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Cybersecurity: The cost of a company’s internal threats

The mentality in the cybersecurity world has been changing with the migration from trust-based models (Trust, but verify) to zero trust-based ones. This change is mainly because of the trend towards an increase in internal threat incidents.

It is a trend that makes it clear that perimeter-based strategies are no longer effective in protecting the environment from malicious agents. Cyber threats are no longer located just outside organizations, where they can be mitigated through traditional security solutions, such as firewalls, antivirus, and VPNs, as now it is possible to find internal threats. 

In these models, with user authentication within the environment, one would believe that there would be no privilege abuse to improperly get data in corporate systems. Thus, models that address the concept of security perimeter – where everything within that perimeter is considered to be reliable, while users and devices outside the perimeter are considered to be unreliable – leave computer networks open for so-called insider threats to abuse the privilege granted to access computer systems and improperly obtain sensitive information.

With digital transformation – accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic – through new technologies and working methods, such as the migration to remote work, the mass adoption of Cloud solutions, in addition to mobile devices and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), there was a change in the traditional cybersecurity perimeter. Therefore, zero trust-based approaches have been gaining ground in the market. Forrester (through Zero Trust), Google (with BeyondCorp), and Gartner (with CARTA) are some examples of organizations that have developed their own models based on zero trust.

Considering this new context of internal threat growth, Ponemon Institute and IBM have launched another edition of the Cost of Insider Breach report. The document contains a series of data for cybersecurity leaders to better understand the indirect costs resulting from a company’s internal threats. The research involved studying more than 4,700 security incidents in 204 organizations.

Firstly, the report defines the occurrence of insider threats as: 

  • Negligent or unaware suppliers or employees (in this case, it involves negligence and lack of training).
  • Criminal or malicious insiders (the most dangerous one, as the employee is motivated by financial gains, espionage, or revenge). 
  • Credential thieves (when the insider uses privileged credentials to perpetrate the cyber attack). 

But what are privileged credentials and why is their proper protection essential to ensure security in organizations? 

Through privileged or administrative credentials, one can make significant changes to critical systems; it makes it possible for them to modify a series of settings throughout other user accounts or security protections. When used maliciously or improperly, these credentials may have a considerable impact.

One of the Ponemon’s and IBM’s findings is that the number of incidents associated with internal threats has been increasing since 2016, when the first report was released. And not only is the number of incidents increasing, the report indicates that the most costly type of attack for organizations with more than 500 employees involves the credential theft. In this type of attack, the cost of each incident has increased from USD 493 thousand to USD 871 thousand in 2019. This number is almost double the cost of an incident involving negligent employees or suppliers, while the average of the incidents is approximately USD 756,000. 

The following aspects are involved in these incident costs:

  • Theft or loss of critical data or intellectual property. 
  • Impacts associated with unavailability in organizational productivity. 
  • Damage to devices and other assets. 
  • Detection and remediation costs for key systems and business processes. 
  • Legal and regulatory impact, such as data protection legislation (GDPR and LGPD). 
  • Loss of stakeholders’ confidence. 
  • Deterioration of brand and reputation.

Besides, the number of incidents in the researched period more than tripled compared to 2016, when studies had started. At that time, the frequency of incidents in each organization increased from 1 to 3.2. Other findings from the study indicate that 63% of incidents are related to negligence, and 23% are associated with criminal insiders. It is worth to mention that one of the ways to mitigate the risks associated with internal threats is to limit the damage caused by malicious actions through privileged credentials. In order to protect privileged credentials in the organizational environment, avoid loss of trust and revenue and, thus, ensure business continuity, a Privileged Access Management or PAM solution is to be considered by the cybersecurity leaders of a company.

A PAM solution allows organizations of all kinds and sizes to organize and define parameters to control privileged access throughout the environment. It is no wonder Gartner has considered Privileged Access Management as the most important project for the Information Security industry for the next two years. Also, one of the basic controls from CIS Controls is linked to the controlled use of administrative privileges.

Some of the features offered by a PAM solution such as senhasegura, for mitigating risks associated with internal threats, include:

  • Granular permissions through access groups. This way, one can ensure that only authorized users can access privileged accounts). 
  • Establishment of strict responsibility for the use of privileged accounts. By tracking who accessed them, which accounts were used and what activities were performed, one can obtain full visibility of the actions in the environment. 
  • Quick detection and notification of any abnormal activity that could mean internal threats in progress. senhasegura offers complete management dashboards and reports to reduce the time to detect and solve incidents associated with privileged credentials. 

The proper management of actions performed with privileged credentials through a PAM solution allows protecting the infrastructure from any attempted actions through insider threats, such as theft or improper changes in the environment. 

The ease of use and deployment of the senhasegura solution, besides granular access controls, credential management, detailed logs and session recording, and the ability to discover assets and credentials are ideal for the implementation of best practices. In this way, any organization can not only remain in compliance with rules and standards, but also reduce its cybersecurity risks, and especially those linked to privileged credentials, ensuring business continuity.


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