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IT Pros Say Privileged Accounts Getting '0wned'

Businesses see insiders as the No. 1 threat, new survey says

More than 70 percent of IT managers and C-level executives say the insider threat is the biggest risk to their organizations, and nearly 65 percent say most cyberattacks abuse privileged user accounts.

The data, from Cyber-Ark Software's 6th Annual Trust, Security and Passwords survey, published today, demonstrates a growing awareness of how the insider threat isn't just about employees gone bad, but also how the valuable privileged user account is increasingly being abused by attackers. The data also demonstrates a growing realization and acceptance that the bad guys may well already be inside, says Adam Bosnian, executive vice president of the Americas and corporate development at Cyber Ark.

"Privileged accounts are powerful and can be misused. Sixty-four percent of [the respondents] believe the majority of attacks took advantage of privileged accounts," Bosnian says. "People are starting to get it in a big way ... Today, people acknowledge that someone is already inside and can do something bad."

Cyber Ark's survey, which polled 820 respondents in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, also found that organizations took recent high-profile breaches, such as that of RSA and other major companies, very seriously. More than half say they are rethinking their security strategy as a result of these big hacks.

Around 57 percent are monitoring privileged account activity, while 43 percent don't or are not sure whether they do. But among those whose organizations monitor these accounts, more than half of the respondents say they can "get around" the controls of those accounts.

Organizations are not widely governing who has access to what, either: Forty-five percent say they can get data that's not needed for their job, and 42 percent say they or a co-worker has used an administrative password to reach confidential information, either out of curiosity or for other reasons.

Meanwhile, 55 percent say they think competitors have accessed their organizations' intellectual property or sensitive information.

"In our findings in the survey in 2010 and 2011, the customer database was the No. 1 or No. 2 specified [target]" of concern, but in 2012, the customer database and privileged password list were the No. 1 targets, Bosnian says. "Why is the privileged password list more valuable? It's simply" that password list gives me [access] to more things," he says.

The top security priorities for this year were vulnerability management (17 percent), privileged identity management (16 percent), security information and event monitoring (15 percent), anti-malware (13 percent), strong authentication (13 percent), encryption (12 percent), firewalls (11 percent), and biometrics (3 percent).

Nearly 30 percent of respondents say external threats, such as "opportunistic" hacks, are the biggest risk to their business.

The full report is available here for download (PDF).

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.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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