As a consequence, nearly half (46%) of the IT pros surveyed say they think their organization is vulnerable to a variety of insider attack methods, including: abuse of privileged employee access rights, theft of devices containing sensitive data, and abuse of access rights by non-privileged employees or contractors.
The risk that system administrators and other employees might abuse their access privileges, however, has gained wider senior management attention. Nearly half (45%) of those surveyed say that the Snowden affair has changed their organization's perspective on insider threats either substantially or somewhat.
The biggest threat, say 51% of survey respondents, is likely to come from non-technical employees with legitimate access to sensitive data and IT assets, followed by third-party contractors (48%); IT administrators (34%); business partners, customers or suppliers (24%); IT service providers (24%); or other IT employees or executives.
What can enterprises do? One tip comes from the NSA's director, Gen. Keith Alexander. After the Snowden leak, the NSA instituted "a two-person rule," requiring two authorized individuals to be present whenever specific kinds of information are to be transferred onto removable media. Enterprises also need to assess what data is most important, where it's located and how it's protected, said Sol Cates, Vormetric's chief security officer. "You can slice and dice who has privileges, but not enough goes into what they can do with those privileges" or the data they're handling, he said.
To further reduce the risk of insider threats, enterprises need to:
-- Limit the data IT administrators can access to only the data they need to do their jobs.
-- Use data encryption technology.
-- Continually monitor access to sensitive data for signs of abuse.
-- Implement automated alerts when suspicious/malicious behavior is suspected.
The challenge, Cates concedes, is that as the volume of data and activity continues to grow, it's not easy to distinguish malicious behavior from the norm. The goal, he says, is to remove people from the equation and automate data access so that the infrastructure is essentially "blind" to the data.