With security breaches set to become more commonplace, enterprise IT teams have to be more vigilant and find new ways of combating these attacks. Cyberattacks on Australian companies, such as the recent hacking on major travel insurance company Aussie Travel Cover, have left many organisations feeling vulnerable.
In many instances, IT teams have resorted using perimeter technologies like firewalls and intrusion detection to defend against potential attacks on sensitive information. They provide an ocean of data that security teams must wade through. IT security teams work to respond, but because of the information deluge they receive from their defensive technology and log analyses, it can be challenging to prioritise that response.
This can create a vicious cycle where an enterprise sees increasing security problems and invests in more security monitoring, which ultimately only exacerbates the problem of having too much information. That’s irony for you.
This may sound like “technological minimalism,” – a push to reduce technology in your environment. That’s not the point, though. You need firewalls and security tracking information, but there remains a gap in your security.
That gap is exactly where most breaches happen—people outside the organisation assume the identity of an insider, or an insider abuses his or her privileged status to harm the enterprise. Regardless of the situation, we must improve our ability to track user activity and detect suspicious behaviour.
That’s easy to say, but much harder to accomplish. Organisations have to deal with overwhelming event noise and an explosion of data which blinds them to whether they’re even under attack. If an enterprise truly understands identity, it can help cut through the noise.
Identity will increasingly be the main factor that matters to security. This will be especially true in the realm of breach detection, where security teams can identify and act on abnormal activity from a user immediately. If a security team were to gain an identity perspective — identity-powered security, the team could react faster to breaches and reduce their impact.
For identity-powered security to work, we first have to be able to link identity with activity. The combination of our corporate identity and our behaviour can then be used to inform security on what is happening with sensitive information. In the most challenging of situations—like a large-scale enterprise with many levels of access—identity-powered security begins by focusing on privileged users, as they generally have the ability to cause the most damage to the enterprise.
The key is understanding what is normal, so you know what an anomaly looks like. If someone in the legal department suddenly starts downloading an inordinate number of financial files, you could be looking at a potential problem. The same is true of a user’s location—if he or she most frequently accesses the corporate network from the office, from home and from a local coffee shop, you’ll know something is wrong when the user starts downloading a lot of data from a nearby university. Ascertaining exactly who a user is and what is normal for her is the foundation of an identity-powered security solution.
Without this kind of identity-powered solution, IT security teams will have a difficult task of knowing what to respond to. A moment of hesitation is enough to give an attacker greater access and allow him to burrow even deeper into the organisation’s systems. Without some sort of automatic way to flag abnormal activity, security will continue to be reactive to what it perceives as a threat.
Sometimes, too much security technology can be just that—too much. Technology alone isn’t enough to prevent breaches. There comes a point when IT can’t get its head around all the data it’s getting from various sources, so adding more security measures is ineffective. Rather, IT teams everywhere could greatly benefit from taking a more identity-centric approach and not exclusively relying on these defensive technologies to alert them to a breach. The “moving parts” of your IT environment are the people within it, so that’s where you’re vulnerable; therefore, tracking normal usage and watching for behaviours that break those norms will help you get a step ahead of potential threats.
Gartner analyst Sid Deshpande believes that new areas of security practices that enterprises will administer in 2015 will predominantly be around preventative measures. Deshpande says that organisations will largely leverage analytical tools and deploy solutions, detective analysis, and retrospective and predictive analysis to create an effective interface to communicate with each other. Deshpande adds that threat intelligence is one important area, hence developing a product-based architecture that enables identifying various types of attacks and associated adversaries.
So if you’re hoping to minimise the number of security breaches that may potentially impact your organisation, you can’t look past automated, identity-based security management systems which will help limit the damage when breaches do occur.
Travis Greene is the senior solution strategist, identity management at NetIQ