The 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report is out and once again, stolen credentials were one of the top sources of breaches, along with phishing. For the fifth year in a row. And the numbers are only rising and the threats evolving, especially since the start of the COVID outbreak and increased working from home.
So, why haven’t we (“we” meaning all of us who care about protecting data) stopped the credentialed access threat? Do we not realize it’s happening (despite Verizon’s annual reminder), do we not see it as a priority, or is there another cause? And, if we’re not going to stop credential theft, how can we make sure data is secure despite the danger?
It is Possible to Stop Credential Theft, but the Problem is People
Usernames and passwords have been used since there have been log ins to digital accounts. It’s actually not a bad way to secure access. The problem is mostly people.
There are 3 easy ways we can stop or slow down credential theft:
- Use better passwords
- Stop falling for phishing emails
- Use Two Factor Authentication (2FA)
You’ll notice that these all require users to make an extra effort. Some of the best passwords are essentially a long, completely random string of characters – that also turn out to be almost impossible for a normal person to remember. Unfortunately, easy-to-remember passwords are also easy to hack. And if people do use a strong password, they reuse it, diminishing its effectiveness. A Google survey found 65% of people reuse the same password across multiple sites. The same Google survey found that only 24% of people use a password manager.
Almost the opposite is true for clicking on phishing emails. It may not be that people aren’t careful, but that they too quickly respond and do as they’re asked. Phishing emails are now more customized than ever, utilizing info shared on social networks or purporting to be from high level company execs. When an employee receives an urgent email demanding they log into a seemingly familiar tool, using their company username and password, to carry out a CEO request, too many people just want to do what they need to do to stay in the CEO’s good graces.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) has its own struggles. At the RSA 2020 security conference, MSFT said that more than 99.9 percent of Microsoft enterprise accounts invaded by hackers didn’t use MFA, and only 11% of enterprise accounts had MFA enabled. There are several reasons a company might not utilize MFA: it’s not seen as priority, the quality and security can vary between solutions, and employee pushback. Sixty-three percent of respondents in a security survey said they experience resistance from employees who don’t want to download and use a mobile app for MFA. Fifty-nine percent are implementing 2FA/MFA in stages due to employees’ reluctance to change their behavior.
Assume Credentials are Compromised, and Your Data is at Risk
Knowing that the easiest and best ways to stop credentialed access threats are undermined by people being people, we’re simply better off assuming all credentials are compromised. Stolen credentials are the most dangerous if, once an account gets through the front door it has access to the entire house including the kitchen sink. Instead of treating the network as having one front door, with one lock, we need to require authorization in order to enter each room of the house. This is actually Forrester’s “Zero Trust” security model – no single log in or identity or device is trusted enough to be given unlimited access.
This is especially important as more data moves outside the traditional corporate security perimeter and into the cloud, where anyone with the right username and password can log in. While cloud vendors do deliver enterprise class security against cyber threats, credentialed access is their biggest weakness. It’s nearly impossible for a SaaS-hosted database to know if an authorized user should really have access or not. Identity access and data management are up to the companies utilizing the cloud platform.
Omer Singer, Head of Cyber Security Strategy at Snowflake, explains why it’s important to take a shared responsibility approach to protecting your data in the cloud.
That means companies need a tool which doesn’t just try (and often fail) to stop threats at the door. You need a cloud-based data access control solution like ALTR that never believes a user is who their credentials say they are. Every time an apparently “authorized” user requests data in the platform, the request is evaluated and verified against the data governance policies in place. If abnormal consumption is detected, then access can be cut off in real-time. Even seemingly authorized users aren’t allowed to take whatever they want.
A Solvable Problem
The U.S. has a long history of solving big problems – we came together during WWII to ramp up wartime production of military supplies and equipment, and more recently, we helped fund the miraculous creation of the COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. It’s a little baffling that we continue to allow the credentialed access threat to harm our industries and damage data security. It’s a solvable problem that I hope we start taking seriously. And, I hope we see a different threat at the top of next year’s Verizon report.