On November 2, 2017, the President of the United States’ beloved Twitter account vanished for an entire 11 minutes. The cause was first reported as a technical glitch, but was then later clarified to be the result of a disgruntled employee who suspended the account on the last day of their employment – the perfect use case for one of the most prevalent attack vectors… the insider threat. Bad!
The issue is not that the employee had permissions to suspend any account, let alone that of the President of the United States, but rather that entitlements to do so were still available to them the day before their departure. This is a classic Identity and Access Management (IAM) problem. For example:
- Should their daily permissions have been revoked when the departure was announced?
- Should critical permissions have been tapered off such that this problem could not have occurred?
- Should the employee have deleted President Trump’s Twitter account altogether in lieu of suspending it?
The answers to these questions are policy based, but rooted in how identity governance is implemented at Twitter or within any organization. And, can any organization actually remove all the appropriate entitlements promptly such that a former disgruntled employee does not become a liability if their accounts are still active after their departure?
How the Integration of IAM and PAM Can Help
We have seen this type of problem before. Privileged access management (PAM) solutions are designed to complement IAM by enabling the concept of least privilege to be layered on traditional security models and entitlements. The disgruntled employee may have to go through a workflow to suspend an account, but in a PAM use case, their permissions alone are not sufficient enough to do so. In addition, all privileged activity can be captured such that an occurrence like this is fully traceable to the source. In this case, the event was obvious but if Twitter was attacked, and other privileged accounts compromised, finding the source for the malicious activity that lead to key Twitter accounts being suspended may not have been as obvious. This is why IAM and PAM together are critical to protect against insider threats like this in the future.
How are you controlling access to your most privileged accounts? And, what deprovisioning processes do you have in place to prevent something like this from happening? If you can’t answer those questions, contact us today.
Morey J. Haber, Chief Security Officer, BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is the Chief Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored three books: Privileged Attack Vectors, Asset Attack Vectors, and Identity Attack Vectors. He is a founding member of the industry group Transparency in Cyber, and in 2020 was elected to the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) Executive Advisory Board. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust security and governance for corporate and cloud based solutions and regularly consults for global periodicals and media. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition where he served as a Product Owner and Solutions Engineer since 2004. Prior to eEye, he was Beta Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.