The Snowden effect: Insider threat protection remains elusive


Larry Ponemon

Larry Ponemon

Well-publicized disclosures of highly sensitive information by wiki leaks and former NSA employee Edward Snowden have drawn attention and concern about the insider threat caused by privileged users. We originally conducted a study on this topic in 2011 and decided it was time to see if the risk of privileged user abuse has increased, decreased or stayed the same.  Unfortunately companies have not made much progress in stopping this threat since then. Our latest study commissioned by Raytheon, “Privileged User Abuse & The Insider Threat,” looks at what companies are doing right and the vulnerabilities that need to be addressed with policies and technologies. One area that is a big problem is the difficulty in actually knowing if an action taken by an insider is truly a threat. Sixty-nine percent of respondents say they don’t have enough contextual information from security tools to make this assessment and 56 percent say security tools yield too many false positive.  Here are a few other highlights from the report. (You can obtain a full report by clicking here)

Despite the risks posed by insiders, 49 percent of respondents do not have policies for assigning privileged user access. However, slightly more organizations do use well-defined  policies that are centrally controlled by corporate IT (35 percent in 2014 vs. 31 percent in 2011).

Is it really an insider threat? Companies often have difficulty in actually knowing if an action taken by an insider is truly a threat. The biggest challenges are having enough contextual information provided by security tools (69 percent of respondents) and security tools yield too many false positives (56 percent of respondents).

What’s most at risk? While respondents believe general business and customer information is most at risk in their organizations due to the lack of proper access controls over privileged users (56 percent and 49 percent), fears about abuse to corporate intellectual property increased dramatically from 12 percent of respondents to 33 percent of respondents.

While the establishment of privileged user access policies is lacking, processes are improving. The findings show a significant increase in the use of commercial off-the-shelf automated solutions from 35 percent of respondents in 2011 to 57 percent in 2014 in granting user access privilege. The use of manual processes such as by phone or email also increased from 22 percent of respondents in 2011 to 40 percent of respondents in 2014.

Business unit managers are gaining influence in granting privileged user access and conducting privileged user role certification. Fifty-one percent of respondents say it is the business unit manager who most often handles granting access. This is an increase from 43 percent in 2011.

(You can obtain a full report by clicking here)

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