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Entitlement Creep: An Audit and Security Fail

Entitlement Creep (What is it and How to Reduce it with Automated Identity Governance?)


Stolen and weak user credentials remain a primary cause of data breaches at organizations. Globally, many companies have yet to adopt multi-factor authentication (MFA), which leaves them vulnerable to stolen or weak credentials. Without MFA, all it takes is a username-password combination to access systems. 


It’s important to understand that compromised credentials alone don’t cause damage, though.  The level of access given to users is a key determinant in the amount of damage compromised accounts can inflict and the amount of sensitive information they can access. This article highlights the problem of entitlement creep (or access creep) and describes how IAM solutions can help reduce its risk.


What is Entitlement Creep?

Entitlement creep occurs when individual accumulate unnecessary permissions and access rights to your applications, databases, and services over time. An employee working with the same company for five or six years will likely have access to many different applications they no longer use or need as they shift between projects and departments. 


The problem is that entitlement creep increases information security risks in two different ways: 


  1. If a user account with too much access becomes compromised due to lost or stolen credentials, excessive access privileges can provide hackers with a larger attack surface to steal sensitive information or otherwise harm your network. 
  2. If an employee with excessive access leaves your company under acrimonious circumstances, the employee could use such access to inflict harm on your network.


Compliance troubles can also stem from entitlement creep. In heavily regulated industries, users with access to sensitive data that they shouldn’t have can result in non-compliance. Compliance failures, when discovered, come with significant costs and reputational damages. 

Causes of Entitlement Creep


Infrastructural Complexity


The modern IT environment is infrastructurally far more complex than before. The average organization uses 2.6 public cloud services and 2.7 private clouds. Added to the mix within this hybrid multi-cloud environment are big data pipelines, the use of container technologies, and remote desktop protocol for work-from-home employees. The result is a plethora of access requests inundating IT departments every day for hundreds of different services and applications. 


Manual Access Controls


Manually attempting to control access within a modern organization is a recipe for trouble. There are simply too many moving parts at play for manual access control to work. The aforementioned infrastructural complexity tells only part of the story. 


A dynamic workforce in which contractors come and go regularly further heightens the difficulty of relying on people alone to effectively provision and de-provision user access.  Ensuring every single user has only the access they need at all times is a 24/7 job beyond the scope of manual control. 


Constantly Changing Roles


Often, employees receive temporary access to resources when working on one-off projects that require such access. When organizations don’t set time limits on this access, entitlement creep sets in. Promotions and changing roles within the company happen regularly, and employees probably won’t need to carry over all their previous access permissions to a new role, but this is often what happens. 


Access Creep Prevention


Least Privilege Principle


At the very core of preventing entitlement creep is the least privilege principle, which says that employees should only have the level of access needed to carry out their duties. Enforcing this principle in the context of constantly changing roles and infrastructural complexity calls for automation, granular visibility, and time-limited access rules. 


Adopt MFA


Multi-factor authentication won’t stop a disgruntled employee with excessive access privileges from causing harm from within. However, MFA will help to stop hackers in their tracks who happen to gain access to such accounts. Moreover, in a world where the traditional network perimeter no longer exists, MFA is a key component of a more modern zero trust strategy. 


Conduct Regular Audits


Conducting regular access audits is an effective way to find weakness within your identity and access management strategy and within the broader area of identity and access governance. This audit can compare your policy against a review of the actual access given to different business users. Policy failures should be noted with proper documentation that includes remediation actions. 


The Role Of Automated Identity Governance


If there is one takeaway message from the big picture causes of entitlement creep, it’s that there is a need for much more automation to ensure users retain only the access to systems and databases strictly needed for their current roles. Automated identity governance solutions are one way forward. 


By leveraging advancements in machine learning, modern identity governance tools can use data to inform real-time user access patterns and controls. Automated AI_driven tools can automatically remove unnecessary access privileges and negate the reliance on manual intervention to prevent entitlement creep. 


Such tools often come embedded into IAM platforms. In summary, automated identity governance improves visibility over access privileges and facilitates stronger, real-time controls that detect and remediate entitlement creep.


How Tuebora Helps 

Tuebora’s Governance solution uses machine learning to monitor identity, access provisioning, and usage behaviors across hybrid IT environments. Scheduled access certification and automated provisioning rules help to eliminate the risk of entitlement creep in an agile, automated way. 


Our IAM platform lets you select only the services you need, so if governance is your use case, that’s what you can choose rather than being overburdened by a monolithic application with unnecessary extra features 


Tuebora helps you seize back control and establish requisite visibility over user access rights across your entire infrastructure. Get a demonstration here

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