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Deprovisioning and the Insider Threat   Leave a comment

If you’re not paying attention to your access controls, especially when it comes to removing access for staff who should no longer have it, you’re setting yourself up for problems.

Deprovisioning, or removing accounts, is an important process in managing system access. The process usually depends on people to some extent, although automation can make the job a lot easier if your infrastructure is setup to handle it. At a minimum, your security processes should integrate with the separation process for both employees and contractors.

Here are a few touch-points that need to accomodate deprovisioning:

  • VPN and other remote access infrastructure (don’t forget your mobility solutions)
  • Any business applications or systems that can be reached directly over the Internet
  • Business partner networks, applications/Saas solutions or systems
  • Cloud management and cloud-operated virtual systems

Aside from the risk from disgruntled former staff, people who are still within the company should only have access to systems needed for their jobs and to which they are authorized. For example, a system administrator who moves from managing your messaging infrastructure to running a research network should not retain administrative privileges on your messaging infrastructure after they transition to the new role. (In my experience, this type of legacy access is pervasive but organizations should realize that it is a problem waiting to happen).

Retaining access during transition is one thing, but people retaining access as part of their legacy in the team opens the door for all kinds of problems. For example, even a well-intentioned ex-admin who makes a change to your messaging infrastructure after departing the job could cause operational problems due to incompatibilities with the current configuration. On the other hand, if the password for the ex-admin’s legacy account is cracked or stolen, their account could be used to perform malicious acts, which would then probably be attributed to the admin – even though they may have had nothing to do with the attack.

There’s no question that Shionogi’s situation would have been helped by ensuring a deprovisioning process was established. However, there were a couple other weaknesses that enabled the attack. For one, Cornish was able to install virtualization management software, which means he still had administrative rights. Secondly, most management consoles fail to include any features that ensures checks-and-balances to what can be done by one individual. If the system required someone to “approve” or finalize the deletion of the virtual systems, their problems could have been avoided entirely.

So the next time you’re talking with your software vendors and evaluating a systems management solution, consider whether¬†the solution integrates with your deprovisioning scheme and wheter the¬†solution enables separation of duties for staff performing critical functions.


Posted August 20, 2011 by jeffkeith in Security

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