Tuesday, December 11

Insider Threat - By the Numbers

I've been talking with customers and colleagues about the insider threat throughout most of 2007. I've mentioned stats that 70% of electronic security breaches originate inside the firewall and 90% of those are users with elevated rights (systems administrators, etc.).

For the most part, I've rationalized that most of those attacks are likely in one of these two categories:
  • Opportunistic
  • Unintentional
The category that's missing is malicious. I leave out malicious because I believe the large majority of breaches are not intentional or at least not driven by ill-intent. From what I've seen, people break security policies because their everyday jobs lead them to it. Sometimes, people break security protocols in order to meet a deadline or otherwise get a task accomplished. Other times, opportunity just presents itself.

Consider these scenarios:
  • A DBA opens a database to accomplish a work-related task and encounters data that's just too enticing to ignore.
  • A file system administrator is asked to grant a new HR manager access to the file share that houses previous employees' offer letters and he/she can't help but take a peak at a few co-worker salaries.
  • An employee is asked to take some work home and rather than carry a company laptop, they put sensitive information on a USB key that they often use to share songs or other trivial files with friends. Or they email files to/from a personal account which may not be secure.
  • In software development and/or integration, I've seen numerous people make decisions to share a password, grant full permissions or otherwise remove security restrictions to troubleshoot some software or configuration-related issue.
All of these scenarios represent a real security risk to the organization but none would be considered a malicious attack. When I first saw the 70% number, I thought it had to include these types of scenarios. I know malicious attacks happen, but I just don't see it in my daily life. These scenarios, however, are another story. It's almost hard to work on any corporate project and not encounter these types of security breaches.

A series of articles posted yesterday in Network World by Denise Dubie provides some air cover for the arguments I've made based on personal experience. Check out just a few of these quotes, then go look at the articles for yourself. Great food for thought.

End users behaving badly
Most employees knowingly violate corporate security policies.
By Denise Dubie, Network World, 12/10/07

"most companies say they have security policies in place, yet data breaches continue to plague more than 75% of Fortune 1000 companies"

"More than 50% of survey respondents admit to copying confidential information onto a USB memory stick, and 87% say they believe that the company's policy forbids it. But 40% also reported they knowingly break the policy because the company doesn't enforce it, and another 21% said 'no one really cares about compliance with this policy.' Close to 30% said they'd violate the policy because otherwise they would not be able to complete their work on time."

"46% of those polled said they share their passwords at work, and 40% of survey respondents believe that sharing passwords with co-workers is necessary to get work done within deadlines"

Trusted users pose significant security threats, survey finds
RSA survey data reveals innocent insiders create data exposures of extraordinary scope
By Denise Dubie, Network World, 12/10/07

"35% of people polled said they need to work around their organization's security policies to get their job done"

"34% reported having held a door open for someone they did not recognize"

Scary tech stories: How dangerous user behavior puts networks at risk
IT managers share tales of how users' actions can cause security nightmares
By Denise Dubie, Network World, 12/10/07

"end users just don't think passwords are a big deal and think we are just here to make their lives miserable when we request them to change or update passwords"

No comments: