How Identity and Access Management Helps Prevent Insider Threats

IAM is becoming more critical as threats continue to escalate in severity. IAM provides centralized and consolidated identity governance, including entitlements, provisioning, and unified access policies, often with single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication enablement.

This allows for using a risk-based approach to authentication when it comes to privileged access management. This helps prevent malicious insiders from stealing credentials to access critical systems.

Automated Authentication

The stereotypical image of a disgruntled former employee wreaking havoc with their former employer by stealing data is a real danger for some enterprises. However, malicious insiders aren’t the only threat to your digital assets and IT environment. Unintentional threats can also cause significant harm. 

Poor passwords, phishing attacks, or orphaned accounts may cause unintentional security incidents. An orphaned account occurs when someone leaves a company, and their access privileges are not removed from the system, leaving behind credentials for bad actors to use. This is common in organizations with a lot of turnover or those with manual account cleanup processes.

Implement a robust IAM solution with privileged access management capabilities to prevent incidents. You must also educate employees on best practices, such as not sharing passwords or writing down passwords in plain sight. These measures can lower your risk of internal breaches and make it harder for bad actors to access your system.

IAM solutions can also automate multi-factor authentication (MFA) to increase employee buy-in and help you prevent unauthorized access. Combining IAM with micro-segmentation and least-privileged access can minimize attack surfaces and prevent the lateral movement of attackers in your network.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Adding multiple layers of authentication makes it much more difficult for bad actors to gain access to sensitive information. While MFA (multi-factor authentication) typically refers to a combination of two factors, password, and SMS-based OTP, MFA can also include other verification methods such as hardware tokens or biometrics. MFA requires attackers to compromise all authentication factors to succeed, making it more costly to breach your system.

Unfortunately, many companies lack a clear identity and access management process for privileged users. In addition, highly manual processes make it difficult to verify who exactly is demanding access and what their privileges are. The result is that 77 percent of cybersecurity professionals say their organizations’ privileged access management is ineffective.

Malicious insiders, such as disaffected employees or contractors who have been terminated, can be a dangerous threat to data. IAM helps to prevent these threats by ensuring that only authorized users can access the system and that they are who they claim to be. In addition, IAM can help to monitor third parties that need access. Depending on your organization, you should also use physical security measures like security cameras and keystroke logging. If an employee leaves, an IAM solution can automatically remove their permissions so their account doesn’t linger on your network after they’ve gone.

Privileged Access Management

Whether malicious or accidental, insider threats (and the hackers who target them) pose a significant threat to organizations, they can take down networks, expose confidential information and cost the company millions in lost productivity, fines, and damage to reputation.

Malicious insiders – such as disgruntled employees and contractors – may want to take revenge or engage in corporate espionage. But even well-intentioned employees and contractors can accidentally do damage through negligence, inattention, or carelessness.

Privileged access management helps to prevent these types of attacks by making it more difficult for hackers to steal and use privileged credentials. Solutions that track, manage and monitor privileged identity and account access reduce the risk of internal threats and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.

A privileged access management solution can discover and bring under control all the identities with elevated privileges in an environment, including users, local accounts, cloud and other remote accounts, applications and services, servers, databases, IoT devices, security tools (DevOps, etc.), and more. It can then apply policies (e.g., requiring multi-factor authentication for service accounts, forcing password changes, and keeping detailed logs) to minimize risks.

A privileged access management solution can also track and monitor privileged identity activity in real-time, blocking or flagging suspicious activities and providing an audit trail that satisfies regulatory requirements. In addition, it can enforce least privilege access rules that reduce the potential damage from compromised credentials if a breach does occur.

Zero Trust Architecture

Insider threats aren’t limited to current or former employees—disgruntled or malicious third-party actors can steal privileged credentials to breach your network. This is why deploying zero trust architecture as part of your security strategy is essential. This type of infrastructure eliminates the need for VPNs and other traditional defense tools, allowing users to be directly connected to applications without the network, minimizing your attack surface.

Zero trust is based on micro-segmentation and identity-aware proxies, which verifies identities and context before allowing connections. This minimizes your network’s attack surface and prevents lateral movement of threats, one of the biggest causes of data breaches. This architecture also reduces the load on your security operations center (SOC) analysts by delivering automated protection and intelligent detection.

While no training program can prevent an employee from clicking on a phishing link or sharing sensitive information with unauthorized people, identity management helps by making it easier to flag suspicious activities and limit access privileges. In addition, a robust IGA solution can automate offboarding processes, ensuring that accounts do not linger after an employee leaves your organization. These measures will help your employees feel more engaged in the security of their enterprise, decreasing the likelihood that malicious third-party attackers will tempt them to commit an insider threat themselves.