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Managing Risk of Privileged Access and Activity Management

Managing the risk of privileged accessThe Problem
As organizations continue to leverage IT systems to support their businesses, the requirement of managing privileged users is rapidly emerging. Privileged IDs are the in-built system accounts within applications, operating systems, and databases. Additionally, user accounts that are created for administration of systems are also privileged IDs.
These IDs have higher and generally unrestricted authority associated with them to allow efficient system maintenance. As a side effect, these IDs can also be used to make widespread changes to the business systems.

The Risk
Usually, these IDs, especially the ones that are in-built, are shared among the groups of administrators. This method of sharing highly powerful access can cause accountability concerns and non compliance with regulatory requirement, thereby significantly increasing the access risk.

Data can be stolen undetected or IT systems can be sabotaged by misusing the privileged access, since these IDs have access to systems from the backend and can bypass the control deployed for business users.

The rapidly emerging trends of cloud computing, consolidation of data centers, virtualization and hosted application services providers imply growing numbers of IT systems and privileged IDs. Any organization using significant number of IT systems like servers, network devices, desktops, or applications faces the requirement of managing privileged IDs.

Regulatory and government requirements for telecom, banking and IT verticals create an even greater need to address this requirement. Recent prominent and high profile security breaches in these verticals across the globe highlight the degree of access risk caused by inadequate privileged ID management.

What Not to Do
Limiting the privileges granted to these IDs will not mitigate the risk as it will render the useless IDs to perform its functions. Alternatively, some organizations aim to bring in accountability by assigning individual IDs to their administrators in order to eliminate sharing. This approach is helpful only for managing a small number of administrators managing few systems.

In-built IDs will still need to be shared even if administrators use their own individual IDs. To add to the complexity, some IT systems enforce a limit on the number of individual accounts that can be created to manage them. Moreover, the number of individual IDs grows multiplicatively with the increase in both the number of administrators and managed systems.

For example, an admin team of twenty managing a thousand systems can easily be dealing with more than 20,000 IDs. The cost and complexity of managing the lifecycle, enforcing password policies and access controls on so many individual IDs makes this approach suboptimal.

Mitigating the Risk
What is needed is a comprehensive and modular approach to privileged access and activity management. Privileged access and activity management is an identity management domain comprising of the same traditional building blocks of User Provisioning, Single Sign-on and Access Management, Role Management, Password Vault and SIEM tied together with robust solution design based on well thought of policies and procedures.

A good solution approach uses an iterative model to focus on each of these areas and improve them incrementally by understanding how it integrated with other building blocks. This approach allows for a modular solution which not only can solve immediate problems with least disruption and change to the existing practices, but also scale to meet the evolved requirements as the business and expectations grow.

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July 26, 2011 Posted by | Access control, IT security, Risk management | , , , | Leave a comment

Identity and Access Management – This must be your project, not your partners’!

Lessons Learned

Identity and Access RiskHaving been through numerous Identity and Access Management (IAM) implementations, we see two common denominators in terms of customer expectations that rear their ugly heads rather frequently:

  1. Let’s integrate everything that we have, and
  2. Let’s do it all at once

One can understand the excitement we all go through when we contemplate having a solution that allows us link so many applications, streamline processes with workflow automation and synchronize attributes across the board. While that excitement is infectious and contagious, the sound voice of reason must be heard and listened to.

It is natural for you to want to do as much as you can with a product, and it is human to want all of it done yesterday. Hence, the onus lies on the domain experts to work closely with customers (as partners, not vendors) and plan out a deployment that gives the customers the most results as soon as possible and additional benefits over subsequent phases.

The “good” partner helps the customer prioritize their needs and requirements, and establish plans to achieve those objectives over phases. Strong project management and planning are the keys to a successful IAM program. The products from various vendors are unlike those of 5 years ago, they are now mature, stable and scale exceptionally well, unless hacked to death to fulfil a few exotic requirements.

We cannot lose sight of the top benefits of having a robust IAM program toa company:

  1. IT systems and applications are constantly compliant with a variety of regulations, there are few gaps in access recertification
  2. Processes and access governance have been streamlined – business demands, business approves, and business gets – with minimal or no IT intervention
  3. Password reset is automated and secure, and helpdesk costs are under control
  4. Peace of mind

 

So next time you want to know whose side the “partner” is on, throw a plan too ambitious at them. While most will try to give you what you demand, you will know during the course of their approach whose interests they have in mind, yours or their own.  After all, it is your project and responsibility.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | identity and access management, Identity Theft, IT security, Risk management | , , , | Leave a comment

Information Risk Management Concerns in Merger & Acquisition – A Point of View

Integrating Risk, Compliance and Security Components into the Post-Merger Integration Process

M+AOver last few years, the Merger and Acquisition space has witnessed high growth. However, as experience shows,  getting a deal executed is only half the job done. Capturing the actual value in M&A comes from appropriate and timely post-merger integration of people, operations, processes, information systems, and culture.

Historic data indicates that most M&A deals failed to realize value due to ineffective post-merger integration. This has forced companies to look at post M&A integration activity as a program with set milestones. Companies today create separate integration teams with a Project Management Office and clear reporting structure. While companies look at retaining customers and key employees, integrating finance and IT functions, and addressing tax and other operational issues, they often fail to identify and address the risk and control environment. This can affect a company’s security and internal control environment.  Appropriately addressing security, risk and control issues can save time and compliance cost while minimizing business and legal risk for the combined entity.

Key Security, Risk and Control Challenges

1.       How to address compliance requirements and create an effective risk and control environment

When two companies merge, their separate compliance requirements need to be integrated. With different structures, processes, geographies and separate applicability, it becomes difficult to remain compliant, especially during post-merger integration.  Further, the risk profile of the merged entity might be different from the pre-merger entities, as there are significant changes in materiality, processes, supporting technology, and control owners.

Implications- Non compliance, ineffective and inefficient internal audit functions, lack of key risk and control owners, and a higher cost of compliance are some of the common implications.

2.       How to manage access rights for employees, customers, affiliates and third parties in an integrated environment

Mergers bring new users, applications and legacy systems to be integrated for simple, faster and secure access to data.  Therefore managing appropriate access to data is critical from both risk and compliance perspectives.  Inappropriate access to confidential data can lead to information leakage and loss in competitiveness along with non –compliance penalties.

Implications- Failure to manage access rights to business critical applications and data can lead to a) Unauthorized access to critical business data; b) No access to authorized users; c) Excess privileges to some/all users; d) Fewer privileges to authorized user; e) Operational ineffectiveness due to inappropriate access management.

3.       How to address privacy requirements of the combined entity

Two companies storing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for employees, business partners and customers are managed through separate privacy programs, processes and systems. 

Implications– Disclosure of private information to unauthorized users can lead to regulatory and legal implications.

4.       How to manage business continuity during transition phase while integrating different IT systems, operations and people

Consolidating ERP, CRM, and other business, combining complex infrastructures of two organizations and changing how people access organization data and critical business applications warrants a robust and updated business continuity plan for recovery and continuity in the event of any disaster or malfunction of IT system or access infrastructure.

Implications- Unavailability of business critical applications preventing access to business data.

Next Week – Part 2 – Approach

November 15, 2010 Posted by | identity and access management, IT security, Mergers and Acquisitions, Risk management | , , , , | Leave a comment