Businesses risk data breaches due to 'confusion' over privileged users

By Danny Palmer
20 May 2014 View Comments
Data security

Organisations remain confused about the threats posed by "privileged users" within their organisation, something that presents risks to their networks and sensitive information.

Further reading

That's according to "Privilege User Abuse & The Insider Threat", a new report from Ponemon Institute, commissioned by defence contractor Raytheon, which examined practices surrounded privileged users and information security. 

It found that 88 per cent of organisations believe that the potential damage which could be caused by an insider threat - malicious or not - represents a cause for concern.

However, as Michael Crouse, Raytheon's director of insider threat strategies told Computing, despite high profile cases of data breaches coming from IT contractors, information security should be viewed as an enterprise-wide concern.

"There's a lot of confusion when you talk about privileged users; a lot of people go right to Edward Snowden or Wikileaks and think they're just IT guys," he said. "But they're not just IT guys, a privileged-user insider threat can happen with anybody. Anybody who has access to your company's information is a threat," Crouse continued. 

"It could be in HR, legal, the car park; if they have access to information and you haven't done a good job controlling those accesses, that's a potential for an insider breach."

However, as Crouse points out, data might not necessarily be leaked or stolen by a disgruntled employee; human error is more likely to lead to a privileged user accidentally losing sensitive information.

"Some of the worst breaches out there are people who are really not trying to be malicious but are just the dumb actors who have made mistakes but have caused vulnerabilities in your company," he said. He described insider threats posed by privileged users as "a people problem" because the networks themselves won't be leaking data without human help. 

"It's not about a machine. A machine isn't being manipulated by social engineering. It's a person on the other end that's either leaking data intentionally or unintentionally."

The report suggests that 65 per cent of privileged users will access sensitive data, if they are able to, just because they're curious about it.

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