A Guide to User Access Monitoring and Why it is Important

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User access monitoring is vital to any access management strategy. Think of a home security system, it constantly watches for behavior that could trigger an alarm. Access monitoring tools accomplish the same goal of watching user activity while in session and triggering ‘alarms’ when suspicious activity is detected.

Defining User Access Monitoring

User access monitoring is the observation, recording, or documentation of a user’s activity while they are ‘in session’, logged in to a network, software, database, application, etc., and analyzing that behavior to prevent future security incidents or investigate anomalies in activity.

Although most organizations consider monitoring a crucial part of their security strategy, many struggle to execute it across all instances of user activity, especially third parties.

Third-Party User Access Monitoring

A staggering 50% of organizations do not monitor third parties with access to sensitive and confidential information, according to the recent State of Cybersecurity and Third-Party Remote Access Risk report by the Ponemon Institute.

Third-party users are opaque, transient and bring risk to a business by opening a digital doorway to internal, critical assets - resources bad actors would love to get their hands on. Too many headlines have explained why it’s so critical to lock down third-party remote access into internal systems. The infamous Target breach that happened nearly 10 years ago is a prime example, credentials for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) vendor were compromised and resulted in 40 million credit and debit cards exposed. Recently, nearly 40 healthcare organizations were impacted by a cyber-attack hitting their third-party mailing and printing vendor.

However, as the report shows, third parties still get overlooked in cybersecurity strategies. Year-over-year, the numbers show staggering confidence in reputation or contractual terms as the reason why organizations don’t monitor third-party network access. When asked why they don’t monitor third-party access to sensitive and confidential information, here’s how participants responded:

  • 59% say they rely on the business reputation of the third-party
  • 58% say they don’t monitor because the third party is subject to contractual terms
  • 56% say the third party is obligated to data protection regulations that are intended to protect the sensitive information

While these sentiments of reliability are nice, they are not secure. You might rely on and trust your neighbor to house-sit while you’re on vacation; you might even give them rules on what they can and can’t do in your house. But there’s no way to know they’re following those rules unless you have recorded, documented evidence.

This is why monitoring is so important, it keeps all users accountable and provides documentation on what is actually happening within an organization’s internal systems. The documentation (or evidence) of this activity gives peace of mind and makes meeting compliance even more efficient for companies within regulated industries. And if something goes awry, you have a documented account of the incident and can trace it back to the source.

Businesses Are Working Harder, Not Smarter

Cyber-attacks have increased year-over-year, and the number of attacks caused by third parties has also increased by 5% since 2021. It’s striking that most organizations (64%) continue to use manual controls to monitor third-party access when automated options are not only available, but necessary.

Technology has evolved to streamline these manual processes and what human eyes won’t capture, automated solutions will. There’s a reason those doorbell cameras exist: the human eye can’t capture or predict every single time someone comes to your door. But the camera can provide visibility and recorded documentation of who was at your door, how long they were there, and why they were there.

Nearly half of organizations say they are not highly effective in detecting third-party threats. With the lack of monitoring and automation that’s taking place, it’s easy to see why. Reputation, contracts, and sheer confidence don’t secure your critical assets or provide real-time monitoring and insight into your systems. When a bad actor exploits a third-party connection, a 5-star review or a signature on a contract will not stop the attack.

Real monitoring processes are needed. Find software that can capture third-party user activity, record desktop sharing sessions, and keep text-based logs that show what each third-party user is physically doing. With current innovations like AI and machine learning, monitoring technology can detect, thwart, and prevent threats before they even begin.

There’s opportunity here for organizations that are manually keeping tabs on third parties to adapt to new, evolving, and automated processes. Automating user access monitoring will save organizations time (so IT teams can attend to other high-priority projects) and money (like the costs incurred from a data breach).

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