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How access management protects against cyber threats

When it comes to protecting an organization against the myriad of cyber threats that are only growing in numbers, access management is no longer optional — it’s critical. 

ransomware data hacker
Image: Unsplash

Every eleven seconds, a company falls victim to a ransomware attack. Compromised protected personal data resulted in 1.8 HIPAA privacy violations per day in 2020.

This is a problem.

Despite large financial and time-intensive investments into access management tools and cybersecurity solutions, a business’ critical assets still remain vulnerable and prone to attack. Cyber threats to mission-critical systems are pervasive, and now they come disguised as employees, trusted third-party reps, and “authorized” identities.

As a result, organizations are struggling to implement access management security to protect valuable assets and are under attack from this vulnerability.

Where Do Points of Vulnerability Originate?

hacker on computer security Chinese government
Image: Tech Everywhere
  • Third-party access points. One of the most vulnerable attack vectors is third-party access points. 51% of breaches, in fact, are from a third-party data breach. You can’t trust who you don’t know, and third-parties are opaque and not part of an organization’s internal HR system. A single third-party may have access to many aspects of an organization, so if they are hacked, and the access point into your organization is insecure, it’s a recipe for disaster.
  • Lateral movement within an organization. Sometimes the danger isn’t a hacker moving deeper, but a hacker moving sideways into different access points within an organization. 60% of attacks involve lateral movement, and a lack of Zero Trust Network Architecture, or old-fashioned “castle and moat” security leaves all those lateral access points vulnerable.
  • Electronic Health Record systems. EHR assets and systems are both high-risk and high frequency. Not only is that data critical, but there’s an average of 2.5 million accesses per organization daily. More access can often result in more risk, and regular access control methods, such as approvals and credential management, often fall short with such a high volume. 
  • Authorized users. The risk isn’t always coming from the outside. 40% of breaches originate with authorized users. Access creep — the accumulation of excess access rights over time — is a big risk, especially if an organization is struggling to regularly review access rights.

Consequences Of Poor Access Management

Without a robust access management policy and system, a major breach is inevitable, and the consequences can be dire.

The cost can be in the millions per organization — $5 million was the initial ransom demand in the Colonial Pipeline hack — and that’s not including downtime, lost trust, employee hours, supply chain issues, etc.  Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that, in 2021, the global cost of ransomware will reach $20 billion. 

While building a strong access management system from the ground up can take time and money, the cost of apathy is much, much higher.

How Access Management Protects Critical Access Points

The weakest points for any organization are the access points into critical systems, data, or assets — even more so if those access points are controlled by a third party. But there are ways to thwart those threats. Here are just a few parts of access management that do the job. 

Fine-grained access controls

Fine-grained access controls allow IT or security professionals to provide additional control over user access rights. These differ from access rights, as they do not change a user’s rights, but rather, they control how a user is able to use those access rights.

These kinds of controls can take a variety of forms, including access notifications, access approvals and time-based access. It’s a second layer of defense within access control, and one that should be implemented for an organization’s critical access points.

Strong access governance

Access governance is a system that makes sure an organization’s access policies are being followed. If users — internal or external — aren’t following that policy, it becomes a vulnerability. Access governance has a multitude of components, but implementing best practices such as least privilege access when defining access policies, linking HR systems and access rights, and conducting regular access reviews will strengthen any access policy. 

Zero Trust Network Access

“Trust no one” should be the motto of any access management system. More trust leads to more risk and more vulnerabilities. Zero Trust Network Access is a network access method that limits the visibility and potential lateral movement of a user in the case of a breach or nefarious activity. Lateral movement is a major vector for cyber attacks, so by limiting how much one user can access, you’re narrowing the field of attack considerably. 

Access Monitoring

You don’t know what you can’t see. While it depends on the organization — and how many daily accesses exist, reactive or proactive monitoring and analysis can not only help prevent suspicious activity but help an organization better understand what went wrong if an attack occurs. Better understanding access points allow an organization to better understand what access management policies and procedures will best protect it. 

When it comes to protecting an organization against the myriad of cyber threats that are only growing in numbers, access management is no longer optional — it’s critical. 

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