Too Many Permissions: A Data Security Nightmare

Enabling employees with excessive access rights is not a good thing. Imagine a business without any sort of access management restrictions. The result would be disorder and chaos with everyone in the organization able to access all the company’s information on their systems and applications.

Transparency is important, but not when it comes to data access. Without limitations, employees could make changes to secure data that powers payroll and customer information. While such a situation might sound outlandish in our current always-on, ever-connected world, the scary reality is that most organizations have minimal access governance protocols in place to minimize unrestricted permissions.

Perhaps even more alarming is the number of organizational leaders who think they’re adequately managing their permissions when they are not. In these cases, ignorance is not bliss. Without adequately governing permissions, an organization may as well open its doors to the cyber world and announce that it’s offering the sweetest of honey pots.

Needless to say, where permission rights are rampant, security risks are high. Not carefully tracking permission or access rights, and a lack of access management protocols can lead to many security breaches.

When are too many permissions too much?

Individuals have excessive permissions when they have more rights to IT platforms than are needed to achieve their role within the organization. As the number of access rights increases, so do the organization’s risks when an account is compromised.

There are three common situations when excessive permissions are granted:

  • At an organization’s inception: When an organization starts, there are typically limited IT resources, with one or a few staff members performing most technology roles. One person might handle all of the development, network management, and user support. As more people are hired, their rights mirror the people before them, and as time goes by, everyone has a mix of permissions.
  • When it’s easier to grant everyone permission: Some organizations allow all IT team members to have system admin rights or give everyone in the company all admin permissions because it seems easier than managing individual permissions based on the employee’s role. The problem is that this mentality has been said to improve organizational agility to keep technology on track and all things running, but the issue here is the additional risk.
  • In an emergency: Many businesses establish well-thought-out security policies, but more permissions are granted to those needed to resolve the situation when something happens. However, when the emergency is over, access to these individuals is never disabled. This “permission creep” is very common in this scenario since some organizations don’t have the proper controls to ensure that rights are later removed. Routinely reviewing accounts ensures that all associated permissions are valid and required for users to do their job.

Setting Correct Access Rights

One of the main issues experienced by organizations without proper access management protocols is the most-obvious lack of ability to control access to applications throughout the company. While protecting the network from outside hackers is the priority, many security breaches come from negligent or malicious employees on the inside.

Employees with more access than they need or require is the same as providing open access to anyone who asks for it. Think about it this way: would you provide unfettered access to all systems in your organization to every intern that volunteers within the company? Not likely.

Even with proper access protocols set for employees, there can still be difficult issues to regulate manually. For example, employees usually lend others their access, much like people do with their Netflix credentials. A plan must be in place to address rights inherited during an employee’s tenure and those credentials shared from one co-worker to another.

Another common access management problem is not disabling employee accounts once a user departs the organization. When the employee leaves, there is often no urgency to remove their access. Doing so is especially important to prevent disgruntled former employee from accessing any company data.
Avoid any permissions that put confidentiality, integrity, and availability at risk.

Excessive permissions are a problem and must be periodically reviewed to ensure properly supported “segregation of duties” (i.e., the separation of responsibilities and processes as part of compliance efforts and fraud prevention). Permissions must mirror defined employee roles. Doing so reduces risk to a manageable level.

Reducing risk

Conduct an audit of each application to learn about its number of total users and accounts. If it’s high, conduct research to confirm. Determine how many elevated users are necessary within the application. Rid the permission rights of those not needed and improve control over the rest.

Keep in mind that most applications require only a few administrators. If too many are needed, move away from the application or determine ways to reduce admin access.

A quality RBAC (role-based access control) solution helps accomplish this and enforces “segregation of duties”. They determine what each user can do by his or her role. Users approved by this solution can only do that task in the application while performing a particular function. RBAC is powerful because the person who adds and removes users and grants elevated privileges, for example, is not the same person working with the data.

In another instance, an RBAC admin may access and change data, but only while within the application. When closed, the RBAC admin has zero rights to the underlying database or application.

Ensure Proper Access Management

A lack of proper access management and governance leads to countless security issues. A minimum plan should include at least a plan for managing user permissions to ensure that employees have the correct access to only the systems they need for their jobs rather than to everything on the network.

Implement automated permissions technology (such as RBAC or an access governance solution) and conduct an audit of employee access rights. Likewise, establish a system for permissions onboarding and offboarding. Any errors or permission overages found are automatically corrected based on pre-established parameters. Employing an automated solution does away with the needless management of credentials and reduces overall risk to the organization.

Ultimately, too many permissions are not a good thing. Without adequately managed permissions, an organization may open its doors to the world and let the security risks proceed. The inability to track permissions and access rights can lead to any number of headaches.

This is precisely why it’s essential to implement an automated permissions solution, like HelloID.

Automate permissions

HelloID provides automated user account provisioning, self-service workflows, and single sign-on while reducing manual provisioning headaches and insufficiency. Automated permission management allows hands free on- and off-boarding of accounts while simultaneously improving organizational security.