As the migration to Windows 7 is proving a catalyst to organisations, banks are stepping up to the challenge to protect themselves against malware attacks abusing admin rights.
In my company’s dealings with more than 50 banks globally, we found that while enterprises in most sectors are aware of the risks posed by standard users with admin rights the finance sector is ahead of the curve when it comes to eliminating them.
Cyber-criminals are focusing their attacks, in an effort to monetise their malware programs. Legislation stipulates that if admin rights are not removed from users then at the very least they must audit everything they do. However, while I believe financial institutions are ahead of the curve on security risks, and especially the threat from excessive user rights,the financial sector should not to compromise security for the sake of delivering functionality.
The financial sector is in the same position as every other organisation in experiencing privilege creep – where users are given elevated rights, in an effort to quickly solve problems, which don’t get revoked. However, where they do differ is recognising that this is a serious issue that leaves them open to attack by cyber-criminals after their commodity – hard cash.
As a result, financial organisations are actively looking for ways to negate this risk. Not only have they identified that malware operators are tailoring their software to operate under the traditional radars of AV and firewall to avoid detection. Cyber criminals are also using admin rights as a way to infect the enterprise and stay there undetected.
The five key areas this sector is having to address:
1. The biggest challenge is upgrading to Windows 7, as it either assigns standard users or admin users – there’s no middle ground. From this standpoint it is virtually impossible to strike the perfect balance, as either too many privileges are given away, which introduces unacceptable levels of risk, or users don’t have adequate privileges to do their job. The challenge is to create a middle ground where people have access to what they need without requiring admin rights.
2. Time and resources are often wasted by employees requesting a service or application to be installed and typically CISOs, trying to run a secure ship, are seen as a hindrance for either saying no or for delaying getting the request actioned securely. For this reason IT is often viewed as a negative cost to the organisation, leaving managers to come up with a strategy that ensures secure access to tools without interrupting the work flow.
3. IT is continuously struggling to control insecure third party programs – such as browsers, games, animations and password crackers, that are able to run, even on the most secure Microsoft desktop. Whitelisting and blacklisting applications and programs ensures malicious code and content can be blocked to create a secure environment.
4. Time and resources are wasted managing the many disjointed applications and programs these organisations typically utilise. By integrating and amalgamating all these tools into a single architecture, all tools can be managed from a common infrastructure
5. The migration to windows 7 has introduced a very different environment, as far as security in Windows 7 versus Windows XP is concerned. Understanding what part UAC plays, what Applocker can do, and what else has changed from a security point of view within the operating system is a major challenge.
Privilege creep is a common problem which the financial sector has recognised and acted on to mitigate the risk. Other sectors are still in catch-up mode, leaving them exposed to the dangers of admin right abuse. Perhaps it is because they’re protecting money or perhaps it is legislation that is the driver.
What is pertinent is that this sector has taken a battering financially, which has negatively affected their image, and they can’t afford to be found lacking in security. Thankfully, this is something they do not need to risk.