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What is Segregation of Duties in Cybersecurity?

The fourth industrial revolution has brought about an increased risk of cyberattacks. 

In the following sections, we discuss the segregation of duties, one of the key concepts in protecting your organization, as the risk of cyberattacks poses increased organizational threats. 

What is ‘Segregation of Duties?’ 

Segregation of duties is the principle that no one party should have enough access to a system to compromise it on their own or to take actions that could cause significant harm. 

This helps companies avoid making costly errors like data leaks and theft. It helps avoid falling for scams and also prevents the rare occurrence of a hostile actor from taking adverse actions internally or compromising data by accident. 

In the following sections, we cover the different aspects of the segregation of duties in more detail and discuss how companies can implement these internal controls. 

If you or your organization is involved with mitigating cybersecurity risk, feel free to reach out to us for more information about how to market your services. 

How SOD Mitigates Cybersecurity Risk

Regulatory Compliance

Any company that collects personal information from a customer has a legal obligation to protect it from hackers. 

There may be significant legal damages associated with allowing cybersecurity breaches to take place. Public companies are also liable for lawsuits stemming from mismanagement resulting in shareholder losses. Organizations can avoid regulatory violations by establishing managerial oversight and multi-party approval in processes where sensitive information or access could be compromised. 

If segregation of duties is implemented, no one person should be able to download information from private servers without being detected, give access to outsiders without approval from others, or have a say in the oversight of their own performance in a cybersecurity or otherwise-related role. 

As tech researchers show, audits may also be helpful to identify where your organization has experienced the risk of cyberattacks in the past. 

Mitigating Insider and Outsider Threats

SOD helps companies avoid giving undue access to outsiders. Internally, it can help protect the company by instituting checks and balances to prevent employees from misallocating resources or selling access to hostile parties outside the company. 

In addition to multi-party approval of access, companies can observe activity in a network and audit transactions to detect abnormalities. 

Part of threat mitigation involves ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest. The individuals responsible for building security systems should be someone other than the ones who perform system audits.

IT departments should be cognizant of cybersecurity threats. They should be able to revoke access to privileged information, carefully document the history of any changes in a database and see when someone has downloaded privileged information.  

Error and Accident Prevention

Not all cybersecurity breaches happen on purpose. They can sometimes be the result of carelessness or mistakes. 

In one widely publicized case, a Pixar employee accidentally (non-maliciously) deleted over 90 percent of the company’s work on Toy Story 2 from its servers. It appeared that years of work had been permanently lost. 

The company was only able to recover the deleted data by chance because one employee had saved it on a thumb drive. 

Instead of disciplining the employee who had accidentally deleted their assets, the company’s leadership admitted that no one person should have had the ability to do so much harm. 

They made process changes to ensure that all data was backed up and that no one individual could accidentally cause such an adverse event. 

Increases Data Accuracy and Consistency 

Human error can result in inaccurate data, and so can intentional manipulation. It’s commonplace in software companies for managers to have to approve new code before it goes live. 

The same principle can be applied to cybersecurity processes and access. There can be checks and balances to ensure that at least one other individual signs off on changes. Adhering to this process helps to detect mistakes before they compound. 

In numerous cases, researchers have found that an integrated system is often desirable for controlling, monitoring and protecting organizations from cyberattacks. 

Roles in SOD

User Roles

User roles are set to define what individuals can and can’t do within a secured system, to eliminate overlap and to limit access. This includes role definition, initiation, approval and oversight. It sets boundaries with clear rules so that staff can detect red violations of security rules and processes. 

User roles need to be delineated when setting up a security system to ensure that a security organization has the capabilities to maintain alignment with the department’s responsibilities. 

Administrative Roles

Those in administrative roles have control over who gets access to security systems. These are more for more senior and trusted individuals, although this doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be totally free from other checks and balances in the separation of duties. 

SOD Approaches 

Dual Authorization

Dual authorization adds a security step to any login. 

Dual authentication by phone requires that users enter a code sent only to their mobile device, so the device must be on their physical person to be accessed. That device will also typically have some form of passcode for use that prevents anyone else from getting the access code. 

This is a relatively easy step to implement, for the most part, as long as staff are in compliance.

Role-Based Access Control

As mentioned above, role-based access control simply means that laterally and horizontally access will vary depending on the user’s job responsibility. 

It’s easier to maintain a secure system when roles for each user are clearly defined and when permissions are granted in accordance with those roles.  

Separation of Environments 

Separation of environments involves creating a dividing line between development and production. 

This prevents development teams from accessing or accidentally deleting sensitive company or client information, which is also often irrelevant to their developmental roles. 

Having a separate environment also allows developers the freedom to test new apps or functionalities without worrying that it will adversely affect any currently live applications. 

Just-In-Time Access

Just-in-time access involves granting privileges temporarily. 

Access is only granted when needed for a specific set of tasks and then expires by default after a period of time. 

This may also help with access control management rules that limit the number of users who are allowed to have privileged access at any given time. 

SOD Software Solutions 

Here are a few of the features found in software solutions that may help with SOD. 

Real-time compliance monitoring tracks and records user activity. It can also track compliance with different rules. 

This helps streamline processes around internal and external security auditing. Monitoring and recording may also disincentivize adverse behavior, as users understand that their actions on the database are being recorded. 

These records allow for more efficiency in the extraction of past changes to a database for compliance documentation. 

Assigning of permissions implements segregation of duties throughout a system. 

Automating access through a panel makes it easy to see who has access to what and to control access from a platform.  

Segregation of operations prevents any sole user from having permission to engage in high-risk tasks, helping to prevent security breaches and mistakes. When designated in a software system that also controls access based on predefined user roles, less manual work is involved. The efficiency of systems like this scale the larger an organization is. 

Alerts notify leaders whenever there are potentially harmful security incidents. These can then be addressed as soon as possible by restricting access until someone can review the activity. 

In the following section, we cover some separation of duties process solutions that may be useful in helping organizations keep themselves secure. 

SOD Process Solutions

Separation of duties will vary depending on the type of organization. It is partly for that reason that it can help to get assistance in implementing solutions.

Researchers also note that ‘one-size-fits-all solutions’ may not be appropriate given the unique needs of different industries and organizations. 

If you’ve been experiencing any particularly worrying security incidents and are seeking a new system for that reason, the first step would be to address immediate threats as soon as possible.

Read on to learn more about how to protect yourself from cyberattacks in 2024.


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