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It’s Time to Include Data in the ERP Security Conversation

By Scott Lavery • March 11, 2021

ERP security had traditionally focused on vulnerability testing for ERP applications, whether hosted on-premise or in the cloud. Given the sensitive nature of ERP transactions, frequently checking applications, databases, and servers for vulnerabilities through routine assessments had long been considered best practice. It makes sense that application vulnerabilities are considered a top threat vector because ERP applications were long touted for their highly customizable nature. Customizable because every organization’s business requirements are different – which means security settings and access controls need to be highly customizable. 

All of this customization was in-service to governing user access to the application – a real “outside looking in” approach. But if you’re constantly looking “out” for threats, how do you protect against the ones that are already “in?”

Is Traditional ERP Security Actually Protecting Data?

While you might be checking for conflicts in your configuration settings, ensuring you’re up-to-date on vendor patches, and executing manual audits every once in a while, you should ask yourself, “am I actually protecting my ERP data?” Sure, preventing intrusions is passively protecting ERP data. But at the end of the day, if you spend your time hardening the walls of your fortress, you’re really only protecting the perimeter of your fortress – not what’s inside. Cybercriminals have identified this disconnect and now spend their time exploiting user credentials to infiltrate systems to steal and manipulate data. Cybercriminals have adjusted. Now it’s time organizations do the same with their ERP applications, and ultimately – their ERP data. 

The Information Security Conversation is Going Below the Network & Application Layer

Information security professionals have long been adept at protecting enterprise data and not just network and application perimeters. The abundance of cloud applications has allowed access controls and visibility to go to the next level. Concepts like zero trust and least privilege all require information security policies that are not reliant on arbitrary roles and privileges but on inspecting who a user is, where they are coming from, on what device, and any other attribute. Just because they are allowed access to a network or application does not grant them privileges to data.

If this is where the information security conversation is going, why is ERP security still focused on the perimeter? Shouldn’t the focus be on ERP data security?

How to Shift the Conversation to ERP Data Security

Many would say that ERP security remains a perimeter conversation because such a large part of the ERP market uses on-premise applications. This dates back to the inception of ERP when the appeal was mostly around customizing your business transactions to your processes. This would be accurate – but as business became more complex, organizations became more entwined with their legacy applications. However, that doesn’t mean that on-premise applications (and ERP applications only hosted in the cloud) must remain isolated from a unified “ERP Data Security” conversation. 

Here Are a Few Recommendations for Beginning an ERP Data Security Conversation:

  • Integrated Identity & Access Management (IAM) – Integrating enterprise solutions meant for identity and access management (ex. SSO & MFA) provides a perfect opportunity to govern access to data versus only governing access to an application. An integration would enable policies to be written that deploy authentication measures based on what someone is attempting to access. This is also referred to as “step-up authentication” or zero trust. Of course, an integration layer is required, which is exactly why Appsian developed the necessary integration connections that organizations can use to natively integrate their IAM solutions with their legacy ERP applications (i.e., Oracle PeopleSoft & E-Business Suite).
  • Attribute-Based Access Controls (ABAC) – Traditional ERP governance revolves around role-based access controls. Pre-defined and sometimes over-simplified buckets that dictate what users can and can’t do. Role-based access controls (RBAC) are artifacts of traditional ERP security strategies that have been identified as problematic and flawed when data protection is the objective. This is not to say that RBAC doesn’t have its place but as a sole governance measure? Absolutely not. Many would say that the rapid move to remote work following COVID-19 was the death blow to RBAC because so much of its effectiveness hinges on network and application security layers. Both of which enter a grey area when sensitive financial transactions and data can be accessed remotely.

To help organizations manage, and more importantly, mitigate the risk of remote access to financial applications like SAP ECC, S/4HANA, & E-Business Suite, Appsian has developed Attribute-Based Access Controls that organizations can use to grant, modify, or restrict access to data. Governance policies can be dynamically enforced based on the context of user access – or attributes of user access.

  • Data Level Visibility is Critical – ERP applications are no stranger to activity logging. However, current logging is primarily in-service to troubleshooting system issues and receiving basic insight on authentication and page access. This is why auditing an ERP application requires manual pulling and triangulation of reports from multiple sources. It’s an obstacle most have to accept, and because of this, they only audit sporadically.

To gain visibility and insight into how data is being accessed and used, Appsian developed Appsian360. Appsian360 represents a powerful combination of comprehensive user activity logging and analytics – all designed to detect and alert to anomalous behavior. Whether it’s access from a foreign country, the same user frequently downloading certain reports, or specific PO or account numbers receiving frequent access, Appsian360 is designed to give ERP customers the data level visibility needed to automate critical security, compliance, and audit functions.

Appsian Helps Enable ERP Data Security

Just because your organization is using a legacy ERP application does not mean that you cannot employ the same granular levels of control and visibility as a cloud application. Appsian has been enhancing on-premise ERP environments for over 10 years, and we’d love the opportunity to learn more about your ERP data security objectives. Contact us today!

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