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IT Temptation To Snoop Too Great

Separate reports from Cyber-Ark, BeyondTrust show the pitfalls of privileged user access
The users with the organization's highest and most powerful privileges are also the most likely to use their access to snoop around the network for confidential information.

A new survey from Cyber-Ark Software found that 28 percent of IT managers in North America have snooped, and 44 percent of those in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa have done so, too. Around 20 percent of respondents in North America and 31 percent in EMEA say one or more of their co-workers have used administrative privileges to reach confidential or sensitive information.

And one-fourth organizations worldwide are not monitoring the use of privileged accounts at all.

"It's shocking that we still see 20 percent of C-level executives that can snoop, do," says Adam Bosnian, executive vice president of the Americas and corporate development at Cyber-Ark. Nearly half say the IT department is the most likely group to peek at sensitive information not for their eyes, according to the "Trust, Security and Passwords" survey released today.

And nearly 57 percent of global C-level executives say that outside threats will be a greater risk than insider threats within the next one to three years.

Privileged user access was also the subject of another report issued this week by BeyondTrust, which found that removing administrative rights from user desktops would mitigate the risks of known vulnerabilities in Windows systems. All of the Office and Internet Explorer bugs reported in 2010 would be moot on machines without administrative privileges, according to BeyondTrust, and 75 percent of all Windows 7 flaws that have been made public. More than 60 percent of all Microsoft vulnerabilities reported in 2010 wouldn't be exploitable if admin privileges were removed from a machine.

"That's an indicator to me that even with targeted attacks, they would have to be more sophisticated to do damage" on machines without admin rights, says Peter Beauregard, director of program management.

Beauregard says organizations often avoid removing admin rights from end user machines due to worries about legacy applications that require them. And issues such as time zone changes and installing local printers or new apps all require admin rights, which makes removing them less attractive, he says. "It can be difficult to deal with if you take away admin privileges even though you get the security benefits," he says.

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