Howto secure business critical data? – The admin challenge or {U} ∩ {A} = ∅

17 July 2014

Unfortunately, sometimes administrative privileges are required for operation of the systems and services inside the Core Data Services Network (CDSN). This is very annoying because administrators are always an inherent risk. To be honest, I look forward to the day when servers could be operated without any system privileges.

Until then, we must try to reduce the risk through consequent application of the Separation of Duties (SoD) principle. Let’s do some basic set theory first.

Let {U} be the set of all employees in the company, {D} ⊂{U} the set of all employees with authorized access to the core data and {A} ⊂{U} the set of all IT Administrators in the company.

The Separation of Duties (SoD) principle requires:

 {U} ∩ {A} = ∅

This translates into the following basic principle:

Employees with authorized access to core business data must never have the privileges for administration of systems and services in the entire company network.

Could a data manager have privileged access with a special account? This question was asked in a meeting some days ago. Although there may be good reasons to do this, the answer is No. Never! Employees with authorized access to data must never have privileged access, no matter what account is used.

Note bene: The SoD principle should be applied to all services at all system, application and infrastructure levels. Let me clarify this by the means of two examples:

  1. Data managers should never have the privileges for account or database administration because this would allow them to grant privileges to themselves.
  2. Terminal service administrators must never have the privileges to configure the firewalls between the CDSN and the company network. This would allow them to authorize other computer for access to the CDSN.

Simple, but effective.

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