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How to Ensure Enterprise Data Security against Privilege Abuse: Top 8 Best Practices

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A system administrator plays a prominent role in maintaining your IT operations, ensuring system performance, and keeping your organization compliant with enterprise data security requirements.

System administrators have complete control over the ins and outs of your databases and, in many cases, its underlying physical infrastructure. That’s why you need to pay close attention to admins’ actions to prevent privilege abuse and preserve enterprise data privacy and integrity. In this article, we give you the best practices on how to protect enterprise data.

Why might system administrators pose a threat to your enterprise database security?

Privilege abuse poses a real threat to your organization, and the users who usually have the most privileges are system administrators.

Sysadmins are usually responsible for these database-related tasks in an enterprise:

  • Preventing data loss and protecting data integrity
  • Managing users and user access privileges
  • Managing and ensuring the protection of database-related network infrastructure
  • Supervising database operations and monitoring performance
  • Performing backup and recovery.

That’s why system administrators have elevated access privileges to perform their duties effectively. However, such unmanaged possession can expose your organization to a risk of privilege abuse.

Privilege abuse refers to the misuse of elevated privileges to perform unauthorized or policy-breaking activities, such as accessing sensitive information without a legitimate reason, installing software that may compromise enterprise data security, making unauthorized changes to system configurations, stealing data, and sabotaging systems.

Take note that sysadmins are not the only ones who can be behind privilege abuse. External attackers can also abuse sysadmins’ access privileges after compromising their accounts. At any rate, sysadmins’ accounts are worth paying special attention to.

Why system administrators are dangerous
  • It’s easier for sysadmins to damage the system. Administrators are already inside the system, whereas a hacker needs time to infiltrate your network and a regular insider needs to gain elevated access. Admins have direct, unrestricted access to all data within your network and can easily inflict damage if they intend to.
  • Sysadmins have multiple vectors of approach. Elevated privileges allow administrators to choose among numerous methods for a potential attack. They can access data directly, copy a database, execute malicious code, elevate privileges for other accounts, etc. In short, they have more access to vulnerabilities than any other user.
  • Sysadmins’ malicious actions are hard to detect. The malicious actions of insiders are frequently hard to distinguish from their everyday activities, considering that they’re supposed to access data for work anyway. This factor is multiplied by the greater level of trust employers often place in their privileged users.
  • Sysadmins can easily cover their tracks. It’s easy for an administrator to change or delete logs to mask their activity. In such cases, identifying the perpetrator and proving their guilt is very hard. And even if malicious actions are detected, an administrator can easily explain it away as a mistake.
  • Hackers target sysadmin accounts first. Even if your system administrators have no malicious intentions, they can be used as an entry point for outside cyberattacks. Hackers often target admin accounts first to receive access to valuable data once they’ve compromised the account.

All these factors emphasize the importance of database protection from the malicious actions performed by admins or perpetrators. However, taking into account the nature of administrative work, protecting enterprise data may be tricky.

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Is it possible to fully protect your database?

Though you can’t create a completely impenetrable defense, some tools and approaches can help you improve enterprise data security. Most companies protect databases with basic methods such as:

  • Physically securing the server
  • Keeping the database up to date
  • Using firewalls
  • Encrypting traffic.

However, these measures aren’t that effective at reducing the risks coming from sysadmins.

Some organizations take it a step further and deploy database management system solutions, enabling them to control and limit user privileges and log user actions. But such solutions have nothing to do with sysadmins as they only oversee standard privileged users.

Then, how to protect data at an enterprise from sysadmins’ privilege abuse?

In the next section, we review some key methods for protecting databases to help you effectively manage risks related to system administrators and improve enterprise data protection.

8 Database Security Best Practices for Your Enterprise

Consider creating a comprehensive enterprise data security strategy comprising the following practices:

Best practices to protect an enterprise database from privilege abuse

1. Enhance password management

Strong passwords act as the first line of defense, controlling access to privileged accounts and, hence, protecting access to databases. Develop guidelines and policies for creating complex passwords and protecting them from compromise. However, instead of entrusting your employees with the credentials of critical privileged user accounts, you can use password management software to automate and take control of your password management processes. Some solutions allow you to automate the rotation of passwords, making sure they’re changed regularly.

2. Ensure secure authentication

Consider implementing secure ways to authenticate users of your privileged accounts. Authenticating users with the help of passwordless or two-factor authentication can help you prevent unauthorized access to your privileged accounts and, consequently, secure enterprise data. As an additional security measure, you can implement secondary authentication to identify users of shared accounts and ensure accountability.

Multi-Factor Authentication with Ekran System

3. Separate the duties of system administrators

In the context of system administrators and data security in enterprise, the separation of duties involves dividing tasks and responsibilities related to data management between different employees. This way, you can ensure that no single person has complete control over your data. For example, you can distribute the processes of managing database records, changing access permissions, and creating backups between several administrators, making it much harder for any one person to steal enterprise data.

4. Restrict access to critical systems

Not all system administrators need full access to all your data and systems. Consider protecting data with database privileged access management (PAM) solutions to ensure the needed level of access granularity. For instance, limiting sysadmins’ privileges according to the principle of least privilege can help you lower the number of potential attack vectors.

The zero trust model takes the principle of least privilege to the next level by requiring you to verify any user or device before granting privileged access.

5. Raise cybersecurity awareness

Cybersecurity awareness training can provide your personnel with the basics of data protection for businesses. For example, your employees could learn how malicious actors can obtain unauthorized access to your enterprise data and abuse privileges. Such training can enable them to prevent, recognize, and report unauthorized access and privilege abuse cases.

It’s also vital to tailor cybersecurity awareness training to the unique responsibilities of privileged users to ensure that those with elevated rights are especially vigilant in protecting your enterprise data.

6. Maintain a registry of privileged accounts

A centralized inventory of accounts with elevated permissions across various systems and databases is an integral part of an enterprise data protection plan. Keeping such a registry ensures that no privileged accounts go unnoticed or unmanaged. Once you identify all privileged accounts within your organization, you should classify them based on access level and associated responsibilities. This helps you tailor security controls and strategies for each specific account.

Additionally, consider restricting the creation of new privileged accounts without authorization to make sure there are no shadow admin accounts in your organization.

Privileged Access Management with Ekran System

7. Conduct regular user access reviews

Employee roles and responsibilities may evolve and change over time. Systematic user access reviews can help you minimize the risk associated with outdated or unnecessary permissions. Include user access reviews as part of your enterprise data protection strategy to regularly examine user privileges, detect excessive permissions in a timely manner, and revoke them before they lead to privilege abuse incidents.

Also, make sure to revoke all user access permissions as soon as employees and vendors end their cooperation with your organization.

8. Monitor user activity

Сomprehensive user activity monitoring provides security officers with even more visibility into the actions of sysadmins. Monitoring how sysadmins interact with enterprise data can help security officers promptly notice any unusual activity and respond to it before it takes a dangerous turn.

Consider deploying user activity monitoring solutions that allow you to track system administrators’ activity in real time, as well as record their actions with data and other sensitive assets. The ability to analyze user behavior and configure alerts on suspicious activity and automatic incident response can also help ensure database security.

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Test how Ekran System can help you prevent and detect privilege abuse cases and secure your sensitive data.

Maintain a secure enterprise database with Ekran System

When choosing a solution for securing your enterprise databases from privilege abuse, pay attention to its identity management, access management, and privileged user monitoring functionalities. Ekran System is an insider risk management platform that combines these three functionalities, providing you with a robust toolset:

Ekran System’s functionality for protecting your enterprise data

Identity management

  • Two-factor authentication (2FA) to ensure that hackers can’t access an admin account even if they get the password.
  • Secondary authentication to identify users of shared accounts.
  • Password management capabilities to securely store and manage user passwords and secrets.

Access management

  • Privileged access management  (PAM) to specify which users can access what endpoints.
  • One-time passwords to limit the time a user can access specific resources in a single session.
  • Manual login approval to granularly provide access to critical endpoints.

Privileged user monitoring

  • User session recording and monitoring to monitor and record user sessions in a screen capture format coupled with relevant metadata.
  • User and entity behavior analytics to detect deviations from normal user behavior and recognize early signs of privilege abuse.
  • Alerting and incident response capabilities to detect and stop malicious actions in real time.

Ekran System enables you to strengthen enterprise security, improve data protection, and enhance your organization’s resilience against cyber threats. The platform also helps you comply with IT security requirements such as PCI DSS, GDPR, HIPAA, NIS2, and many others.

Conclusion

Admins need elevated privileges to perform their day-to-day duties, but the more privileges they possess, the higher the risk they pose to your databases and overall enterprise security. By applying the best practices for database security we’ve covered in this article, you can significantly reduce the risks posed by sysadmins. You can also read our article on system administrator security best practices to learn how to protect your privileged accounts.

Combined with a comprehensive insider threat protection solution like Ekran System, these practices can help you enhance your defense, give you a clear picture of system administrators’ activities, secure your databases and critical endpoints from privilege abuse, and protect your network from external attacks targeted at admin accounts.

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