Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

With most malicious attacks coming from inside the organisation, it is time to take stock.


I would never make disparaging comments about my wife, especially since she’s smarter than me and has a lot more letters after her name than I do but she’s driving me crazy with the weather.

Ever since she discovered the weather forecast websites she browses to about ten of them and tells me what they’re predicting about the weather.

And usually while they’re predicting sunshine it’s usually pouring rain and she’s asking me why they’ve got it wrong and what does it mean that there’s a 70% chance of something happening! She’s the one with the Master’s so why is she asking me!!!

In fact I’m bombarded by stats every day. I’ve just discovered that 25% of drivers using Sat-Nav have driven down a one way street. Bottom line is that we’re bombarded with stats every day and we simply take them for granted.

We believe them. Of course there are a few folks out there who have started to fight back at the “statmongerers” demanding to know where the stats come from. I don’t have any stats about how many are actually doing this but probably 99% of us have something better to do!

Over the past couple of years there has been an endless stream of stats, including from yours truly, about the insider threat and yet the vast majority of IT Security officers appear to be oblivious to them. So here’s a stat that I guarantee will not be disputed.

Right now there is a 100% chance that some organisation is the victim of either malicious activity by a member of their IT staff or the stupidity of one this elite group.

Forget the stats and just look at the news. In the past few months we’ve had instances in San Francisco, San Diego, Lichtenstein, and a host of other instances of IT staff abusing their privileges. In these and many other cases the problem is ultimately due to a lack of control and proper process within the organisation.

According the Burton Group “Privileged accounts can bypass most internal controls to access confidential information and cause denial of service attacks either by deleting data or rendering applications inoperable. In many cases, unauthorised users can use privileged accounts to cover their tracks by destroying audit data.”

In the case in San Diego an IT specialist had deliberately deleted patient and allied data from his former employer's computer systems. He now has five years to reflect on his actions but the damage is done. In San Francisco a computer network administrator for the Department of Technology, tampered with the network, which contains the city’s sensitive data, and created an administrative password that gave him exclusive administrative access.

Apart from the embarrassing publicity and inconvenience, the millions it will reportedly cost to fix should be enough of a statistic to make you pause for thought! And in both cases and so many others easily and inexpensively avoided!!

The challenge is to ensure proper use of these accounts. The challenge as clearly stated by Gartner is that “Shared super user accounts, which are generally system-defined in operating systems, databases, network devices and so on, pose significant risks when the passwords are routinely shared by multiple users. So, too, do shared firecall accounts, which are used to deal with critical problems outside normal working hours, when passwords are managed using fragile manual processes.”

Forrester state in a recent report that “to manage shared account passwords in a controlled and accountable way, an organisation must first establish an appropriate process.

"Spreadsheets, sealed envelopes, printouts, sticky notes, and other old-fashioned ways of managing access and passwords on sensitive systems don’t scale, don’t provide sufficient levels of security, and don’t provide enough auditing details that today’s auditors require.”

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