Demands of 'Generation Y' an application security risk, survey finds

IT teams often allow network applications to run with full admin privileges because they fear that not doing so would set them against the ‘engaged’ software culture of younger workers, a survey by Avecto has found.

Eight out of ten of the 1,500 decision makers surveyed at the TechEd North America and Europe conferences said that the demands of young male staff between the ages of 20 and 35 represented the biggest obstacle to reducing application privileges.

This was despite half of respondents being aware of the benefits of reducing and managing applications privileges in terms of reduced support calls and enhanced security.

Almost 40 percent said they had experienced at least one network malware incident as a result of a non-approved application being downloaded by staff, a trend not helped by the sudden interest in ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD).

Three quarters didn’t have any idea of how many unauthorised applications had actually been downloaded, making the risk of applications running with full privileges unquantifiable.

“Staff who have admin rights can unwittingly or irresponsibly download applications that contain malware and cause significant problems if entered into the corporate network,” said Avecto CEO and co-founder, Paul Kenyon.

“The answer is simple - don’t give admin rights out to everyone, only to the few key IT administrators who really need them. You will see an immediate decrease in security risk and associated downtime as well as an increase in productivity from IT.”

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He pinned part of the blame on “generation Y”, younger workers that had grown up with the expectation that consumer applications and services would be available in any environment. These same staff underestimated the risks posed by such a culture, he said.

A second factor was that having removed privileges, admin staff often ended up reinstating them to solve problems of application access.

According to Avecto, the answer is to manage applications, turning privileges on for named applications under certain conditions while restricting or stopping them for other software. The company sells a system called Privilege Guard for this purpose.

The role of admin privileges in security and compliance is also probably poorly understood. Windows default mode used to be to grant full desktop privileges or have these turned off. Because simply turning them off caused problems Vista was equipped with an escalation mode run through a security layer called User Access Control (UAC).

UAC has turned out to be a bit of a kludge; users have to choose to escalate privileges but when logged in as admins there is nothing to stop them making bad decisions. If not logged in as admins, they are stuck with the time-consuming having to ask IT staff for the required password.

Only days ago, Derby University was announced as a customer for Privilege Guard.