access to business systems should be certified and monitored, and each user’s access to corporate data should be mapped to align with their job requirements and responsibilities. Make sure access privileges align with established security policies and are backed up by auditing tools to monitor and report on user behavior. They can also help control policy violations and identify abuse that could signal an insider threat.

The privileged identity, with its unfettered access to IT resources and ability to delete traces of its activities, remains a big concern. If a privileged identity is not properly managed, it can cause security vulnerabilities and compliance issues and increase the risk of data theft. Consider privileged identity management solutions that control and monitor access of “super users” while providing individual user accountability.

When integrated with identity and access management, a security intelligence solution can produce user analytics and highlight anomalies, enabling organizations to do the following:

  • Establish a baseline for user behavior and quickly detect anomalies;
  • Create alerts when anomalous behavior is observed;
  • Correlate identities with known threats or suspicious IP addresses;
  • Protect against insider fraud by highlighting compromised employee accounts.

With the right security solutions, organizations can strengthen their identity management to minimize insider threats and improve compliance.

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Veronica Shelley

WW Market Segment Manager, IBM Security

Veronica Shelley is the worldwide marketing manager for the IBM Security Identity and Access Management (IAM) portfolio. She is a dedicated advocate for people-based security solutions, using web, social media and marketing assets to promote their benefits. She frequently comments on IAM’s impact on emerging security requirements, such as cloud/mobile, compliance and governance. In her nearly 18 years at IBM, Veronica has been marketing manager for various software products, specializing in marketing communications and sales enablement.