Organizations today are far more exposed to external digital devices, networks, third-party vendors, and contractors. Hence there’s an increasing need for dynamic security, authentication, authorization, and access control.
The modern-day workplace is spread way beyond the confines of a building. Organizations today rarely, if ever, work only with their own employees. It is scattered not only across cities but also across the world.
Companies not only function with remotely working employees but also contractors, freelancers, and non-regular employees. This dynamic workforce is often the weakest point in the otherwise secure network. While the VPN can help in extending access it will always be risky.
Over the past few years, there have been quite a few major data breaches. Incidentally, the majority of them weren’t attributed to the core employees, but instead, were caused by third-party vendors. Specifically, the breaches did not result from direct insider attacks but were exploited from a breach of third-party vendor companies. Simply put, a big company was broken into using weak security or loopholes existent in third-party vendors that were working for the organization.
The Access Management Paradox:
Considering the risks involved, should companies with sensitive data and information, grant third-party vendors and contractors access to their networks? Needless to answer, companies have to grant access. Companies must give third-party vendors privileged access to corporate resources so that vendors can perform their tasks with lesser restrictions, in less time, and with improved efficiency.
However, failure to strike the right balance between access management and restricted access impacts security and increases the likelihood of a breach. It is even more concerning to note that most security teams generally have little to no information on how contractors or third-party vendors are working within the organization’s environment.
What makes matters worse is that third-party vendors may have very poor cybersecurity protocols. Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups routinely conduct ‘Lateral Movement Attacks’. This involves breaching the security at the weakest point and then moving deeper within the organization.
To address such ever-present and growing threats, organizations must implement a stronger access privilege strategy. To protect an organization’s data and resources against security risks that come with using third-party vendors, digital security teams must deploy multiple safeguards and security protocols. Here are some of the most effective methods to strike a balance between privileged access and protecting digital assets:
Managing Privileged Access:
Managing privileged access of every employee, contractor and the third-party vendor is key to minimizing exposure of sensitive data. There are several platforms and methods that can successfully achieve the same. Effective Identity and Access Management, combined with the Zero Trust Security Model is an effective tool to selectively grant access to anyone who needs the same.
Incidentally, companies need to first establish a proper access control protocol and practice. Thereafter comes the creation of accounts and granting access strictly on an as-needed basis. In other words, access should be limited to a few areas and for a short duration of time.
Providing an incorrect level of privileged access to a user can result in increased security risks within an organization. This is more pronounced when access is to be granted to third-party vendors. Hence access control protocols need to be carefully created and strongly enforced. Here are our top three methods that can help any organization achieve a more robust strategy when providing access to third-party contractors.
Implement Least Privilege Access
The basic intention behind least privilege access is that the organization should limit each user’s access to only the areas they absolutely need to do their job efficiently. By limiting each user’s access, companies can prevent an attacker from gaining access to large amounts of data through a single compromised account.
Whenever an organization starts creating an access management program it should begin with the ‘Least Privileged Access’ model. Role-based access, which offers access and permissions based on the employee’s role, is the best starting point. The role-based access model is ideal, simplest, and safest or organizations for managing access of contractors or third-party vendors.
Dynamic and Routine Audit of Vendor’s Privileged Accounts
Whenever an organization first provides unlimited access to different vendors, they are essentially opening up an always-available and exploitable entry point for cybercriminals. Hence, IT and security teams must routinely evaluate who the vendors or contractors are and what access they have in the organization’s networks and applications.
The most effective way is regularly running a vendor’s privileged access audit. This will allow any company to get a clear understanding of who has access to what and which users shouldn’t be having access to. More importantly, companies can quickly spot dormant but still valid accounts that could be exploited and delete them.
Enforce Strong Authentication Methods
To implement an effective and protective privileged access strategy, companies need to follow authentication best practices. A typical contractor or third-party vendor will obviously be working remotely. They will need a certain level of access to do the job. However, after providing an adequate level of access, organizations must implement a strong authentication technique.
Merely creating an account and granting selective access to digital assets for a limited time is not enough. Organizations must deploy Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to further ascertain the identity and authenticity of the third-party vendors. Enforcing a second factor for identity verification eliminates several risks associated with stolen credentials.
Companies must not just implement MFA capabilities, but must also combine the same with strong passwords, SSH keys, and strong internet hygiene. Such a comprehensive approach can further reduce not just the chances of a breach but also the extent of data exposure.
By requiring significant step-ups in authentication, as well as strong cloud policies, an organization can quickly and safely welcome multiple vendors without worrying about identity theft through phishing campaigns.
Prioritizing Vendor Privileged Access Management
Third-party vendors and contractors are by far the biggest threat and weakest point of entry to any company’s digital assets. The more the number of vendors, the more will be the possible entry points. Hence companies must have strict vendor privileged access management policies before on boarding even the first contractor.
As more organizations are increasingly partnering with other companies, freelancing employees, contractors, etc. it is bound to create multiple and complex security challenges. Hence it is best to check privileged third-party vendors access first to ensure they are only provided with the right amount of access.
Understanding who has access to what and who is connecting to the network will allow any organization to have a more effective and reliable privileged access management in place. This will significantly reduce the chances of contractors and third-party vendors being the biggest risks to security and data.