ERP security: Dispelling common misconceptions

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are an indispensable tool for most businesses. They allow them to track business resources and commitments in real time and to manage day-to-day business processes (e.g., procurement, project management, manufacturing, supply chain, human resources, sales, accounting, etc.).

ERP security

The various applications integrated in ERP systems collect, store, manage, and interpret sensitive data from the many business activities, which allows organizations to improve their efficiency in the long run.

Needless to say, the security of such a crucial system and all the data it stores should be paramount for every organization.

Common misconceptions about ERP security

“Since ERP systems have a lot of moving parts, one of the biggest misconceptions is that the built-in security is enough. In reality, while you may not have given access to your company’s HR data to a technologist on your team, they may still be able to access the underlying database that stores this data,” Mike Rulf, CTO of Americas Region, Syntax, told Help Net Security.

“Another misconception is that your ERP system’s access security is robust enough that you can allow people to access their ERP from the internet.”

In actual fact, the technical complexity of ERP systems means that security researchers are constantly finding vulnerabilities in them, and businesses that make them internet-facing and don’t think through or prioritize protecting them create risks that they may not be aware of.

When securing your ERP systems you must think through all the different ways someone could potentially access sensitive data and deploy business policies and controls that address these potential vulnerabilities, Rulf says. Patching security flaws is extremely important, as it ensures a safe environment for company data.

Advice for CISOs

While patching is necessary, it’s true that business leaders can’t disrupt day-to-day business activity for every new patch.

“Businesses need some way to mitigate any threats between when patches are released and when they can be fully tested and deployed. An application firewall can act as a buffer to allow a secure way to access your proprietary technology and information during this gap. Additionally, an application firewall allows you to separate security and compliance management from ERP system management enabling the checks and balances required by most audit standards,” he advises.

He also urges CISOs to integrate the login process with their corporate directory service such as Active Directory, so they don’t have to remember to turn off an employee’s credentials in multiple systems when they leave the company.

To make mobile access to ERP systems safer for a remote workforce, CISOs should definitely leverage multi factor identification that forces employees to prove their identity before accessing sensitive company information.

“For example, Duo sends a text to an employee’s phone when logging in outside the office. This form of security ensures that only the people granted access can utilize those credentials,” he explained.

VPN technology should also be used to protect ERP data when employees access it from new devices and unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks.

“VPNs today can enable organizations to validate these new/unfamiliar devices adhere to a minimum security posture: for example, allowing only devices with a firewall configured and appropriate malware detection tools installed can access the network. In general, businesses can’t really ever know where their employees are working and what network they’re on. So, using VPNs to encrypt that data being sent back and forth is crucial.”

On-premise vs. cloud ERP security?

The various SaaS applications in your ERP, such as Salesforce and Oracle Cloud Apps, leave you beholden to those service providers to manage your applications’ security.

“You need to ask your service providers about their audit compliance and documentation. Because they are providing services critical to your business, you will be asked about these third parties by auditors during a SOC audit. You’ll thus need to expand your audit and compliance process (and the time it takes) to include an audit of your external partners,” Rulf pointed out.

“Also, when you move to AWS or Azure, you’re essentially building a new virtual data center, which requires you to build and invest in new security and management tools. So, while the cloud has a lot of great savings, you need to think about the added and unexpected costs of things like expanded audit and compliance.”