-- 83% of organizations do not have a mature approach to privileged access management.
-- 56% of breaches take months or longer to discover
-- 80% of security breaches involve compromised privileged credentials.
-- Data Breach Reports
In computer technology, privileges are special permissions assigned to users so they may carry out modifications to sensitive data, systems, applications, and networks. Examples of privileges include - the permission to install new software, ability to delete an existing user, power to approve access to a server, etc.
Privileged access is the type of access given to users so they can have elevated rights over systems, applications, and other IT resources. These elevated rights often include root/admin access which is the highest level of access to a system or network. When you have root access to an asset, you are said to possess the keys to the kingdom. Users with such privileged access are called privileged users.
Any login credential which grants privileges or administrative rights to systems and applications is known as a privileged account. These accounts can be associated with human users and non-human entities such as application and machine identities.
Privileged accounts can be of different forms/types. In an enterprise IT environment, these accounts exist in the form of administrator accounts, superuser accounts, root accounts, local administrator accounts, domain administrator accounts, secure socket shell keys (SSH keys), service and application accounts. These high privilege accounts are also called ‘secrets’ from a DevOps context.
Machine and human identities like applications, systems, third-party vendors, IT staff, system administrators, etc. that utilize privileged access to carry out business operations are called privileged identities. Privileged identities typically make use of a privileged account to perform various tasks on enterprise assets.
Privileged Access Management (PAM) can be defined as an IT security strategy that ensures the appropriate control of access to critical data and resources. It involves securing and managing privileged accounts, controlling the scope of privileged access granted to users, and governing all privileged activity carried out in the organization.
PAM safeguards privileged identities and gives them just enough access to do their day-to-day activities without a hassle. Implementing a PAM solution helps organizations minimize their overall attack surface and mitigate security risks due to internal and external threats.
Summary on how PAM works:
With all accounts consolidated and access secured, PAM protects sensitive data and systems from unauthorized administrative access, modification or misuse.
Identity and access management is a security strategy aimed at managing identities and administering control over access permissions in an IT network. IAM ensures that the right person in your organization can access the right resource for the right purpose. The pillars of IAM include (but aren’t limited to):
Identity Lifecycle Management - Creating and managing digital human and non-human identities.
Implementing Access Controls - Implementing control over which identities get access to which organizational resources.
Authorization and Authentication - Enforcing access permissions through authentication and authorization of user credentials.
Identity Governance - Supervising and tracking what identities do with their access to resources.
Privileged access management falls under the umbrella of IAM. While IAM covers the canopy of identity management, PAM focuses on managing and governing access over business-critical resources and all privileged accounts associated with them. It encompasses tools to control elevated access and approvals for identities, thus decreasing the attack surface by allowing limited privileged access with specific levels of permissions. PAM solutions primarily cover the following aspects:
Discovery of Privileged Accounts - Discovering all privileged accounts across your organization.
Vaulting of Privileged Accounts and Credentials - Securely storing and managing sensitive credentials like passwords, SSH keys, files in an encrypted vault.
Privileged Access Governance - Supervising, auditing and tracking what privileged identities do with their access to resources.
Privileged Session Management and Remote Access - Allowing users to launch remote connections to assets (RMM) and recording and monitoring all such connections (PASM).
API & Application Password Security - Securing application credentials by leveraging RESTful APIs to carry out application operations without needing physical intervention or passwords hard-coded on scripts.
Privilege Elevation & Delegation Management - Elevating applications, processes and software just when users need access to them, based on a request-release workflow.
Privileged Identity Management (PIM) is a subset of PAM that targets the specific need of managing and controlling highly privileged access to resources. PIM solutions are limited to discovery and vaulting of privileged accounts, enforcing password policies and monitoring privileged access. It lacks session management capabilities and just-in-time privilege elevation controls that a PAM solution encompasses. PIM solutions often have lesser integrations (SIEM, Ticketing, etc.) with industry solutions than what a PAM solution offers.
Having a decentralized system to manage privileged accounts or managing them manually leads to varying management practices and inconsistent policies across an organization. When the organization scales, this inconsistency causes distress to the IT team. The increasing number of systems, assets, resources, and permissions makes them unmanageable, creates flaws in the manual process, and opens new avenues for attacks.
1) Cyberattacks and Data breaches
Users with access to privileged accounts are directly linked to sensitive enterprise assets. These accounts pave the way to critical assets like servers, SSH keys, and important files. With an interconnected network, it is possible to crawl across systems and gain further elevated access. With a high level of access clearance, the compromise of even a single account lets hackers gain a foothold over the complete internal network.
Hackers who compromise a privileged account can then do multiple things:
They can stay dormant in your network and hoard classified information for months or even years together – undetected. While remaining in the network, they can create multiple backdoors to re-enter and steal data. They can then leak crucial business data to competitors or expose this information on the dark web.
They could also act immediately and fetter access to crucial files, lock out systems and hold information, or choose to bring the entire network down for a ransom.
Either way, without a system to manage privileged accounts - there is no way to gain alerts on suspicious activity, limit-monitor-or terminate privileged access, or stop threat actors from crawling into your IT network.
2) Credential Theft
Credential theft remains the top attack vector favored by cybercriminals, causing more than 54% of all security incidents in 2022. Manually managing passwords, storing credentials on an excel sheet, or in an unsafe legacy password manager can all lead to attackers stealing your company passwords. Hackers can easily social engineer their way into a user's system and gain access to hardcoded passwords of various business accounts and applications.
These stolen passwords can either be held at ransom or bled to the internet, allowing anyone to dive deep into your internal network - to obtain sensitive information and access privileged accounts.
Privileged access management automates password management best practices, eliminates the need to remember complex passwords, and proactively stops credential theft. Thus, reducing the attack surface and majorly limiting the possibility of a security incident.
3) Insider Threats
An unmanaged or orphaned privileged account left by a previous employee can be a major risk factor in any enterprise. If there are unknown privileged accounts within your network - bad actors, or any internal employee with malicious intent can utilize them to endanger your business. The employee leaving your organization can also log back into your critical systems with these accounts, and access information that is no longer required by them.
Eradicating unmanaged privileged accounts is key to stopping insider threats, privileged access management ensures that any employee leaving the organization is revoked of all his access permissions and helps transfer or deprovision privileged accounts they owned.
Privileged Access Management is vital to protect privileged accounts and administer control over administrative access in your organization. It not only improves the overall security posture and also enhances operational efficiency across the enterprise. PAM is important for an organization:
To sense and prevent cyberattacks - PAM audits and logs all privileged activity, any changed password, launched application, or RDP connection taken can be used to raise an alert for counter measures to be quickly enacted.
To satisfy government regulations - Almost all organizations find PAM solutions vital to keep up with growing compliance regulations from the government.
To qualify for cyber insurance - Any organization looking to qualify for a sound cyber-insurance plan requires maintaining top security controls which a PAM solution helps enforce.
To protect sensitive data - Companies need a PAM solution to handle access to critical business resources and keep their privileged data, credentials and files encrypted. Enforcing Multi-factor authentication to access privileged data makes it extremely difficult for hackers to get their hands on sensitive data.
The dynamic and fluctuating nature of cyber risks pushes organizations to keep their network secure on all fronts, and PAM helps battle the root factors that cause cyberattacks. With the threat landscape increasingly moving toward targeting privileged accounts, implementing PAM software has transitioned from an important security control to an absolute necessity.
Organizations face several challenges when it comes to provisioning privileged access and securing privileged accounts. Attackers exploit these loopholes to gain a foothold on machines, move laterally in the network and escalate privileges to attain their targets. Most security issues arise due to how we handle privileged accounts. The key challenges involved in privileged access management are as follows:
Lack of visibility - Protection often starts with visibility. Lack of visibility over the total number of accounts, where they sit in an organization's IT landscape could spell a disaster. To protect, privileged accounts must be discovered and consolidated continuously.
Manual approach to credential management - The essential requirement in ensuring security is assigning strong, unique passwords that are periodically randomized. Manual procedures to achieve this are prone to errors, time-consuming and cumbersome
Inadequate access controls - Ensuring the right access to the right person at the right time for the right duration is the fundamental aspect of access control. This aspect is often overlooked in organizations. Users often get access to accounts that are not related to their job profiles. When users leave the organization, deprovisioning becomes a nightmare.
Lack of centralized monitoring and control - Organization-wide visibility and control over privileged access are essential from a security perspective. Without the right tools in place, IT divisions struggle to gain centralized control of privileged accounts.
Audit and compliance issues - Organizations worldwide face heavy financial and reputational damage for unmet regulatory requirements. Tracking and recording every privileged activity is a must and a key challenge to many organizations today.
Gain Complete Control and Visibility
With a privileged access management solution in place, you will know where and when privileges are used in your organization. It will provide details on which user is exercising their privileges to access which network device and application. You can also get alerts upon occurrence of specific events that can aid with timely incident response.
Reduce Employee Frustration
Security coming at the cost of unrest amongst users is a thing of the past. Automating just in time access provisioning will reduce unnecessary downtime caused by manual access provisioning. In legacy access management systems, the user must raise a ticket and wait for the helpdesk technician to sort things out. This caused huge downtimes especially in bigger enterprises where the number of such tickets is sky high. Using workflows that reduce the helpdesk load and the turnaround time for each request helps reduce employee frustration.
PAM also provides a secure way for granting remote workers secure access without using VPNs. As corporates adopt remote work culture,
Minimize Attack Surface
By enforcing the principle of least privilege, you can restrict internal users, and third-party vendors from gaining unfettered access to sensitive IT assets. PAM helps you track and monitor all privileged activities and provides complete control over privileged access. When a user is suspected of acting maliciously, all privileged access can be revoked instantly. In the event of a breach, the principle of least privilege ensures sensitive IT assets are not compromised.
Gain Protection from Malware
Administrator accounts carry a lot of permissions and have much more reach across the network and can facilitate malware and ransomware propagation. Restricting and protecting access to such privileged accounts reduces the threat of malware-based attacks.
Become Compliance Friendly
IT regulations mandate strict control over access to IT infrastructure. Ranging from password security to access control, various governing institutions have laid out their list of compliance requirements. With complete auditing and reporting capabilities, privileged access management solutions help demonstrate compliance to regulations like HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, NIST, ISO, GDPR and others.
Get a Rapid ROI
ROI for security solutions directly relies on the reduction in attack surface. By eliminating the risks associated with privileged access, PAM reduces the attack surface from internal and external threats. An average data breach costs $5 Million. With proven methods to improve your security posture and novel ways to achieve it without impacting productivity, privileged access management solutions provide a phenomenal return on investment to organizations.
PAM works by holistically securing all privileged access vectors i.e., people, processes, and devices for reducing the risk of a data breach and misuse of privileges by providing control and complete visibility over privileged access.
The first step in privileged access management is to onboard the users who require access to the encrypted vault protecting the privileged accounts.
Next step is to bring all privileged accounts present in databases, network devices like servers, switches, routers, and other endpoints under the same umbrella for centralized management.
Privileged access management solutions provide strong authentication and authorization mechanisms to ensure only the right users gain access to the privileged accounts present in the centralized vault.
PAM solutions help enforce security best practices like automatically assigning strong unique passwords and deploying advanced security measures such as multi-factor authentication for preventing unauthorized access to the repository.
PAM helps you to define and enforce access policies that help manage ‘who’ gets access to ‘what’ and ‘when’. These policies could help automate access workflows. Provisioning and revoking privileges can be automated to a great degree with the help of these policies.
For added security and control over critical assets, PAM provides real-time monitoring of live and recorded remote sessions. Organizations can monitor sessions and respond to malicious activities if detected.
PAM tools help track and monitor privileged access by maintaining a complete trail of all activities involving privileged accounts. These audit trails provide complete visibility over privileged access and provide insights on ‘who’ did ‘what’ and ‘when’ using ‘which’ privileged accounts.
Consolidate Privileged Accounts
Discover the privileged accounts existing in your network and consolidate them into an encrypted vault for centralized management. A siloed approach to privileged account management reduces visibility and is detrimental to demonstrating compliance with regulations. Centralized credential management helps manage access to privileged credentials and enforce security best practices efficiently.
Enforce Role Based Access Controls
As a key security practice, you should only grant just enough access for users to fulfill their duties. In most cases, end users don’t need access to view or modify privileged credentials. If an end user needs access to an IT asset, you need to grant access to the asset without revealing the credentials. This is done using granular role-based access controls. You need to associate privileges with user roles and assign these roles to the respective users. You can granularly select and assign privileges to user roles.
Enforce Password Security Best Practices
Password security best practices include a variety of measures ranging from basic steps such as assigning long, strong, complex passwords to more modern steps like enforcing MFA. Modern computing capabilities make cracking passwords using brute force techniques very easy. A long, complex password will ensure that your privileged accounts are secure against such attacks. Enforcing MFA on sensitive accounts helps protect against credential-based attacks. Attacks like credential spraying and stuffing, enforcing MFA will help prevent unauthorized access to IT assets.
Use Jump Hosts and TLS encryptionEnd user machines are often the weakest link in any network. These machines are used to access resources on the internet, access emails, download files, etc. These machines carry lot of vulnerabilities in them. If end user machines are allowed to connect to sensitive IT assets directly, the privileged identities get exposed to all kinds of threats. To protect privileged identities, restrict users from establishing a direct connection with them.
Route all your connections through a jump host to ensure no direct connections are established between end user machines and sensitive IT assets. You can achieve this by launching connections to assets from a PAM solution. Launch connections to IT assets through VPN less RDP, SSH, and SQL connections and ensure your internal IT assets are secure. As an additional security measure, you can enforce TLS encryption for all connections launched to internal assets.
Enforce Just in Time Access
One of the core principles of privileged access management is to eliminate all standing access to sensitive IT assets. When a user account with standing access to sensitive assets is compromised, the intruder will implicitly gain access to the asset. To prevent this, access to sensitive assets should always be ephemeral. Users should be able to access the asset only when absolutely required. The access should start and end within the specified time. This way of granting temporary privileged access is called just-in-time access.
Privileged access management solutions can help automate JIT-based access provisioning and offer methods to instantly revoke access if required. Once the access is revoked, it is advisable to reset the password of the asset.
Monitor, Track Sessions
Sensitive accounts are often used by internal users and external vendors and contractors. What the users do within a privileged session should be closely monitored and completely documented. All privileged activities should be recorded as audit trails to maintain a complete record. These records help maintain compliance with regulations. When remote connections are launched to sensitive assets, the entire session should be recorded and stored for analysis. Administrators should be able to shadow live sessions without the user’s knowledge. If any malicious activity is suspected, the administrator should terminate the session immediately.
Remove Local Administrators
Eliminating local administrator rights on endpoints will help mitigate almost 90% of all vulnerabilities that exist in Windows operating system. You can restrict employees from clicking on malicious links and downloading malware onto endpoints in your network by removing their local administrator privileges. Most employees can perform their job responsibilities working with standard user accounts.
Enforce Principle of Least Privilege
To limit the threat surface of your organization, principles of zero-trust and zero-standing-privileges should be enforced. Zero-trust encourages organizations to adopt the policy of “Never trust, always verify” instead of the more traditional ‘Trust but verify”. One of the key action items in adopting Zero-trust is to enforce the principle of least privileges.
The principle of least privilege involves granting just enough access for the users to perform their duties. Granting just enough access at the right time eliminates productivity hurdles associated with eliminating local administrator privileges and making employees work with standard accounts.
Limit the number of Administrators
Administrator accounts carry a lot of privileges with them and are often hot targets for attackers. Administrators make accessing sensitive information easy and are often involved in data breaches. To reduce the attack surface of the organization and protect sensitive information, the number of administrator accounts should be kept to a minimum.
Limit Privileges for Administrators
One of the most important security best practices is to not put all your eggs in the same basket. To perform administrative tasks efficiently and securely, privileges should be split between different administrative users. Separation of privileges will help enforce separation of duties.
Such a structure will also help promote maker checker controls and ultimately improve the overall security posture of the organization. To strike a balance between limiting the number of administrators and separating duties, you should take into consideration the size and complexity of your organization, the number of administrative tasks at hand and the privileges involved.
Isolate Privileged Resources in a Secure Network
Letting end user machines and privileged assets operate from the same network is not advisable. Human and non-human intruders can easily travel between devices in the network. To completely eliminate lateral movement of threat actors, privileged IT assets must be separated from the network in which end user machines operate. This is also addressed as network segmentation.
Network segmentation also helps curb malware and ransomware propagation from end user machines to privileged assets.
A mature PAM strategy will help organizations become secure and efficient. This invariably involves complete management of privileged access life cycle. Right from creation till they are decommissioned, privileged accounts carry an arsenal of risks that can potentially lead to data breaches.
PAM is a tool that consists of security controls that are required to manage privileges at different levels. Typical PAM solutions consist of a privileged accounts and session management (PASM) console and a privilege elevation and delegation management (PEDM) console.
PASM solves the challenge of granting just-in-time remote access to IT assets. It provides a secure way to launch remote connections to IT assets and offers complete oversight on the privileged activities the users perform on the remote assets through audit trails. Privileged password management is an integral part of PASM and helps enforce password security best practices throughout the organization. PASM also addresses the case of privileged task automation that requires a secure application password management mechanism.
PEDM solution on the other hand helps control how much privilege users have on their devices and helps enforce application control on endpoints. PEDM solutions help reduce privileged access risks by enforcing principles of least privilege and zero-trust. By providing granular controls over privilege elevation, PEDM solutions help granting just enough, just-in-time access to users in the organization.
A mature PAM strategy would be to utilize both methods to keep threats at bay and prevent breaches from wrecking the organization’s productivity and brand imaging.
Securden Unified PAM is a full-featured privileged access security solution that combines Password Vaulting, Privileged Account Management, Remote Access / Remote Session Management, Application Password Management, Privilege Elevation and Delegation Management, and Endpoint Privilege Management in a single package.
It helps IT teams to securely store, protect, and automate the management of all highly privileged account passwords, keys, and identities. It enables IT administrators to centrally control, audit, monitor, and record all access to critical IT assets, thereby reducing risks related to privileged access.
Securden can be deployed in minutes on a server on-prem or hosted on private cloud instances. Try now.