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Security In Context

Bringing you news and commentary on solutions and strategies for protecting your critical IT infrastructure.

Protecting Yourself and Satisfying Auditors With Least Privilege

Post by Peter McCalister October 13, 2011

Within the complex world of IT infrastructure exists a vitally important group of people: those charged with administering a company’s most critical assets and protecting its most sensitive data. They are known as privileged users, and by definition they possess a collection of access rights reserved only for those a company has entrusted with significant responsibility in safeguarding not just data, but also brand reputation, customer trust, and sustained revenue.

While everyone understands the need for privileged users, many don’t understand how to balance the granting of such privileges with the application of necessary oversight to ensure they aren’t used improperly – either accidentally or purposely.

How does an IT organization achieve this balance? It starts with putting internal controls in place – tracking what privileged users can do as well as monitoring what they’ve done. Even private companies who are not subject to external auditor oversight need to do this.

Can you clearly identify what privileged users can do, when new privileges are granted and why, and when and why privileges are revoked? Do you have a process in place for routinely examining privileges for relevance and appropriateness? Can you prove that all access rights and user accounts associated with a privileged user are disabled immediately upon termination (an important control for all employees but particularly for those with high-level privileges)? These are all important questions to ensure that you are properly managing privileged users.

Next, is there traceability into what privileged users have done? Do you have the ability to log sensitive sessions down to the keystroke level and archive them in case a forensics analysis is required? Can you produce a report at will that shows key events – what was done, when it was done, who did it and on what host it was done?

And of course, while reporting on user access rights and events that have occurred is highly important, there’s one more question to ask yourself: can you actually prevent certain actions from happening? Because at the end of the day, if you can control exactly what privileged users can and can’t do through high-precision policy, then reporting becomes much more about providing proof of compliance and much less about collecting post-mortem evidence in the wake of a disastrous breach.

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