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Admin rights to data should be given sparingly (or not at all)

I was reading a well-known telco’s document on the trade-off between productivity and network security recently. A lot of what they said is fair comment and they do have some helpful suggestions. However, their response to security risks, like those of many organisations, jumps straight for the technology solution with only a thin veneer of trying to deal with people.

Many organisations will talk about people and process and how important they are and that you need education programmes (most of which miss the point and are not terribly effective), but they say it as if they have been told to and don’t really believe it themselves. At the end of the day they will jump on the technology bandwagon and sell you/buy the latest bit of kit.

One statement in this document stood out though: “...full administration rights to all data are rarely appropriate for the entire workforce.” What? When are they EVER appropriate for the entire workforce? When is full admin rights over all data ever appropriate for even one person in the organisation?

I’ll give an example. Suppose you are an organisation that stores the financial data of your clients in a database. Should the network administrator have full admin rights over the data? Certainly not! Under what circumstance does the network administrator require any access to that data? What about the database administrator? Again, no. The DB administrator needs administrator rights to the database management system, but they don’t need to be able to read the actual data contained in the database. What about those users that may need access to the data contained in the database? Well, they can be granted access, but you wouldn’t give a user administrative rights over the data surely?

This also highlights the problem that many organisations have with leaking data. If you give people rights over the database they can extract the data, store it on their local machine and lose it or transmit it. What’s wrong with keeping the data in the database and accessing it from there? If you download it, you will only have a snapshot anyway. Leave the data in the database and protect it from everyone who doesn’t need access to it, which includes the IT department!

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