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Do Systems Really Fail, Or the Over-Privileged People Running Them?

Posted April 5, 2011    Peter McCalister

According to a recent Symantec sponsored survey, system failure has replaced negligence as the single biggest source of data breach involving UK firms, for the third successive year.  However, that depends on how you interpret the data.

If you add together the types of data breach caused by the vagaries of human behaviors – or as we refer to them intentional, accidental, or indirect harm – the survey suddenly looks very different.  While system failure accounted for 37% of data breaches, “malicious or criminal attacks” accounted for 29% of all data breaches, (up from 22% from 2009), with “negligence” at 34% (down 11 points from the previous year).

 Add these two together, with third party mistakes thrown in for extra measure, and you have over two thirds of data breaches caused by the people who operate the systems (which only fail a third of the time.)  As we have pointed out many times – in the intersection of people, processes and technology which make up the engine of modern business – it’s human nature which is the weakest link.  And, all too often it’s the tendency of almost the entire IT industry – vendors, analysts and press – to ignore this.

Put another way, you can’t rely on everyone being a saint or competent all of the time. It’s not just malicious malcontents intent on destroying the system who can cause havoc, but also the negligent, mis-informed, and down right nosey, who can compromise sensitive data.  In all cases it’s more often than not the case that such people have way too much privilege access – admin rights on the desktop, root password on server – for the role they are required to play.

Indeed, when technology is to blame, it’s not always the technology companies use, it’s the failure to recognize the importance of technology, such asPrivileged Identity Management systems, which can restrain over privileged users without hampering productivity, which is at fault.  With increasing costs arising from data breaches, including clean-up costs, as well as customer churn due to diminished trust, it makes sense not to rely on trust alone, when it comes to employee and third party access to sensitive data.

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