No one would leave a safety vault containing their most valuable possession outside with the key for any strangers to take. Instead, we would hide away the valuables and make sure that only those that we trust have access to it. Likewise, companies must ensure that they know exactly who can access their sensitive data in order to be able to secure it.
Privileged accounts are like keys to enter an organisation’s most critical systems and sensitive data. At least 80% of data breaches involve compromised privileged credentials. Through Privileged Access Management (PAM), businesses are able to manage and audit all the privileged accounts within the company as a way to prevent and limit the damages of external and internal threats.
What is PAM?
Before delving into Privileged Access Management, we have to define what privilege means. In this context, it refers to the authority that a given account or process within a computing system or network has. It serves as an important operational function by enabling users, applications, and other system processes to access certain resources to do their tasks. Privilege can be delegated based on attributes that are role-based or other parameters such as seniority or time of day. Therefore, Privileged Access Management consists of strategies and technologies that control the access and permission of users, accounts, applications, devices, processes, and systems across an IT environment. An integral part of PAM solutions is the application of Least Privilege Policy, which restricts access rights and permissions to the absolute minimum necessary to perform authorised activities. By doing so, organisations are able to condense their attack surface and help protect against cyber threats.
Why is PAM necessary?
PAM solutions help to avoid risks that are associated with privileged accounts. For example, long-forgotten accounts, including those of former employees who have left the company but retain access, can provide dangerous backdoors for attackers. Over-provisioning privileges may mean that individuals accumulate a broad set of access that they no longer require. This allows potential malware attacks, hackers accessing data, or threats on other computers and servers in the network to slip through the cracks. In order to distribute workloads and responsibilities, multiple people may share an account and password. Doing so can incur security, auditability and compliance issues. By sharing accounts and passwords, it becomes very difficult to track down which individual is acting in a way that is beyond the security parameter. Some employees may embed their credentials so that they don’t have to remember their credentials and identify themselves every single time. However, this can make it much easier for hackers to find the necessary credentials to a privileged account. With PAM, companies can reduce risk by increasing the visibility of access points for cyber attacks.
The usage of the Cloud and proliferation of IoT devices have made it even harder for companies to protect themselves against external and internal threats. Although the cloud enables businesses to configure limitless servers, it can be quite difficult to control because of the massive scale. Even though IoT devices are very convenient on the go, they generate severe security drawbacks since they do not have the ability to harden software, update firmware, and tend to have default passwords. Businesses must adopt PAM solutions like those offered by Thycotic, that are specifically designed to address this issue.
Benefits of PAM
Privileged Access Management offers a scalable and secure way to authorise and monitor all privileged accounts across your systems. By limiting privileges for people, processes and applications that actively need them, PAM solutions condense the attack surface and diminish entrances that may be exploited. It can also reduce the risk of malware infection and propagation from getting a foothold into the company’s network and server while enhancing operational performance. Since it restricts privileges to the bare minimum, the risk of downtime or any incompatibility issues between applications or systems are reduced. Removing excessive privileges helps to simplify the whole system and make it easier to audit and prove compliance. Through PAM solution vendors like IBM or CyberArk, companies are able to keep operations simple while meeting compliance requirements and reduce security risks.
Implementation and best practices
In order to implement PAM solutions, companies must first gain a better understanding of the privilege that needs to be managed. Maintain up-to-date inventories of all privileged accounts. By identifying and analysing them, security blind spots can be found. After that, remove any unneeded privilege accounts including those used by third parties and vendors and implement a Least Privilege Policy over end users, endpoints, accounts, applications, services, and systems to create a more secure network environment and prevent access to unauthorised users. End users should not have direct access to root passwords. Another consideration is to separate privileges and the different duties so that there is little overlap between the authorities. This can help to reduce the impact of any threats. Corporations can also enforce a password policy to strengthen their defences. Make sure that everyone in the network is aware of password best practices such as routinely changing their password, eliminating password sharing, SSO authentications, and removal of embedded credentials. With Privileged Access Management, companies can better secure their sensitive information and lower security risks.
As a recognised technical specialist in information security and a premier provider of information infrastructure management solutions in the Asia Pacific market, Argentra offers IT security solutions, security risk consulting, and custom security software to enhance your company’s ability to protect any confidential information. Find us here to know more about information security or our consultation services.