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The Weakest (Security) Link Might Be You

In the second post in this information security in a hybrid IT world series, let’s cover the best-designed security controls and measures, which are no match for the human element. “Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job” is a sentiment with which most people will agree. So, how and why do well-meaning people sometimes end up injecting risk into an organization’s hardened security posture? Maybe your first answer would be falling victim to social engineering tricks like phishing. However, there’s a more significant risk: unintentional negligence in the form of circumventing existing security guidelines or not applying established best practices. If you’ve ever had to troubleshoot blocked traffic or user who can’t access a file share, you know that one quick fix is to disable the firewall or give the user access to everything. It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll revisit the issue later and re-enable that firewall or tighten down those share permissions. Later will probably never come, and you’ve inadvertently loosened some of the security controls. It’s easy to blame the administrator who made what appears to be a short-sighted decision. However, human nature prompts us to take these shortcuts. In our days on the savannah, our survival depended on taking shortcuts to conserve physical and mental energy to get through the harsh times on the horizon. Especially on short-staffed or overwhelmed teams, you save energy in the form of shortcuts that let you move on to the next fire. For as many security issues that may exist on-premises, "62% of IT decision makers in large enterprises said that their on-premises security is stronger than cloud security,” according to Dimensional Research, 2018. The stakes are even higher when data and workloads move to the cloud, where your data exploits can have further reach. In 2017, one of the largest U.S. defense contractors was caught storing unencrypted application credentials and sensitive data related to a military project on a public, unprotected AWS S3 instance. The number of organizations caught storing sensitive data in unprotected, public S3 instances continues to grow. However, dealing with the complexity of securing data in the cloud requires other tools for improving the security posture and helping to combat the human element in SaaS and cloud offerings: Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs). Gartner defines CASBs as “on-premises, or cloud-based security policy enforcement points, placed between cloud service consumers and cloud service providers to combine and interject enterprise security policies as the cloud-based resources are accessed.” By leveraging machine learning, CASBs can aggregate and analyze user traffic and actions across a myriad of cloud-based applications to provide visibility, threat protection, data security, and compliance in the cloud. Also, CASBs can handle authentication/authorization with SSO and credential mapping, as well as masking sensitive data with tokenization. Nifty security solutions aside, the best security tools for on-premises and off-premises are infinitely more effective when the people in your organization get behind the whole mission of what you are trying to accomplish. Continuing user education and training is excellent. However, culture matters. Environments in which people feel they have a role in information security increase an organization’s security posture.
Becky Elliott
Becky is a proven problem solver with a passion for automating and streamlining processes. She has fifteen years of experience in information technology in a…
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