Rethinking Access Control

Breaches and threats are happening at a fast and furious pace

When it comes to access control, it all boils down to companies trying to determine whether you are who you say you are, and whether you are authorized to access certain information. As we all know, both those are tall orders to fill. Identities are becoming more complex for organizations to sort out, given the different types of stakeholders, such as customers, employees, partners and different types of devices looking for access. Regulations, such as recent the recent GDPR, reduce access to the ICANN Whois database, which identifies who owns registered domains. This will make it more difficult for security professionals to determine whether a breach has occurred and if so, where it comes from.

There is no doubt that our world has been changing rapidly and it seems like we are being attacked everywhere—in government and politics, in business and at home. The breaches and threats are happening at a fast and furious rate and becoming more complex and insidious. A recent study from The Information Commission (ICO) found that data breaches were up 75 percent in the past two years. And, according to an interview in Tech Republic, IBM Security Vice President Caleb Barlow said about 200,000 security-type events happen daily at a typical midsized company. While some of these might be small and inconsequential, that still is a staggering number to have to address.

Don’t Let Old Thinking Make You Vulnerable

Old methods of access control are no longer enough keep us safe. Traditionally, we relied on firewalls and other perimeter-based solutions as a first line of defense to try keeping confidential information secure, and we focused on external threats. That, however, is no longer a valid approach, based on the realities of today’s brave new world:

  • The perimeter can’t keep you safe. The proliferation of BYOD, cloud-based apps and collaborative software has changed enterprise computing, mostly in positive ways, but they have also made security much more challenging. In addition to firewalls, Unified Threat Management (UFM) platforms and Identify Management & Access Control are also less effective.
  • The threats are coming from everywhere and can come from anywhere. While most companies are focusing on external threats, 43 percent of data breaches are caused internally, according to an Intel survey. In addition to intentional breaches from disgruntled employees, there can be accidental breaches that could occur from sharing documents or information, or devices that have been hacked or otherwise compromised.

New Technologies Bring New Threats

It is only expected to get worse. AI and machine learning solutions, while aiding in the identification of attacks, may also be adding to the problem. Hackers can take advantage of these advanced solutions to develop more sophisticated attacks.

IoT devices—which will become ubiquitous and are easy to penetrate— are posing new risks. New malware cocktails are developing a combination of potent threats. It’s inevitable that as technology continues to evolve, so too do the opportunities for hackers to improve their attacks. The challenge remains to find ways to stay one step ahead of them.

Implement Best Practices

One way is to implement better access control methods. It’s most effective to rely on one source of access control authentication. If you overlay another access control layer, which has to be managed separately from IT central file server, the chances of mis-match permissions or lagging change control increases tremendously. Instead, use your existing access control, such as the Active Directory, for all your applications, including CRM, collaborative software and cloud access security brokers (CASB).

At the same time, implement SIEM, which logs all activity for auditing, reporting, and automated orchestration. A SIEM can create an alert based on suspicious behavior which automatically launches orchestration activities, and together, SIEM and an orchestration solution, can look for suspicious activity automatically, disable devices, or run full anti-virus scans on a suspicious device.

Expand Your Cybersecurity Viewpoint

Another way to strengthen your protection is to look beyond access control and incorporate other approaches as well. With breaches at firms like Equifax, which are supposed to protect our identity and data, it’s clear that we’re in a zero trust world where you can’t trust any source or count on anything to be safe. In this environment, it’s virtually impossible to try to stop every single attack from coming in or to accurately determine everyone’s identity.

So, what can companies do? Instead of solely focusing on verifying identities, also focus on securing the data—no matter where it is and no matter where it goes.

That requires encryption all the time, at rest, in use and in transit— whichever format the data takes—Word document, PDF, etc. That will protect you against vulnerabilities you may not even be aware of. For example, when you edit a Microsoft document, you could be at risk since vulnerability in Microsoft Windows temporary “tmp” files leaves them unprotected.

Traditional data protection solutions have all been opt-in. Users had to decide what to protect. Even diligent users make mistakes and what seems innocent data today could become sensitive tomorrow. To be most effective, encryption should be opt-out and automatic— that way you can be assured that is always protecting the data. It also is important that it is transparent to the end users, so they won’t try to disable or go around it.

If the security follows the data everywhere, it will also cover derivative work. It’s often hard to contain data, which like a cold virus can easily spread everywhere. It’s too easy, for example, for someone to copy a part of a confidential document and re-purpose it or share it somewhere else. By encrypting the data itself, no matter where it travels, you are sure it is secure and you no longer have to worry about tracking where it spreads.

It is a rough and tumble world out there and cybersecurity is being challenged by new and stronger threats every day. By implementing access control best practices to manage identities and access and data encryption, you will have strong weapons in your arsenal to fight cyber threats.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.

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