Getting Inside the Insider Threat

Security vendors have 2.3 million more examples of the need to protect against the so-called “insider threat”—one for each of the consumer records believed to have been stolen and sold by a database administrator at Fidelity National Information Services.

More than ever, corporations need to find a balance between treating the database administrator as a security appendage and a security risk.

“First of all the DBA role is a role of trust—if you don’t trust your DBA, then fire him or her and get another DBA, especially when dealing with sensitive enterprise databases,” said Noel Yuhanna, an analyst with Forrester Research.

DBAs have an important role to play in a secure enterprise, said Eric Ogren, principal analyst with the Ogren Group. In Ogren’s opinion, database administrators are getting something of a bum rap when it comes to security.

“My feeling is they should be kind of the solution,” he said. “There’s this wall that’s being built and I’m not sure it’s healthy.”

Coincidentally, just two days after the Fidelity incident hit the news media, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) released a report that examined 24 of the largest reported data breaches between January 2000 and June 2005. The report found only three instances of fraud committed on existing accounts and only one case in which compromised data was used to open a new account. According to the report, it is often difficult to determine the source of the data used in identity fraud.

Click here to read about the financial losses racked up by store chain TJ Maxx as a result of a data breach.

Still, Ron Ben-Natan, CTO of Guardium, based in Waltham, Mass., said businesses should operate under the Cold War adage of “trust but verify.”

“We all want to hire trustworthy personnel, but we must act to identify IT policy violations for both security and regulatory requirements,” he said. “Trust is not a strategy and hope is not a policy. By integrating checks and balances into our daily network and database operations, we get early warning signs to find malicious acts like data breaches and prevent them from happening.”

Some vendors said they have noticed a disconnect between DBAs and security specialists when marketing their products. Dan Sarel, vice president of product management at database security vendor Sentrigo, said many security personnel have traditionally focused on securing the perimeter, while DBAs have always focused on the performance of the database.

“But now they have to meet,” he said.

Yuhanna noted a DBA’s responsibilities requires that they have access to databases and therefore exposes data to them. However, the industry is undergoing an evolution that will eventually nail-down data in a database, even for DBAs, he explained.

“(Database Management System) vendors such as Oracle, IBM and Microsoft continue to extend their solutions in monitoring privileged users, and providing them with lesser privileges to access data,” Yuhanna continued. “The ultimate goal is to have the DBA manage databases not data…we are getting there, but it will take another 2 to 3 years before we can reach this goal. For today, we need to monitor the DBA activity—it’s like having a camera that watches your babysitter.”

But the camera doesn’t typically put the babysitter’s behavior into the public domain unless someone gets hurt, which the GAO report claims would be the impact of data breach notification laws requiring almost every breach be reported. The over-reporting, the report claims, will lead to people ignoring such notices altogether. In addition, such a notification law would impose cost burdens for businesses, the report states.

Read more here about the growing list of universities that have been hit by data breaches.

“The real goal of notifications is not to frighten consumers, of course, but to ensure they’re protected and, ultimately, to force organizations to invest in prevention—which is far cheaper than cleaning up after a breach,” said Ben-Natan. “The other issue is that, because companies don’t know how data is accessed, they rarely know which users are at risk, so they have to notify everyone who is even potentially at risk.”

“Companies, however, shouldn’t base notification decisions on the likelihood of data being used illegally,” he added. “Any chance of compromise is enough to lose customers by causing them undue headaches and financial liabilities.”

Before California began enforcing its breach law, companies kept security breaches quiet, said Mark Kraynak, director of product marketing for Imperva. The wall of silence left consumers with zero warning and no way to defend themselves, he said.

“Openness is good because it forces companies to deal with the issues rather than keep quiet,” he said. “So over time, it will motivate an uplift in the level of security for private data.”

Check out’s Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK’s Security Watch blog.

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