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Identity is the New Perimeter: Rethink Security in a Digital Age

Not too long ago, perimeters were simple. Cyber security strategies focused solely on fortifying network boundaries with firewalls and intrusion detection systems. But with cloud services and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, the emphasis has shifted to verifying and managing identities effectively. After all, it’s not just about securing devices or networks; it’s about securing the individuals who access them.

Identity-centric security revolves around the principle of zero trust – the notion that organisations should not inherently trust any user or device, whether inside or outside their network perimeter. Instead, access should be granted based on the identity of the user, the security posture of the device, and the context of the access request.

Implementing an identity-centric security approach involves several key components:

  • Identity verification: Employing robust authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) or biometric authentication, to verify users' identities before granting access to corporate resources.
  • Access control: Implementing granular access control policies based on users' roles, responsibilities, and privileges to limit access to sensitive data and applications.
  • Continuous monitoring: Monitoring user activities and behavior in real-time to detect and respond to anomalous or suspicious actions that may indicate unauthorised access or insider threats.
  • Least privilege: Adhering to the principle of least privilege by granting users the minimum level of access required to perform their job functions, thereby reducing the potential impact of a security breach.
  • Identity governance: Establishing processes and controls for managing user identities throughout their lifecycle, including onboarding, provisioning, deprovisioning, and access recertification.

By shifting the focus from network boundaries to individual identities, organisations can better adapt to the evolving threat landscape and protect against sophisticated cyberattacks, insider threats, and data breaches. Identity-centric security enables organisations to enforce security policies consistently across diverse environments, including on-premises systems, cloud services, and mobile devices, while enabling flexible and secure access for remote workers.

Hackers are after your identity to gain access to your wealth.

Hackers are likely to target privileged users for several reasons, primarily because they represent high-value targets with extensive access to sensitive systems, data, and resources within organisations. Privileged users typically hold elevated levels of permissions, allowing them to perform critical functions such as system administration, network management, and data manipulation. Here are some key reasons why hackers target privileged users:

  • Access to sensitive information: Privileged users often have access to highly sensitive information, including financial data, customer records, intellectual property, and trade secrets. By compromising privileged accounts, hackers can gain unauthorised access to valuable data, which can be exploited for financial gain, espionage, or sabotage.
  • System control and manipulation: Privileged users possess administrative privileges that allow them to control and manipulate critical systems, networks, and infrastructure components. Hackers target these accounts to gain control over systems, install malware, modify configurations, or disrupt operations, potentially causing significant damage to an organisation’s operations and reputation.
  • Escalation of privileges: Once hackers gain access to a lower-level user account, they often target privileged users to escalate their privileges and gain broader access to IT resources. Now hackers can bypass security controls, elevate their privileges, and move laterally within networks to access additional systems and sensitive data.
  • Financial fraud and theft: Hackers target privileged users to conduct financial fraud, theft, or unauthorised transactions. Privileged accounts are often associated with financial systems, payment processing platforms, and transactional databases, making them lucrative targets for cybercriminals seeking to steal funds, manipulate financial records, or conduct fraudulent activities.
  • Data exfiltration and espionage: Privileged users have the authority to access and extract large volumes of data from organisational systems and databases making them ideal to exfiltrate sensitive data for espionage, intellectual property theft, or extortion purposes. Stolen data can be sold on underground markets, used for competitive advantage, or held for ransom.
  • Credential theft and credential stuffing attacks: Hackers steal credentials through various means, such as phishing, social engineering, or brute-force attacks. Once obtained, stolen credentials can be used in credential stuffing attacks to gain unauthorised access to multiple systems and applications across organisations' networks.
  • Disruption of operations and services: By compromising accounts, hackers can disrupt organisations' operations, services, and critical business functions. This can include disabling IT systems, disrupting network connectivity, or causing service outages, leading to financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory penalties, and causing havoc.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) in the financial industry

In the financial industry, where confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data are paramount, the importance of IAM cannot be overstated. Financial institutions house vast amounts of sensitive information, ranging from customer financial records to trading algorithms, making these companies lucrative targets for cybercriminals. IAM serves as the first line of defense against unauthorised access attempts, ensuring that only legitimate users with the appropriate permissions can access critical systems and data stores.

Regulatory requirements such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mandate stringent security measures, including robust IAM controls, to protect customer data and preserve trust in the financial system. Failure to implement adequate IAM measures not only exposes financial institutions to regulatory fines and penalties but also jeopardises their reputation and customer confidence.

10 simple safeguarding steps for employees

Employees play a pivotal role in upholding cybersecurity vigilance and adhering to IAM best practices. Here are some proactive measures employees can take:

  1. Strong authentication practices: Utilise strong, multifactor authentication methods, such as biometrics, tokens, or one-time passwords, to enhance account security and prevent unauthorised access.
  2. Encrypt Sensitive Data: Use encryption to protect sensitive data both in transit and at rest. Ensure that encryption keys are securely managed and rotated regularly.
  3. Vigilance against phishing attacks: Exercise caution when handling email attachments, clicking on suspicious links, or responding to unsolicited requests for sensitive information, as these could be phishing attempts aimed at stealing credentials or infiltrating systems.
  4. Regular password hygiene: Practice good password hygiene by creating strong, unique passwords for each account, changing them regularly, and avoiding the reuse of passwords across multiple platforms to mitigate the risk of credential stuffing attacks.
  5. Compliance with security policies: Familiarise yourself with the organisation’s security policies and procedures, including IAM guidelines, and adhere to them diligently to maintain regulatory compliance and uphold cybersecurity standards.
  6. Protect personal devices: Employees should ensure that their personal devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, are adequately protected with up-to-date security software, including antivirus and anti-malware programs. They should also enable device encryption and use screen locks or biometric authentication to prevent unauthorised access.
  7. Secure Wi-Fi connections: When accessing corporate resources remotely, employees should connect to secure Wi-Fi networks or use virtual private networks (VPNs) to encrypt their internet traffic and protect against eavesdropping or interception by malicious actors.
  8. Protect physical access: Employees should safeguard physical access to their devices, workstations, and access credentials, ensuring that they are not left unattended or accessible to unauthorised individuals.
  9. Continuous awareness: Stay informed about emerging cybersecurity threats, trends, and best practices, reach out to the IT team if you have questions and enhance your cybersecurity awareness and resilience to evolving threats.
  10. Report suspicious activity: Report any suspicious activity, unauthorised access attempts, or security incidents to the IT team promptly. Prompt reporting can help mitigate the impact of security breaches and prevent further compromise of sensitive information.


By adhering to these cybersecurity points and remaining vigilant about potential

threats, employees can play a crucial role in securing identity and access management,

contributing to a more resilient cybersecurity posture for the organisation.

Reach out to the IT team if you’re interested in learning more about IAM at Sasfin.

About the Author

Del van Rooyen
Chief Information Security Officer, Sasfin Holdings Limited

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