Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Analytics //

Security Monitoring

11/15/2013
05:27 PM
50%
50%

Modeling Users And Monitoring Credentials Prevents Breaches

Attackers quickly grab usernames and passwords to leverage an initial compromise into full-blown network access, but companies that monitor user authentication can head off attacks

Legitimate user credentials are the digital lifeblood of attackers looking to compromise a network. With valid credentials, attackers can infiltrate a target network, elevate their privileges to gain access to more sensitive data, and take control of critical systems.

To combat an attacker's ability to use stolen credentials, companies need to model the behavior of every user -- especially those people, such as system administrators, with access to privileged accounts. Using that baseline, businesses can detect whether the use of a credential falls outside of what is typical or allowed by policy, says Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, a privileged-account management provider.

"You have to look at not only what a person can do and who they are, but to look at their behavior and whether that behavior has become risky," Lieberman says. "Then you can respond to a high-risk score by shutting down the account if the behavior of the user is becoming anomalous."

At the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Congress in December, Lieberman and industry experts will discuss how authentication can be used to better secure cloud services and network infrastructure from attack. The fundamental problem is that few companies have a good idea of how many privileged-user credentials are in existence, where they are stored, and whether an account is still necessary for business, he says.

Companies typically have three or four privileged accounts per employee, most which are not monitored or managed by the business, according to a recent survey by CyberArk, a privileged-account security firm. Finding those accounts and monitoring their access is critical to heading off insider attacks and more persistent external attackers, says John Worrall, chief marketing officer for CyberArk.

"The advanced threat from the outside really goes south for [companies] once the attackers compromise an insider's privileged credential," he says. "So you really want to have real-time monitoring of behaviors -- then you can build these profiles of what is expected."

Similar to financial firms tracking credit-card usage, monitoring behavior allows companies to determine whether an employee's account exhibits irregular behavior. Logging in from a different country, outside of work hours or to several accounts in one session, are all likely signs of compromise, Worrall says.

[Top executives, power users, and IT administrators may have access to more than they should. Here are some tips for keeping them in check. See How To Monitor And Control Privileged Users.]

In addition, companies should look at their password policies and work to limit privileged access, Lieberman says. A single user should not be logged into his privileged account while doing day-to-day work. Rather, he should have to elevate privilege only when necessary. Taking that approach limits the exposure of that particular user and the account credential, he says.

"This is a matter of behavior, not a matter of technology," he says. "We have to spend a lot of time on training the behavior of our customers to operate their business in a sane way that gives them some resiliency."

Companies also need to survey their use of privileged accounts, searching for default passwords, backdoor accounts, accounts for workers no longer employed by the company, and accounts that are rarely, or never, used.

Companies also can work with their authentication providers to use the most appropriate type of security for privileged accounts. Mobile authentication provider Nok Nok Labs can query a mobile device and attempt to use the strongest possible type of authentication, a technique that helps secure the cloud service from attackers, says Brendon Wilson, director of product management for Nok Nok Labs.

"There is a bunch of advanced capabilities on mobile devices -- increasingly secure chips and secure elements -- all of these things can be used to make the authentication piece stronger, whether for an enterprise, a consumer business, or a Web service," he says.

Yet companies cannot just rely on strong authentication to keep out attackers. They have to assume the attackers are already inside their perimeters, Lieberman says.

"If you wake up every day knowing that someone is in your systems, and you shouldn't stop looking for them, then I think you have a pretty good chance of preventing a breach," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/21/2020
Hacking Yourself: Marie Moe and Pacemaker Security
Gary McGraw Ph.D., Co-founder Berryville Institute of Machine Learning,  9/21/2020
Startup Aims to Map and Track All the IT and Security Things
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15930
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-24
An XSS issue in Joplin desktop 1.0.190 to 1.0.245 allows arbitrary code execution via a malicious HTML embed tag.
CVE-2020-19447
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-24
SQL injection exists in the jdownloads 3.2.63 component for Joomla! com_jdownloads/models/send.php via the f_marked_files_id parameter.
CVE-2020-3560
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-24
A vulnerability in Cisco Aironet Access Points (APs) could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to cause a denial of service (DoS) on an affected device. The vulnerability is due to improper resource management while processing specific packets. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability by s...
CVE-2020-3509
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-24
A vulnerability in the DHCP message handler of Cisco IOS XE Software for Cisco cBR-8 Converged Broadband Routers could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to cause the supervisor to crash, which could result in a denial of service (DoS) condition. The vulnerability is due to insufficient error...
CVE-2020-3510
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-24
A vulnerability in the Umbrella Connector component of Cisco IOS XE Software for Cisco Catalyst 9200 Series Switches could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to trigger a reload, resulting in a denial of service condition on an affected device. The vulnerability is due to insufficient error h...