What Is User Activity Monitoring? Learn the What, Why, and How

What do you think is the most important aspect of a company? Performance? Perhaps you’re thinking of profits. True, performance and profits are crucial. But security tops the list. Every company caters to different users regularly. But does the necessity of security change whether the user base is narrow or wide? Users have access to a lot of information, and often, this leads to the risk of unauthorized access and data breach.

So, what’s the solution? Well, if we monitor user activity, we can curb these issues. This post will look at what user activity monitoring is in detail. We will discuss what UAM is and how it works. We will also discuss why we need UAM. Finally, we will discuss some best practices that will help you to create a UAM program. So, buckle up your seat belts and let’s get started!

What Is User Activity Monitoring? 

Suppose your company just deployed a Salesforce app for a customer. There are four or five users in the client company. Two of them need to have admin rights. What happens if one of the users with admin rights gives access to a hacker with ill intent? Maybe it was not the user’s intention; frankly speaking, customers often do not have in-depth knowledge about security practices. What is a solution to prevent this scenario?

You guessed the right answer! User activity monitoring works as a rescuer. UAM is a set of software tools. Companies use these tools is to track the activities of a user or an employee. The purpose is simple: to manage security risks by checking if someone is misusing their extended rights in a system.

How Does User Activity Monitoring Work?

You might be wondering how you would monitor the activity of a user Well, UAM is done with the help of tools that record how a user works with a site or an app. The record is then stored in a log. A UAM tool can have the following features:

Keystroke Logging

Whatever activity a user is performing on the keyboard is captured via keystroke logging. Whether the user is browsing a site or typing, the keystroke logging feature stores the record in a log file.

Remote Screenshots

This feature takes automated screenshots of a device’s screen, which allows the user’s activity to be monitored by another party.

Malicious Site Blocking

A user may not know whether the site they’re about to browse is secure or not. With this feature, you can restrict a user’s access to a malicious site. You can also block sites that reduce productivity or distract a user, such as gaming portals or video streaming sites.

Real-Time Monitoring

This feature monitors all the actions a user performs on their computer. The record is captured in text form or screen records and is stored in a log file. In case of any suspicious activity, you can analyze the records in the log file.

Why Is User Activity Monitoring Important for Firms?

There are many ways a user can create a security risk. For example, a user could download a movie from an insecure site, or shop online on a site that does not have a secure web host. Some more serious things a user could do include tampering with sensitive company data, like financial and property information. Let’s take a detailed look at why UAM is vital for firms.

Fast Detection of Social Media Malware

When there is no one to monitor activities, employees go off track. We’ll illustrate this with a simple example. We all know that social media is important for companies. So, someone from the marketing team will have access to the social media accounts of the firm.

We also know that not all employees will have work all the time. They might start checking their personal social media accounts in their free time. And what comes with increased social media usage? Increased chance of spam and malware. So, you should monitor activities to enable precise asset use. As a result, even if a system accidentally gets infected with a malware originating from social media, you will detect the threat immediately.

There are many ways a user can create a security risk.

Detects Data Breaches Better

The most prominent source of data breaches is user activity. For instance, trusted employees and vendors often have access to sensitive data. What if any of them misuse the data? There’s no tried and true way to prevent these threats. But they can be reduced by user activity monitoring tools.

If an employee has access to any secured data, you must monitor their workstation. But there are some rules to implement before you monitor their activities.

Be transparent with the employees. Let them know why you need to monitor their activities. Make them aware that you are recording their actions protect the company’s data, not to get them in trouble. They will likely cooperate with you if you provide a solid reason.

Tackles Insider Threats

Every firm expects to have loyal employees. But let’s get real for a moment: Do you honestly believe that everyone wants the business to flourish? What about the competitors and black sheep? Now, let’s consider the worst-case scenario.

The employees of a company have access to private and sensitive data. Access to these data can be a boon when employees use it for the benefit of the company. For example, your sales team often has access to the details of your site’s visitors. The aim is simple: to find out potential customers.

But what if malice is someone’s intention? The person with ill intent can collect the aforementioned data for their personal benefit.

Insider threats are the hardest to tackle as they seem like devils in disguise. When UAM is in place, you can see what a user is doing at any point in time. Thus, insider threats are eliminated.

Now that we know why user activity monitoring is important, let’s discuss some best practices that will help you to create a UAM program for your company.

How to Create a User Activity Monitoring Program

Whether due to misuse of privileges or negligence, data breaches can be fatal for a business. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Here are some tips on how you can develop a UAM program.

Have an Idea of What You Should Watch

Now, every company has a different definition of improper user activity. The most common improper user activities are the use of social media and browsing inappropriate sites like gaming portals. So, how do you decide what to watch? Well, for starters, you can record a few employees and find out what exactly they do on their computers. You can also use keystroke logging to watch what the staff types. Kernel monitoring and capturing screenshots can help collect further data. These methods will help you know when someone is breaking the rules and how frequent certain activities are across your employees—and how to prevent them from happening.

Use Tools That Provide Real-Time Alerts

Consider two scenarios:

  1. A user makes a malicious attempt to steal data that results in a data breach. Your security team learns about the damage much later. They fix the blunder long after it happened.
  2. A user performs an activity that he is not supposed to. A UAM tool detects this activity and generates a real-time alert, notifying the security team. They instantly spring into action and prevent a data breach.

Which method do you think is more useful?

A well-known phrase comes to mind: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In our case, the second scenario results in better security. A security breach is bad enough—it’s even worse when it goes unnoticed for a long time! It’s important to use real-time alerting tools to prevent any damage in the first place.

Avoid Giving Unlimited Access

Your firm might have some privileged users. But there is no need to give complete access unless it’s necessary. This means that you should give as few privileges as possible.

Before giving someone privileged access, make sure whether they really need access or not.

Also, restrict their usage and limit access to the data that users need for work. Finally, make it a must for your security team to monitor the activities of such users.

Have a Strong Password Policy

Since many employees have access to sensitive data, you need to protect their accounts. This would be a lot of work for you if you were doing it by yourself. After all, there are so many accounts you’ve got to take care of! And of course, not every user is an expert on cyber threats. In short, you’ve got to implement some password policies.

For instance, a user’s password should be unrelated to their date of birth, name, address, or other identifying information. It should have a combination of capital and lowercase letters. Adding numbers and special characters will further increase security. You also need to have a policy that prohibits the sharing or reusing of passwords.

Having a strong password policy will help reduce the risk of password leakage. Not only that, but it will also make the employees practice this policy in their daily life, thus keeping their personal data and social media accounts secure.

Practice Multi-Factor Authentication

You can have as many strict password policies as you want, there’s no sure way to prevent a user from sharing their password with someone else. An employee may be on leave. They may share the password with their colleague to work on some unfinished tasks. You need to ensure that only authentic users get data access. And how do you check that? One way is to enable multi-factor authentication. It’s simple. For example, the user first enters their password. Then, they have to enter a code that arrives via SMS on their personal phone number or answer an automated phone call. Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for bad actors to impersonate a user.

Enhance Company Security With User Activity Monitoring 

CCTV cameras have been commonly used to check what goes on in a company. Consider user activity monitoring to be just like CCTV cameras. A UAM tool will record the activity of users and report if anything looks off.

It’s common to get distracted while working. When you have an active internet in your workplace, it’s common to think, “I’ll just play for a few minutes.” However, the problem arises when that gaming site leads malware into your system, messing with IT security.

User activity monitoring helps employees stay focused. Why do we follow traffic rules while driving? Because we don’t want to get caught breaking the rules, and because we know it’s unsafe. The same goes for employees in an IT environment.

So, what are you waiting for? Enable user activity monitoring across your company’s system. You can monitor the activities of your employees and users with privileged access with XPLG’s log management solution. This will help prevent a security breach before it happens.

This post was written by Arnab Roy Chowdhury. Arnab is a UI developer by profession and a blogging enthusiast. He has strong expertise in the latest UI/UX trends, project methodologies, testing, and scripting.

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