Security Experts:

Your Line of Business Hates Access Certifications - You Should Too!

Like Many Compliance-driven Efforts, Access Certifications are Often Hastily Implemented to Satisfy Auditors...

Line of business (LOB) managers hate access certifications (or recertifications). From their perspective, it’s a bit like asking them to systematically visit every seat in a theater, during the feature film, and act as “theater police”, checking ticket stubs to catch people sneaking in from another movie. It’s distracting from the conduct of business and is seen as useless administrative overhead. So it’s no wonder that LOB managers look for short cuts, such as rubber-stamping access approval for everyone.

Many regulated organizations are accomplishing access certifications on time, which may be enough to satisfy an auditor, but it hasn’t reduced risk for our organizations. By allowing managers to mindlessly approve access for everyone, there are too many people with too much access. And that’s why, if you believe that compliance does not equal security, or as a security professional you care about managing risk, you should hate access certifications too – at least the way most of us do them today.

Access Certifications Why are access certifications so flawed?

Much of the investment in access certifications has been focused on making the job easier on IT professionals. We’ve automated entitlement collection, report creation and distribution. LOB managers are bothered, then harassed and re-harassed to complete their reviews and certify access with ruthless automated precision. If they’re lucky, we give them a fancy user interface to make checking boxes easier, but then turn off the “select all” and “next” buttons, just to make certain they’re inefficient at rubber stamping.

The investment in access certifications have reduced the workload on IT, but by treating all entitlements and users the same, we’ve put the burden on LOB managers to manage the risk of excessive access. Should these users be expected to understand the risk to the organization if a former contractor keeps his access for an extra six months? How can they know whether the access rights of one employee is outsized versus another?

Reducing the burden on the business without increasing risk

What LOB users need is clarity and simplicity in identifying access that should be revoked. In a theater full of 200 people, rather than check every person’s ticket stub, what if the manager could focus on the four tweenagers in the R-rated movie? Managers need context and prioritization to help them make appropriate decisions while reviewing access.

For access reviews and certifications, that means bubbling up to the top of the list those with the highest risk entitlements. Perhaps the entitlement is to significantly sensitive information. Or the account has been orphaned and left unused for a year or more. Maybe the entitlement has exhibited unusual access patterns. These examples of risk can be quantified with a score and used to prioritize the access review, reducing the burden of decision making for LOB managers while supporting risk reduction.

Like many other compliance-driven efforts, access certifications have been hastily implemented to satisfy auditors. It is time for the previews to end and allow the business to get on with the feature film by giving them the context they need for certification decision support.

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Travis Greene, Identity Solutions Strategist at Micro Focus, possesses a blend of IT operations and security experience, process design, organizational leadership and technical skills. After a 10-year career as a US Naval Officer, he started in IT as a Data Center Manager for a hosting company. In early 2002, Travis joined a Managed Service Provider as the leader of the service level and continuous improvement team. Today, Travis conducts research with NetIQ customers, industry analysts, and partners to understand current Identity and Access Management challenges, with a focus on provisioning, governance and user activity monitoring solutions. Travis is Expert Certified in ITIL and holds a BS in Computer Science from the US Naval Academy.