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Vulnerabilities / Threats

1/30/2009
03:12 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Account & Identity Mismanagement

Companies' lack of proper identity management and account revocation never ceases to amaze me. Why aren't these things integrated with the human resources hiring process and subsequent exit procedure when an employee leaves or is fired?

Companies' lack of proper identity management and account revocation never ceases to amaze me. Why aren't these things integrated with the human resources hiring process and subsequent exit procedure when an employee leaves or is fired?When an employee leaves, we prefer it to be on amicable terms, but we know that's not always the case. The incident with a Fannie Mae IT contractor covered in a U.S. Department of Justice press release on Jan. 27 highlights the above issue perfectly (also, see "IT Worker Indicted for Setting Malware Bomb At Fannie Mae").

What is it going to take for IT, HR, and companies as a whole to realize how important comprehensive identity and account management is to the security of their organizations? In this particular case, the employee was fired, but his account was not restricted until later that same day. The indictment alleges that he set up a logic bomb that afternoon, before his access was revoked, that would go off on Jan. 31, 2009.

News flash to companies: If you're going to fire someone, disable his account before you tell him. Also, change the password to ALL accounts that the soon-to-be ex-employee had access to. Please don't tell me you don't have an easy mechanism to do so -- and if you don't, then you better get a system in place before something like this happens to you.

I personally think proper password management is an extension of good system administration. The natural evolution of this is identity management, which tracks accounts for all systems, including who is responsible for and has access to them. It's not like this is a problem without a solution. I've seen large enterprise solutions, homegrown solutions, and even groups that keep an "account inventory" that employees sign off on yearly to show what they can access.

Having worked with a group who I know to this day is still having problems with account revocation of former employees, I find it very frustrating to see situations that could have been prevented. If you're in a similar situation, start researching the available solutions for your environment, write up a basic project proposal, attach printouts of the above articles, and then hand it the packet to your manager. It's your responsibility to try and prevent your company from being another victim.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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