Skip to Main Content

insightsarticles

The SOC 2 update — how will it affect you?

11.22.17

Is your organization a service provider that hosts or supports sensitive customer data, (e.g., personal health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII))? If so, you need to be aware of a recent decision by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that may affect how your organization manages its systems and data.

In April, the AICPA’s Assurance Executive Committee decided to replace the five Trust Service Principles (TSPs) with Trust Services Criteria (TSC), requiring service organizations to completely rework their internal controls, and present SOC 2 findings in a revised format. This switch may sound frustrating or intimidating, but we can help you understand the difference between the principles and the criteria.

The SOC 2 Today
Service providers design and implement internal controls to protect customer data and comply with certain regulations. Typically, a service provider hires an independent auditor to conduct an annual Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 examination to help ensure that controls work as intended. Among other things, the resulting SOC 2 report assures stakeholders (customers and business partners) the organization is reducing data risk and exposure.

Currently, SOC 2 reports focus on five Trust Services Principles (TSP):

  • Security: Information and systems are protected against unauthorized access, unauthorized disclosure of information, and damage to systems that can compromise the availability, integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of information or systems — and affect the entity's ability to meet its objectives.

  • Availability: Information and systems are available for operation and use to meet the entity's objectives.

  • Processing Integrity: System processing is complete, valid, accurate, timely, and authorized to meet the entity's objectives.

  • Confidentiality: Information designated as confidential is protected to meet the entity's objectives.

  • Privacy: Personal information is collected, used, retained, disclosed, and disposed of to meet the entity's objectives.

New SOC 2 Format
The TSC directly relate to the 17 principles found in the Committee of Sponsoring Organization (COSO)’s 2013 Framework for evaluating internal controls, and include additional criteria related to COSO Principle 12. The new TSC are:

  • Control Environment: emphasis on ethical values, board oversight, authority and responsibilities, workforce competence, and accountability.
  • Risk Assessment: emphasis on the risk assessment process, how to identify and analyze risks, fraud-related risks, and how changes in risk impact internal controls.
  • Control Activities: Emphasis on how you develop controls to mitigate risk, how you develop technology controls, and how you deploy controls to an organization through the use of policies and procedures.
  • Information and Communication: Emphasis on how you communicate internal of the organization to internal and external parties.
  • Monitoring: Emphasis on how you evaluate internal controls and how you communicate and address any control deficiencies.

The AICPA has provided nearly 300 Points of Focus (POF), supporting controls that organizations should consider when addressing the TSC. The POF offer guidance and considerations for controls that address the specifics of the TSC, but they are not required.

Points of Focus
Organizations now have some work to do to meet the guidelines. The good news: there’s still plenty of time to make necessary changes. You can use the current TSP format before December 15, 2018. Any SOC 2 report presented after December 15, 2018, must incorporate the new TSC format. The AICPA has provided a mapping spreadsheet to help service organizations move from TSP to the TSC format.

Contact Chris Ellingwood to learn more about how we can help you gain control of your SOC 2 reporting efforts. 
 

Related Industries

Related Services

Assurance

A version of this article was previously published on the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network

Editor’s note: while this blog is not technical in nature, you should read it if you are involved in IT security, auditing, and management of organizations that may participate in strategic planning and business activities where considerations of compliance and controls is required.

As we find ourselves in a fast-moving, strong business growth environment, there is no better time to consider the controls needed to enhance your IT security as you implement new, high-demand technology and software to allow your organization to thrive and grow. Here are five risks you need to take care of if you want to build or maintain strong IT security.

1. Third-party risk management―It’s still your fault

We rely daily on our business partners and vendors to make the work we do happen. With a focus on IT, third-party vendors are a potential weak link in the information security chain and may expose your organization to risk. However, though a data breach may be the fault of a third-party, you are still responsible for it. Potential data breaches and exposure of customer information may occur, leaving you to explain to customers and clients answers and explanations you may not have. 

Though software as a service (SaaS) providers, along with other IT third-party services, have been around for well over a decade now, we still neglect our businesses by not considering and addressing third-party risk. These third-party providers likely store, maintain, and access company data, which could potentially contain personally identifiable information (names, social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses), financial information (credit cards or banking information), and healthcare information of your customers. 

While many of the third-party providers have comprehensive security programs in place to protect that sensitive information, a study in 2017 found that 30% of data breaches were caused by employee error or while under the control of third-party vendors.1  This study reemphasizes that when data leaves your control, it is at risk of exposure. 

In many cases, procurement and contracting policies likely have language in contracts that already establish requirements for third-parties related to IT security; however the enforcement of such requirements and awareness of what is written in the contract is not enforced or is collected, put in a file, and not reviewed. What can you do about it?

Improved vendor management

It is paramount that all organizations (no matter their size) have a comprehensive vendor management program that goes beyond contracting requirements in place to defend themselves against third-party risk which includes:

  1. An inventory of all third-parties used and their criticality and risk ranking. Criticality should be assigned using a “critical, high, medium or low” scoring matrix. 
  2. At time of onboarding or RFP, develop a standardized approach for evaluating if potential vendors have sufficient IT security controls in place. This may be done through an IT questionnaire, review of a Systems and Organization Controls (SOC report) or other audit/certifications, and/or policy review. Additional research may be conducted that focuses on management and the company’s financial stability. 
  3. As a result of the steps in #2, develop a vendor risk assessment using a high, medium and low scoring approach. Higher risk vendors should have specific concerns addressed in contracts and are subject to more in depth annual due diligence procedures. 
  4. Reporting to senior management and/or the board annually on the vendors used by the organization, the services they perform, their risk, and ways the organization monitors the vendors. 

2. Regulation and privacy laws―They are coming 

2018 saw the implementation of the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) which was the first major data privacy law pushed onto any organization that possesses, handles, or has access to any citizen of EU’s personal information. Enforcement has started and the Information Commissioner’s Office has begun fining some of the world’s most famous companies, including substantial fines to Marriott International and British Airways of $125 million and $183 million Euros, respectively.2  Gone are the days where regulations lacked the teeth to force companies into compliance. 

With thanks to other major data breaches where hundreds of millions’ consumers private information was lost or obtained (e.g., Experian), more regulation is coming. Although there is little expectation of an American federal requirement for data protection, individual states and other regulating organizations are introducing requirements. Each new regulation seeks to protect consumer privacy but the specifics and enforcement of each differ. 

Expected to be most impactful in 2019 is the California Consumer Privacy Act,  which applies to organizations that handle, collect, or process consumer information and do business in the state of California (you do not have to be located in CA to be under the umbrella of enforcement).

In 2018, Maine passed the toughest law on telecommunications providers for selling consumer information. Massachusetts’ long standing privacy and data breach laws were amended with stronger requirements in January of 2019. Additional privacy and breach laws are in discussion or on the table for many states including Colorado, Delaware, Ohio, Oregon, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington, amongst others.      

Preparation and awareness are key

All organizations, no matter your line of business must be aware of and understand current laws and proposed legislation. New laws are expected to not only address the protection of customer data, but also employee information. All organizations should monitor proposed legislation and be aware of the potential enforceable requirements. The good news is that there are a lot of resources out there and, in most cases, legislative requirements allow for grace periods to allow organizations to develop a complete understanding of proposed laws and implement needed controls. 

3. Data management―Time to cut through the clutter 

We all work with people who have thousands of emails in their inbox (in some cases, dating back several years). Those users’ biggest fears may start to come to fruition―that their “organizational” approach of not deleting anything may come to an end with a simple email and data retention policy put in place by their employer. 

The amount of data we generate in a day is massive. Forbes estimates that we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day and that 90% of all the world’s data was generated in the last two years alone.3 While data is a gold mine for analytics and market research, it is also an increasing liability and security risk. 

Inc. Magazine says that 73% of the data we have available to us is not used.4 Within that data could be personally identifiable information (such as social security numbers, names, addresses, etc.); financial information (bank accounts, credit cards etc.); and/or confidential business data. That data is valuable to hackers and corporate spies and in many cases data’s existence and location is unknown by the organizations that have it. 

In addition to the security risk that all this data poses, it also may expose an organization to liability in the event of a lawsuit of investigation. Emails and other communications are a favorite target of subpoenas and investigations and should be deleted within 90 days (including deleted items folders). 

Take an inventory before you act

Organizations should first complete a full data inventory and understand what types of data they maintain and handle, and where and how they store that data. Next, organizations can develop a data retention policy that meets their needs. Utilizing backup storage media may be a solution that helps reduce the need to store and maintain a large amount of data on internal systems. 

4. Doing the basics right―The simple things work 

Across industries and regardless of organization size, the most common problem we see is the absence of basic controls for IT security. Every organization, no matter their size, should work to ensure they have controls in place. Some must-haves:

  • Established IT security policies
  • Routine, monitored patch management practices (for all servers and workstations)
  • Change management controls (for both software and hardware changes)
  • Anti-virus/malware on all servers and workstations
  • Specific IT security risk assessments 
  • User access reviews
  • System logging and monitoring 
  • Employee security training

Go back to the basics 

We often see organizations that focus on new and emerging technologies, but have not taken the time to put basic security controls in place. Simple deterrents will help thwarting hackers. I often tell my clients a locked car scares away most ill-willed people, but a thief can still smash the window.  

Smaller organizations can consider using third-party security providers, if they are not able to implement basic IT security measures. From our experience, small organizations are being held to the same data security and privacy expectations by their customers as larger competitors and need to be able to provide assurance that controls are in place.  

5. Employee retention and training 

Unemployment rates are at an all-time low, and the demand for IT security experts at an all-time high. In fact, Monster.com reported that in 2019 the unemployment rate for IT security professionals is 0%.5 

Organizations should be highly focused on employee retention and training to keep current employees up-to-speed on technology and security trends. One study found that only 15% of IT security professionals were not looking to switch jobs within one year.6  

Surprisingly, money is not the top factor for turnover―68% of respondents prioritized working for a company that takes their opinions seriously.6 

For years we have told our clients they need to create and foster a culture of security from the top down, and that IT security must be considered more than just an overhead cost. It needs to align with overall business strategy and goals. Organizations need to create designated roles and responsibilities for security that provide your security personnel with a sense of direction―and the ability to truly protect the organization, their people, and the data. 

Training and support goes a long way

Offering training to security personnel allows them to stay abreast of current topics, but it also shows those employees you value their knowledge and the work they do. You need to train technology workers to be aware of new threats, and on techniques to best defend and protect from such risks. 

Reducing turnover rate of IT personnel is critical to IT security success. Continuously having to retrain and onboard employees is both costly and time-consuming. High turnover impacts your culture and also hampers your ability to grow and expand a security program. 

Making the effort to empower and train all employees is a powerful way to demonstrate your appreciation and support of the employees within your organization—and keep your data more secure.  

Our IT security consultants can help

Ensuring that you have a stable and established IT security program in place by considering the above risks will help your organization adapt to technology changes and create more than just an IT security program, but a culture of security minded employees. 

Our team of IT security and control experts can help your organization create and implement controls needed to consider emerging IT risks. For more information, contact the team
 

Sources:
[1] https://iapp.org/news/a/surprising-stats-on-third-party-vendor-risk-and-breach-likelihood/  
[2] https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/first-big-gdpr-fines/
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/05/21/how-much-data-do-we-create-every-day-the-mind-blowing-stats-everyone-should-read/#458b58860ba9
[4] https://www.inc.com/jeff-barrett/misusing-data-could-be-costing-your-business-heres-how.html
[5] https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/tech-cybersecurity-zero-percent-unemployment-1016
[6] https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/88833-what-will-improve-cyber-talent-retention

Article
Five IT risks everyone should be aware of

As the technology we use for work and at home becomes increasingly intertwined, security issues that affect one also affect the other and we must address security risks at both levels.

This year’s top security risks are the first in our series that are both prevalent to us as consumers of technology and to us as business owners and security administrators. Our homes and offices connect to devices, referred to the Internet of Things (IoT), that make our lives and jobs easier and more efficient, but securing those devices from outside access is becoming paramount to IT security.

Many of this year’s risks focus on deception. Through deception, hackers can get information and access to systems, which can harm our wallets and our businesses.

In our 2017 Top 10 IT Security Risks e-book we share with you how to understand these emerging risks, the consequences and impacts these risks may have on your business, and approaches to help mitigate the risks and their impact. Some of the key ways to address these risks are:           

  1. Do your homework — change your default passwords (the one that came with your wireless router, for instance), and also make sure that your Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or other smart devices have complex passwords. In addition, turning off devices when they are not in use, or when you are gone, helps secure your home.
  1. If you work from home, or have employees who do, set up and use secure connections with dual authentication methods to help protect your networks. Remote employees should be required to use the same security measures as on-site employees.
  1. Protect your smartphone at work and at play—smartphones have become one of our most important possessions, and we use the same device for both work and personal applications, yet we don’t protect them as well we should. Password protection is step one. Consider uploading new antivirus software to corporate smartphones and using container apps for corporate emails and documents. These apps allow users to securely connect to a company’s server and reduce the possible exposure of data.
  1. Train, inform, repeat. Create a vigilant workforce—through continuous and consistent training and information sharing, you can reduce the occurrence of phishing, hacking and other attacks against your systems.
  1. Conduct IT security risk assessments annually to help you identify gaps, fix them, and prepare for any incidents that may occur.
  1. Monitor and protect your reputation through tools to identify news on your company and understand the sources of the information.

Our 2017 Top 10 IT Security Risks takes a deeper look at the IoT and other risk issues that pose a threat this year, and what you can do to minimize your own and your organization’s IT security risks.

Article
The 2017 top IT security risks: Everything is connected

During my lunch in sunny Florida while traveling for business, enjoying a nice reprieve from another cold Maine winter, I checked my social media account. I noticed several postings about people having nothing to do at work because their company’s systems were down, the result of a major outage at one of three Amazon Web Services (AWS)’ Data Centers and web hosting operations. Company sites were down directly or indirectly through a software as a service (SaaS) provider hosted at the AWS data center.

The crash lasted for four hours and affected hundreds of thousands sites, including Airbnb, Expedia, Netflix, Quora, Slack, and others. The impact of such crashes can be devastating to organizations that rely on their website for revenue, such as online retailers and users of SaaS providers that may rely on a hosted system to conduct day-to-day business.

We advise our clients who consider hosting services in the cloud to weigh the option seriously and understand potential challenges in doing so. Here are some steps you can take to prevent future outages and loss of valuable uptime:

  1. Know the risks and weigh them against the benefits.  Ask questions about the system you are thinking of having hosted. Is the system critical to business? Without the system, do you lose revenue and productivity? Is the company providing the SaaS service hosting their own systems, or are they hosted at a data center like AWS? Does the SaaS provider have failover sites at other, separate data centers that are geographically distant from another?
  2. Have a backup plan. If your business conducts e-commerce or needs SaaS service to function, consider hosting your web servers and other data at two different providers. Though costly, the downtime impact is highly reduced.
  3. Consider hosting yourself. In some cases, we advise against relying on a third-party hosted data center. We do this when the criticality of the function is so high that having your own full-time dedicated support personnel, with multiple internet service providers available, allows you to address outages in-house and reduce the risk of outages.
  4. Have a service level agreement. Having a service level agreement with the hosted third party establishes expectations for uptime and downtime. In many instances where uptime is critical, you may consider incorporating liquidated damage clauses (fines and penalties) for downtime. Often when revenue is involved, the hosted party will take deeper measures to ensure uptime.

These types of outages are rare, but significant and while most organizations should not be scrambling to host their own systems and cancel all hosted agreements, it’s a good idea to take a hard look at your cyber security and IT risk management plan. Then, like me, when the clouds clear and you are in warm and sunny Florida, you can take a long lunch and enjoy the day.

Article
When the skies clear: Web-hosting outage hits Amazon data centers

Read this if you are a Maine business or organization that has been affected by COVID-19. 

The State of Maine has released a $200 million Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program for companies and organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a brief outline of the program from the state, and a list of eligibility requirements. 

“The State of Maine plans to use CARES Act relief funding to help our economy recover from the impacts of the global pandemic by supporting Maine-based businesses and non-profit organizations through an Economic Recovery Grant Program. The funding originates from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and will be awarded in the form of grants to directly alleviate the disruption of operations suffered by Maine’s small businesses and non-profits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maine Department of Economic & Community Development has been working closely with affected Maine organizations since the beginning of this crisis and has gathered feedback from all sectors on the current challenges.”

Eligibility requirements for the program from the state

To qualify for a Maine Economic Recovery Grant your business/organization must: 

  • Demonstrate a need for financial relief based on lost revenues minus expenses incurred since March 1, 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts or related public health response; 
  • Employ a combined total of 50 or fewer employees and contract employees;
  • Have significant operations in Maine (business/organization headquartered in Maine or have a minimum of 50% of employees and contract employees based in Maine); 
  • Have been in operation for at least one year before August 1, 2020; 
  • Be in good standing with the Maine Department of Labor; 
  • Be current and in good standing with all Maine state payroll taxes, sales taxes, and state income taxes (as applicable) through July 31, 2020;
  • Not be in bankruptcy; 
  • Not have permanently ceased all operations; 
  • Be in consistent compliance and not be under any current or past enforcement action with COVID-19 Prevention Checklist Requirements; and 
  • Be a for-profit business or non-profit organization, except
    • Professional services 
    • 501(c)(4), 501(c)(6) organizations that lobby 
    • K-12 schools, including charter, public and private
    • Municipalities, municipal subdivisions, and other government agencies 
    • Assisted living and retirement communities 
    • Nursing homes
    • Foundations and charitable trusts 
    • Trade associations 
    • Credit unions
    • Insurance trusts
    • Scholarship funds and programs 
    • Gambling 
    • Adult entertainment 
    • Country clubs, golf clubs, other private clubs 
    • Cemetery trusts and associations 
    • Fraternal orders 
    • Hospitals, nursing facilities, institutions of higher education, and child care organizations (Alternate funding available through the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services for hospitals, nursing facilities, child care organizations, and institutions of higher education.)

For more information

If you feel you qualify, you can find more details and the application here. If you have questions about your eligibility, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

Article
$200 Million Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program released

Read this if your company is seeking assistance under the PPP.

The rules surrounding PPP continue to rapidly evolve. As of June 22, 2020, we are anticipating some additional clarifications in the form of an interim final rule (or IFR) and additional answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ). The FAQs were last updated on May 27, 2020. For the latest information, please be sure to check our website or the Treasury website.

A few important changes:

  1. The loan forgiveness application, and instructions, have been updated.
  2. There is a new EZ form, designed to streamline the forgiveness process, if borrowers meet certain criteria.
  3. Changes now allow for businesses to use 60% of the PPP loan proceeds on payroll costs, down from 75%.
  4. Businesses now have 24 weeks to use the loan proceeds, rather than the original eight-week period (or by December 31, 2020, whichever comes earlier).
  5. The rules around what is a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee and the safe harbors with respect to employment levels and forgiveness have been clarified.
  6. Entities can defer payroll taxes through the ERC program, even if forgiveness is granted.

These changes are designed to make it easier to qualify for loan forgiveness. In the event you do not qualify for loan forgiveness, you may be able to extend the loan to five years, as opposed to the original two years.

The relaxation on FTE reductions is significant. The reductions will NOT count against you when calculating forgiveness, even if you haven’t restored the same employment level, if you can document that:

  • you offered employment to people and they refused to come back, or
  • HHS, CDC, OSHA or other government intervention causes an inability to “return to the same level of business activity” as of 2/15/2020.

As of June 20, 2020, there was still an additional $128 billion in available funds. The program is intended to fund new loans through June 30, 2020. 

We’re here to help.
If you have questions about the PPP, contact a BerryDunn professional.

Article
PPP loan forgiveness: Updates

Read this if your company is seeking assistance under the PPP.

With additional funding for the PPP pending, we’re updating this blog post with more recent information.


This information is current as of April 21, 2020.

The Treasury Department has issued guidance and answers to Frequently Asked Questions that alters some of the original assumptions around PPP:

  1. At least 75% of the forgiven amount should be used for payroll (changed due to anticipated high demand for program)
  2. Repayment of non-forgiven amounts are now repaid over 2 years at 1.0% interest (not 2 years and 0.5% as previously stated or 10 years and 4% as in the CARES Act)

Although the “covered period” is February 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020, forgiveness of the loan is based on expenses (primarily payroll) during the eight-week period after the loan is received. Loan amounts should be disbursed within 10 calendar days of being approved.

Important to note:

  1. Questions around size:
    1. 500 employees. The SBA has clarified that it measures employees consistent with the existing 7(a) loan program guidance. See CFR Section 121.106 for details.
    2. The SBA has also clarified that if a business meets both tests in the “alternative size standard”, it qualifies to participate in the program
      1. Maximum tangible net worth of the business is not more than $15 million.
      2. Average net income after Federal income taxes for the two full fiscal years before the date of application is not more than $5 million. 
    3. If the existing SBA definition of a small business for your industry (found on SBA websites) has over 500 employees, your business may qualify if you meet that expanded definition. 
  2. The CARES Act states that loans taken from January 31, 2020, until “covered loans are made available may be refinanced as part of a covered loan.”
  3. People may want to tap into available credit now. If they are granted a covered loan (PPP loan), they can refinance. Given anticipated demand, it may take time to get the PPP loan processed.
  4. Participation in PPP (Section 1102 and 1106 of the CARES Act) precludes participation in the Employee Retention Credit (Section 2301).
  5. The IRS clarified that companies may still defer Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes (Section 2302) even if participating in PPP until a decision on forgiveness is reached by your lender. This is a change from our prior understanding.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

EIDLs are available through the SBA and were expanded under section 1110 of the CARES Act. Eligible are businesses with 500 or fewer employees, including ESOPs, cooperatives, and others. Up to $2 million per loan. Up to 30 years to repay. Comes with an emergency advance (available within 3 days) of $10,000 that does not have to be repaid – even if your loan application is turned down. This $10,000 does not impact participation in other programs/sections of the CARES Act. Some portion of the EIDL may reduce your loan forgiveness under PPP, but receiving an EIDL does not preclude you from participating in the PPP.

From the Treasury: Small business PPP

The Paycheck Protection Program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. More details at treasury.gov.

Fully forgiven

Funds are provided in the form of loans that will be fully forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.

Must keep employees on the payroll—or rehire quickly

Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

All small businesses eligible

Small businesses with 500 or fewer employees—including nonprofits, veterans organizations, tribal concerns, self-employed individuals, sole proprietorships, and independent contractors— are eligible. Businesses with more than 500 employees are eligible in certain industries.

When to apply

Starting April 3, 2020, small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply. Starting April 10, 2020, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply.

How to apply

You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, or Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating. All loans will have the same terms regardless of lender or borrower. Find a list of participating lenders and additional information and full terms at sba.gov.

The Paycheck Protection Program is implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the Department of the Treasury. Lenders should also visit sba.gov or coronavirus.gov for more information.

BerryDunn COVID-19 resources

We’re here to help. If you have questions about the PPP, contact a BerryDunn professional.

Article
Updated: Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Who has the time or resources to keep tabs on everything that everyone in an organization does? No one. Therefore, you naturally need to trust (at least on a certain level) the actions and motives of various personnel. At the top of your “trust level” are privileged users—such as system and network administrators and developers—who keep vital systems, applications, and hardware up and running. Yet, according to the 2019 Centrify Privileged Access Management in the Modern Threatscape survey, 74% of data breaches occurred using privileged accounts. The survey also revealed that of the organizations responding:

  • 52% do not use password vaulting—password vaulting can help privileged users keep track of long, complex passwords for multiple accounts in an encrypted storage vault.
  • 65% still share the use of root and other privileged access—when the use of root accounts is required, users should invoke commands to inherent the privileges of the account (SUDO) without actually using the account. This ensures “who” used the account can be tracked.
  • Only 21% have implemented multi-factor authentication—the obvious benefit of multi-factor authentication is to enhance the security of authenticating users, but also in many sectors it is becoming a compliance requirement.
  • Only 47% have implemented complete auditing and monitoring—thorough auditing and monitoring is vital to securing privileged accounts.

So how does one even begin to trust privileged accounts in today’s environment? 

1. Start with an inventory

To best manage and monitor your privileged accounts, start by finding and cataloguing all assets (servers, applications, databases, network devices, etc.) within the organization. This will be beneficial in all areas of information security such as asset management, change control and software inventory tracking. Next, inventory all users of each asset and ensure that privileged user accounts:

  • Require privileges granted be based on roles and responsibilities
  • Require strong and complex passwords (exceeding those of normal users)
  • Have passwords that expire often (30 days recommended)
  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Are not shared with others and are not used for normal activity (the user of the privileged account should have a separate account for non-privileged or non-administrative activities)

If the account is only required for a service or application, disable the account’s ability to login from the server console and from across the network

2. Monitor—then monitor some more

The next step is to monitor the use of the identified privileged accounts. Enable event logging on all systems and aggregate to a log monitoring system or a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system that alerts in real time when privileged accounts are active. Configure the system to alert you when privileged accounts access sensitive data or alter database structure. Report any changes to device configurations, file structure, code, and executable programs. If these changes do not correlate to an approved change request, treat them as incidents and investigate.  

Consider software that analyzes user behavior and identifies deviations from normal activity. Privileged accounts that are accessing data or systems not part of their normal routine could be the indication of malicious activity or a database attack from a compromised privileged account. 

3. Secure the event logs

Finally, ensure that none of your privileged accounts have access to the logs being used for monitoring, nor have the ability to alter or delete those logs. In addition to real time monitoring and alerting, the log management system should have the ability to produce reports for periodic review by information security staff. The reports should also be archived for forensic purposes in the event of a breach or compromise.

Gain further assistance (and peace of mind) 

BerryDunn understands how privileged accounts should be monitored and audited. We can help your organization assess your current event management process and make recommendations if improvements are needed. Contact our team.

Article
Trusting privileged accounts in the age of data breaches

All teams experience losing streaks, and all franchise dynasties lose some luster. Nevertheless, the game must go on. What can coaches do? The answer: be prepared, be patient, and be PR savvy. Business managers should keep these three P’s in mind as they read Chapter 8 in BerryDunn’s Cybersecurity Playbook for Management, which highlights how organizations can recover from incidents.

In the last chapter, we discussed incident response. What’s the difference between incident response and incident recovery?

RG: Incident response refers to detecting and identifying an incident—and hopefully eradicating the source or cause of the incident, such as malware. Incident recovery refers to getting things back to normal after an incident. They are different sides of the same resiliency coin.

I know you feel strongly that organizations should have incident response plans. Should organizations also have incident recovery plans?

RG: Absolutely. Have a recovery plan for each type of possible incident. Otherwise, how will your organization know if it has truly recovered from an incident? Having incident recovery plans will also help prevent knee-jerk decisions or reactions that could unintentionally cover up or destroy an incident’s forensic evidence.

In the last chapter, you stated managers and their teams can reference or re-purpose National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) special publications when creating incident response plans. Is it safe to assume you also suggest referencing or re-purposing NIST special publications when creating incident recovery plans?

RG: Yes. But keep in mind that incident recovery plans should also mesh with, or reflect, any business impact analyses developed by your organization. This way, you will help ensure that your incident recovery plans prioritize what needs to be recovered first—your organization’s most valuable assets.

That said, I should mention that cybersecurity attacks don’t always target an organization’s most valuable assets. Sometimes, cybersecurity attacks simply raise the “misery index” for a business or group by disrupting a process or knocking a network offline.

Besides having incident recovery plans, what else can managers do to support incident recovery?

RG: Similar to what we discussed in the last chapter, managers should make sure that internal and external communications about the incident and the resulting recovery are consistent, accurate, and within the legal requirements for your business or industry. Thus, having a good incident recovery communication plan is crucial. 

When should managers think about bringing in a third party to help with incident recovery?

RG: That’s a great question. I think this decision really comes down to the confidence you have in your team’s skills and experience. An outside vendor can give you a lot of different perspectives but your internal team knows the business. I think this is one area that it doesn’t hurt to have an outside perspective because it is so important and we often don’t perceive ourselves as the outside world does. 

This decision also depends on the scale of the incident. If your organization is trying to recover from a pretty significant or high-impact breach or outage, you shouldn’t hesitate to call someone. Also, check to see if your organization has cybersecurity insurance. If your organization has cybersecurity insurance, then your insurance company is likely going to tell you whether or not you need to bring in an outside team. Your insurance company will also likely help coordinate outside resources, such as law enforcement and incident recovery teams.

Do you think most organizations should have cybersecurity insurance? 

RG: In this day and age? Yes. But organizations need to understand that, once they sign up for cybersecurity insurance, they’re going to be scrutinized by the insurance company—under the microscope, so to speak—and that they’ll need to take their “cybersecurity health” very seriously.

Organizations need to really pay attention to what they’re paying for. My understanding is that many different types of cybersecurity insurance have very high premiums and deductibles. So, in theory, you could have a $1 million insurance policy, but a $250,000 deductible. And keep in mind that even a simple incident can cost more than $1 million in damages. Not surprisingly, I know of many organizations signing up for $10 million insurance policies. 

How can managers improve internal morale and external reputation during the recovery process?

RG: Well, leadership sets the tone. It’s like in sports—if a coach starts screaming and yelling, then it is likely that the players will start screaming and yelling. So set expectations for measured responses and reactions. 

Check in on a regular basis with your internal security team, or whoever is conducting incident recovery within your organization. Are team members holding up under pressure? Are they tired? Have you pushed them to the point where they are fatigued and making mistakes? The morale of these team members will, in part, dictate the morale of others in the organization.

Another element that can affect morale is—for lack of a better word—idleness resulting from an incident. If you have a department that can’t work due to an incident, and you know that it’s going to take several days to get things back to normal, you may not want department members coming into work and just sitting around. Think about it. At some point, these idle department members are going to grumble and bicker, and eventually affect the wider morale. 

As for improving external reputation?I don’t think it really matters, honestly, because I don’t think most people really, truly care. Why? Because everyone is vulnerable, and attacks happen all the time. At this point in time, cyberattacks seem to be part of the normal course and rhythm of business. Look at all the major breaches that have occurred over the past couple of years. There’s always some of immediate, short-term fallout, but there’s been very little long-term fallout. Now, that being said, it is possible for organizations to suffer a prolonged PR crisis after an incident. How do you avoid this? Keep communication consistent—and limit interactions between employees and the general public. One of the worst things that can happen after an incident is for a CEO to say, “Well, we’re not sure what happened,” and then for an employee to tweet exactly what happened. Mixed messages are PR death knells. 

Let’s add some context. Can you identify a business or group that, in your opinion, has handled the incident recovery process well?

RG: You know, I can’t, and for a very good reason. If a business or group does a really good job at incident recovery, then the public quickly forgets about the incident—or doesn’t even hear about it in the first place. Conversely, I can identify many businesses or groups that have handled the incident recovery process poorly, typically from a PR perspective.

Any final thoughts about resiliency?

RG: Yes. As you know, over the course of this blog series, I have repeated the idea that IT is not the same as security. These are two different concepts that should be tackled by two different teams—or approached in their appropriate context. Similarly, managers need to remember that resiliency is not an IT process—it’s a business process. You can’t just shove off resiliency responsibilities onto your IT team. As managers, you need to get directly involved with resiliency, just as you need to get directly involved with maturity, capacity, and discovery. 

So, we’ve reached the end of this blog series. Above all else, what do you hope managers will gain from it? 

RG: First, the perspective that to understand your organization’s cybersecurity, is to truly understand your organization and its business. And I predict that some managers will be able to immediately improve business processes once they better grasp the cybersecurity environment. Second, the perspective that cybersecurity is ultimately the responsibility of everyone within an organization. Sure, having a dedicated security team is great, but everyone—from the CEO to the intern—plays a part. Third, the perspective that effective cybersecurity is effective communication. A siloed, closed-door approach will not work. And finally, the perspective that cybersecurity is always changing, so that it’s a best practice to keep reading and learning about it. Anyone with questions should feel free to reach out to me directly.

Article
Incident recovery: Cybersecurity playbook for management