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FCW : July 30, 2013
ERIC CHIU is president of HyTrust. He speaks on cloud and virtualization issues at industry forums throughout the world. Commentary | ERIC CHIU In the raging debate over the data breach at the National Security Agency, here's a nugget that deserves more attention than it has received: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander recently instituted a two-man rule to limit the previously unfettered access of the 1,000-plus systems administrators who work for the agency. It ensures that no single person can gain access to con dential, sensitive and often top secret data. This is a great rst step toward reining in the access, and resulting power, of IT administrators. Still, it's no more than a step. The whole situation should instead serve as a wake-up call for government orga- nizations and corporations that have had their heads in the sand. Here's the insider threat issue in a nutshell: Administrative accounts provide godlike privileges over the entire infrastructure, including sys- tems, applications and data --- any- thing that's managed by systems administrators. Through the cloud, infrastructure administrators can access and make copies of every virtual machine at an organization, and can delete and destroy a pri- vate cloud in a matter of minutes. But because most organizations look at security from the outside in and put up strong perimeter controls to keep bad guys out, they do very little or nothing to lock down inter- nal systems. Also called an M&M security model because it's hard on the outside and soft on the inside, it is an outdated and bad practice. That has to change. Not only are insiders and systems administra- tors a very real threat, but external attackers can use sophisticated advanced persistent threats to steal employee credentials and privileg- es and gain access to carry out and escalate attacks. Again, the two-man rule is a good idea. It is conceptually the same security mechanism that pre- vents a single person from launch- ing a nuclear missile. (Remember Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide"?) The two-man rule enforces oversight so that a rogue administrator cannot access con dential information or otherwise create havoc. The rule is in effect in many safety systems and nancial opera- tions. For example, although bank tellers can perform a variety of functions, any important or criti- cal action requires higher levels of approval. Also, most corporations require two signatures for checks of a moderately signi cant amount, such as $5,000. That type of nan- cial oversight prevents employees from single-handedly draining a bank account or otherwise harm- ing the business. Every government organization and corporation should have some- thing like this in place as a matter of protocol. However, the two-man rule should also be part of a larger set of policies and access controls to ensure least-privileged access (through which employees are able to perform only those operations that are part of their normal job duties) and need-to-know access (under which they are able to man- age and access only the resources they're responsible for). To do this right, security poli- cies need to be lightweight and not cumbersome; otherwise, they won't be followed. For example, policies should be enforced trans- parently, and work ow for second- ary approval as part of the two- man rule should be automated. For the record, this isn't nearly enough. Most important, organiza- tions need continuous role-based monitoring and alerting to remain aware of what administrators are doing. Having an unobstructed view of the enterprise, which this methodology enables, is the best way to let administrators do their jobs while retaining the ability to head off rogue actions. ■ Why the two-man rule is only the beginning NSA's new protocol for guarding against insider threats is a good start, but it is not nearly enough Because most organizations look at security from the outside in, they do very little or nothing to lock down internal systems. July 30, 2013 FCW.COM 13
July 15, 2013
August 15, 2013