5 Reasons Why Privileged User Abuse is a Top Security Concern in the Cloud

January 29, 2020 Marc Lalosh

5 Reasons Why Privileged User Abuse is a Top Security Concern in the Cloud

Privileged users hold the keys to your kingdom. They have access to a wide array of company data, security controls, workflows, and resources. Having advanced permissions enables users to make changes to cloud environments like your Salesforce org, which can put your organization at a severe security risk. Savvy users may even be able to cover up their tracks, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem unless you track user activity.

This post explores why privileged users could pose a threat to your organization, including ways organizations like yours can secure their cloud environments like Salesforce to keep the keys to the kingdom in the right hands. Ultimately, this protects data security and privacy while preventing privileged user abuse.

Here are five reasons why privileged users are a top security concern in the cloud.

1) Privileged users are difficult to manage

Privileged users inherently have a high level of access to company resources and an understanding of your organization’s structure. These users are usually administrators but can also include leadership or managers. In order to prevent privileged user abuse, it’s critical to monitor those who supervise your systems.

For example, if someone compromised your network engineer’s credentials and created a new service account, it may be a challenge to determine if this access was legitimate or not. Was this action part of their job function? Was this a malicious act on the part of the engineer to cover up their tracks? It may be impossible to know unless you’re closely tracking all aspects of user activity in your systems.

2) They’re considered insider threats

The landscape of security has dramatically changed in recent years. The focus has shifted from external attackers to insiders because not only can they open the doors to external attackers, but they can also maliciously or inadvertently abuse access to your cloud applications like Office 365 or Salesforce.

According to a 2020 Insider Threat Survey Report, 68% of organizations feel vulnerable to insider threats, and more than half (53%) believe that detecting insider attacks is more difficult since migrating to a cloud environment. Of those insider threats, privileged IT users (63%), regular employees (51%), privileged business users (50%), and contractors (50%) posed the greatest concern for respondents. Insider threats may also take the form of departing employees looking to take your data to a competitor or privileged users who inadvertently change business-critical controls to your Salesforce environment.

3) Their permissions evolve

Many users in Salesforce and other cloud applications wear multiple hats. This means they often need access to a wide array of company data across multiple departments. As their job roles and projects change, so do their permissions and access levels. Without proper monitoring, too many permissions changes may be given without approval. User, profile, and role permissions in Salesforce should be adjusted according to each role, ensuring that users only have access to information that is necessary to their job function. 

4) Cybercriminals target privileged users

Data is no longer just an IT resource – it’s a core strategic asset, often considered to be currency. If you tried to break into a bank, would you rather go through the trouble of evading digital security measures (i.e., key fob door access, vault passcodes, video surveillance), or would you rather obtain the keys to the bank and pose as a trusted insider? Cybercriminals target privileged user accounts because it provides the chance to enter your network and mission-critical applications without setting off alarms. Often, privileged users aren’t audited at the depth that would raise suspicion, allowing them to swindle sensitive data from your organization’s cloud environment.

5) Compliance considerations

Stringent security controls are necessary to comply with regulations like CCPA, GDPR, FCA, HIPAA, and PCI. Information held within Salesforce and other cloud environments requires careful consideration as to who has access to data and what they can do with it. Privileged users can change permissions, privileges, and security controls, which can change your compliance posture. This opens gaps for security threats to enter your organization – and you may also run the risk of encountering regulatory fines and enforcement as a result.

It’s true – privileged users pose a significant risk to your organization’s security. However, in order to maintain efficient workflows and business functions, privileged users are necessary to have in your cloud environments. Fortunately, there are strategic tactics that secure your privileged user accounts and prevent privileged user abuse. To discover what those tactics are, read 5 Ways to Prevent Privileged User Abuse in the Cloud.

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