How do you stop privileged user attacks that are malicious?

It’s becoming more common knowledge that privileged users are behind a significant number of malicious assaults on businesses.

Because of this, privileged users should be the focus of your company’s cybersecurity efforts if you wish to avoid cyberattacks.

The Ponemon Institutes’ 2022 research on privileged user risks indicates that privileged user assaults would rise by 44 percent in 2020, with the cost per attack at $15.38 million. It is now more important than ever to prevent privileged user attacks and the threats they pose to your business from malevolent privileged users, given the tremendous harm they cause.

Who has access to the system?

An employee who has been given the authority to view confidential company data is considered a privileged user.
It is important for businesses to understand the characteristics of privileged users in order to prevent and respond to hostile privileged user attacks. Access to the company’s source code and other technical areas is usually granted to privileged users.
As a result of these additional rights, the company’s sensitive data is at risk.

In order to ensure a company’s smooth operation, it’s critical to specify access privileges for certain personnel and to place adequate limitations on locations the user is not authorised to access.

An understanding of assaults against privileged users

An organization’s vulnerabilities are often the source of privileged user assaults. These include system misconfigurations and defects as well as access controls that aren’t properly controlled. In contrast to normal users, who have limited access to system databases and sensitive files, privileged users may be entitled to significantly more access to these sensitive resources.

The goals of privileged users can vary, but it is possible for them to go from one system to another in order to achieve admin and root access and ultimately control of the entire environment. When they do this, it is easy for them to control and enhance their rights on low-level user accounts.

Threats posed by privileged users might take several forms.

1.First and foremost, there is the exploitation of a person’s credentials.

Privilege attacks commonly make use of user credentials like usernames and passwords.

For example, an attacker may try to figure out administrator credentials because they have more access to sensitive data and system files.
After gaining hold of the credentials, the malevolent privileged users only have to wait a short period before using them for their own ends.

2. Exploitation of a privileged vulnerability

These defects can be exploited for bad purposes by hostile hackers, and are called vulnerabilities.
All of these things are vulnerable to attack by someone with privileged access, so it’s important to keep an eye on them.

A vulnerability does not guarantee that a privileged user attack will succeed; it only indicates the existence of a risk.

3.Inadequately set up systems

Configuration flaws are another form of vulnerability that can be exploited.

Most configuration problems that a privileged user can exploit often come from poorly configured security settings. Some instances of poorly configured systems include using a default password for a system administrator, unauthenticated cloud storage exposed to the internet, and leaving newly installed software with the default security settings.

4. Viruses and other malware

Privileged attackers with root access and advanced knowledge of viruses and malware can also exploit some security loopholes in your company’s system configurations. In addition, using malware such as trojans and ransomware may be easier for privileged users because they have root access to the system environment.

How business organizations can stop privileged user attacks

There are several ways business organizations can prevent or mitigate the incidence of privileged user attacks. Any company can use the prevention methods, while the mitigation will depend on the type of attack.

1. Least privilege access

Many organizations make the mistake of granting employees privileged access to more than what their job demands. Unfortunately, this practice creates vulnerabilities that can aid a malicious attack from a privileged user.

One of the ways you can avoid this situation is to adopt the principles of least privileged access. This principle is an organizational security practice that supports limiting privileged users’ access to only the data, system, and application they need to succeed in their role.

So, to put this into practice, all the roles and needed privileges in the organization must be audited by top security experts within the company. Doing this will help prevent situations where a user is granted unwarranted access. Critical audit areas include system admins, domain admins, database admins, payroll admins, and root users.

2. Security policies should guide privileged users

Ensure that a privileged user security policy is in place to guide what a privileged user can and cannot do. This policy must also include repercussions that could be faced when a user violates any of the security policies. Again, this policy should also address what must be done if privileged users leave the company or change their role within the company.

The best practice in most organizations is to cut off every security privilege granted to users before they leave their job. If it is the case of a change in the role of a privileged user, revoke previous user privileges and audit how the previous privileges were managed before granting new ones for the new roles.

3. Implement periodic security monitoring

One other way of abating the threat of malicious privileged user attacks is to come up with a security monitoring team that periodically monitors how all the privileged users use their access in performing their roles. This security monitoring exercise can be done manually by a top security expert team or automated using security observability tools.

In addition, ensure that all employees know about this periodic security monitoring process but leave them with no particular date to avoid situations where a malicious privileged user may cover his tracks.

For thorough monitoring of privileges, focus on how the user manages the read, destroy, create and modify access. If you suspect any red flag in access, revoke or tie the access to a multifactor authentication system to forestall impending vulnerabilities.

4. Implement multi factor authentication

Another way to stop the incidence of malicious privileged user attacks in your organization is to deploy multi factor authentication so that some user privileges must demand authentication before granting a user access. Although this may be a snag in the workflow, it’s better than leaving the critical system access vulnerable in the hands of a malicious privileged user.


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