As digital transformation initiatives accelerate across organizations globally, largely driven by the recent unprecedented shift to remote work, many now rely on cloud applications to carry out essential business activities. With cloud applications, employees are often given an increased amount of access to highly sensitive company data and information protected with sometimes only a password. Now, almost every employee can and should be classified and treated as a “privileged user,” the only difference being how much sensitive data or systems they have access to. It is important to note that not all privileged users are equal. Traditionally, this term was reserved for company executives or members of the IT team; however, this is no longer the case and presents a fresh set of security challenges to organizations.
A “privileged user” can be defined as an individual who is granted administrative and specialized access to an enterprises systems or sensitive data. They are given “privileges” within an organization to install system hardware/software, reset user passwords, have access to sensitive data and can make changes to IT infrastructure systems and settings. An individual’s access to organizational data, applications, and systems no matter how small or insignificant it may appear can be compromised and therefore must be properly secured.
Organizations must understand this critical change in dynamic to “every user is a privileged” and take a proactive approach and responsibility when it comes to securing access to necessary business cloud applications. There are several best practices and policies organizations can implement to help ensure access to data and systems remains only to those it is intended for.
Develop a Least-Privilege Access Security Model
Organizations should consider developing a least-privilege security model. This approach limits a user’s access to only what is deemed necessary to accomplish a specific task or role. A least-privilege model might be labelled by some as being “restrictive” and can lead to increased IT support requests but organizations who instead create a local privileged access for all their employees are susceptible to higher risks for a potential breach to occur. Fortunately, there are some PAM solutions which can facilitate just-in-time (JIT) privileged access to the cloud with detailed security controls which allows users to get the access they need, when they need it, and minimize risks from cyber threats. Some companies have even begun extending their zero-trust security approach to remote employees, third-party vendors, and contractors who need access to corporate resources and cloud applications.
Automate Privileged User Verification
As the shortage of skilled IT cybersecurity professionals continues to rise, automated tools are now critical for managing consistent and secure cloud privileged access. Automated security tools are scalable and efficient and eliminate the risks of human error that can occur when carrying out tedious and repetitive low-level tasks.
Organizations should use solutions with application programming interface (API) capabilities which can be integrated alongside existing workflows and systems to streamline access approvals and immediately provide access once the privileged user has been verified.
Deploy Usable Security Solutions
Implementing security tools that are too complex and difficult to use can be just as dangerous and risky as not having a security solution at all. It is productivity and ease of use that drive users to move to the cloud. A privileged access cloud security solution should also be easy to use and seamlessly integrate alongside an organization’s existing systems. Organizations should implement security solution that have a comprehensive user interface, are adaptable and scalable, add value to existing systems and most importantly make the work of its employees easier. Security solutions should never be viewed as barriers to productivity by employees as they will simply be rejected. Security solutions should be a positive experience for the user.
Implement Flexible Solutions
An organization’s cloud security solutions must be flexible and adaptable to meet the rapidly changing pace of the cloud. Traditional security solutions no longer suffice when it comes to protecting the cloud. Any solution which is integrated must support and function seamlessly alongside existing tools and components to reduce cyber security risks and create a “security ecosystem,” security tools working together with one common goal.
Consider an Adaptive Risk-Based Trust Approach
As mentioned, a least-privilege security model is one of the most effective ways of restricting unauthorized access to business systems. However, it does come with its limitations, one of the largest being its impact on productivity. As an alternative, organizations may consider adopting an adaptive risk-based trust approach to securing their privileged access. This approach uses least-privilege, zero-trust as a baseline for how organizations build trust scores which will then be used to determine the level of security which is required to gain access to the cloud, and specific applications and systems.