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Too Much Access

New study shows that most companies still haven't solved the access governance problem - and their data may be at risk

What went wrong at Société Générale? When employees, temporary employees, contractors, and partners have inappropriate access to information resources, companies are subject to serious compliance and business risks.

To mitigate this risk, companies need to have a governance framework which ensures that access to corporate information resources is appropriate. This "access governance" ensures that users of information resources, including applications, files, and data, have the access they need to do their jobs – and no more than that.

So how are enterprises doing in their efforts to employ "access governance" in their day-to-day operations? Today, we are releasing some data that may shed some light on the subject.

The National Survey on Access Governance is sponsored by Aveksa and independently conducted by Ponemon Institute. In this inaugural study, we surveyed almost 700 experienced IT practitioners from U.S. business and governmental organizations. According to participants in our study, user access governance is important in order to reduce the cost and burden associated with achieving compliance, to improve compliance with regulations and, as described above, to reduce the risk of insider negligence and malicious insiders.

The overall objective of this study is to learn from the perspective of IT security & compliance practitioners how well access governance is being achieved within their organizations.

Respondents have a median of almost 10 years business experience and almost nine years IT/information security experience. They have approximately four years experience in their current position. Seventeen percent are at the director level, and 40 percent are at the manager level. More than half (55 percent) are employed by companies that are publicly traded on one or more major stock exchanges in the United States.

The findings from our study illustrate the challenges organizations face in having an effective governance process. Based on responses to our survey, we have identified four major challenges to implementing an effective access governance framework:

  • Organizations are finding it difficult to enforce access policies in a consistent fashion across the entire enterprise.

  • Collaboration among business units and security, audit, and compliance teams to ensure accountability for governing access and to understand roles and responsibilities is viewed as critical, but is not being achieved.

  • Organizations are not able to keep pace with changes to users’ roles as a result of transfers, terminations, and revisions to job responsibilities. As a result, they face serious noncompliance and business risks.

  • Senior management does not seem understand the risk of inappropriate user access and what resources are needed to prevent compliance and business risks.

Taken together, our findings indicate that the distributed nature of the organization has resulted in a breakdown in centralized policy management. Application owners are distributed throughout the organizations, which can contribute to the problem of ensuring proper access.

This ad-hoc approach can contribute to excessive user access. If access is granted based on a time period or project, is there a process in place for ensuring that entitlements that were granted are now revoked when no longer needed? If there is no regular review of access, there is no way to mitigate the risk.

In summary, the importance of this study is to better understand current access governance practices and where organizations may be at greatest risk because of systemic governance gaps. Our findings show that IT practitioners generally see the need for a strategic, unified approach to access governance and related responsible information management practices.

Despite these perceptions, our findings also suggest that many organizations are facing significant information risks because of ad hoc or inconsistent approaches to access management activities across the enterprise.

If you have questions or comments about the research, or if you would like to obtain a full report, please contact us.

— Larry Ponemon is founder and CEO of Ponemon Institute LLC . Special to Dark Reading.

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