What can we learn from JPMorgan's insider breaches

Another former JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPMC) employee was recently arrested by the FBI on charges of stealing customer data and trying to sell it to an undercover informant for tens of thousands of dollars.

Similar incidents have occurred multiple times at JPMC over the past few years. Upon closer inspection a common thread emerges from each of these incidents -- JPMC's inability to account for insider threats.  That being said, there are some valuable lessons we can take away from these incidents.

Look for Clues

JPMC wants to trust their employees and they want them to perform their jobs with the utmost integrity.  JPMC CEO Jamie Dimon states in JPMC's Code of Conduct, "...it's not just about following the rules -- it's about applying the highest ethical standards to everything we do."

Is trust and the expectation of ethical behavior by employees enough to protect against the potential misdeeds from those inside your organization  Apparently not.

Regardless of industry, every organization must grant some employees access to its most sensitive data -- such as intellectual property or information that customer's expect will remain confidential. These include systems administrators with privileged access rights, or account representatives with access to customer data.

The question becomes, how could JPMC, or any organization, know that employees planned to steal and sell confidential data to outsiders

Monitor Identities

It's well documented that JPMC spends over $250M a year on the cybersecurity personnel, tools and services to protect their digital assets. So while JPMC's IT perimeter may be hardened (but not impenetrable, see 2014 mega breach), insiders must have access to privileged information to do their jobs.

Hardening an organization's external perimeter poses is a very different set of challenges than hardening the internal network. Primarily because internal networks can be configured in countless ways, with endless combinations of who has access to what systems, applications and data.

Given these challenges, the most reliable way to keep track of what insiders are doing and their movements inside the network, is to manage identities and maintain visibility into their activities.

Follow the Threat Crumbs

Containing the damage, once insiders have stolen confidential company or customer information, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Insider threats, whether in the form of malicious employees abusing their access credentials, or simple negligence, must be detected and rooted out as quickly as possible.

Monitoring activity inside the network using identities provides organizations the opportunity to discover anomalous behavior early in the kill chain.

To be successful, this approach requires a robust and well managed identity and access management (IAM) system (disclosure: I work for a User and Entity Behavior Analytics vendor). Next, actions and behaviors of each identity must be monitored using the following contextual filters:

Who - what is user or entity's role or the role they are emulating

What - are they looking to access

Where - what location are they accessing systems/data from, and what is the location are they accessing

When - what time of day, what date, what week, month, etc.

How -- what means or technology are they using to access the network -- company-issued or personal device, public kiosk, etc.

Using this contextual knowledge, controlling access to information can be managed via rules-based risk scoring. This intelligence can also be used for predictive risk analysis of insiders' behavior to detect trends and activity that require further investigation.

The JPMC breaches serve as a valuable reminder that identity-based data sources and metrics must be integrated into the threat management cycle of monitoring, detecting, analyzing and responding.

Without visibility into user/entity behaviors, the detection, intervention and remediation of insider threats becomes a game of chance.


Leslie K. Lambert

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