The concept of least privilege states that asset users should have the lowest level of access privileges required to effectively conduct their jobs. Implementing least privilege can bring several benefits to your organization, including:
- Increased security by reducing the attack surface available to users and to potential attackers who compromise user systems via phishing, malware, etc.
- Reduced help desk costs due to fewer technical problems resulting from users “breaking things” with administrative privileges
- Compliance with least-privilege requirements in regulations such as PCI DSS and MAS guidelines – as well as with guidelines such as the Top 20 Critical Security Controls
- More effective forensic and audit activities (when a solution is in place to document privileged activity)
At its most basic level, least privilege is about restricting users to standard user permissions. Let’s drill down a bit, though. Effectively leveraging least privilege to secure user environments means taking several specific actions, including:
- Removing secondary usernames and passwords (e.g., username-admin) for running tasks with elevated privileges
- Removing access to local administrator accounts for user tasks and maintenance
- Removing backdoor local interactive administrative accounts
- Removing domain user accounts from the local computer administrator account
- Denying access to operating system functions that could alter the configuration and compliance settings for the asset
- Denying system configuration changes and software installs / uninstalls, whether intentional or unintentional
- Enforcing application usage as a standard user in case of an advanced persistent threat or malware
Easy, right? Not if you do it manually. You can try, but forget about those “reduced help desk costs” I mentioned above. You might want to buy some serious headache medicine while you’re at it.
Fortunately, there are policy-based tools that interact seamlessly with Active Directory and Web Services to automatically manage privileges in Windows environments. Tools like PowerBroker for Windows enable you to leverage Group Policy to create policies and assign them to users or computers – covering just about any privilege management use case you can imagine.
At their core, these solutions keep workers at standard user privileges while elevating privileges for their applications. This means that users can get their jobs done without ever requiring elevated privileges themselves. How does this work? Well, PowerBroker for Windows modifies the application’s security token, enabling the application (or OS function) to run with the permissions required for the task at hand. The application appears to be fully interactive, as if the user executed it with administrator privileges, but in reality it’s not. This is because PowerBroker includes controls to regulate things like sub process launches and directories – as well as other tamper proofing features to ensure the application is not misused after granting elevated privileges.
For those cases where your users or admins directly need elevated privileges for specific server or desktop functions, BeyondTrust offers a privileged password management solution. PowerBroker Password Safe securely stores passwords, allows users to check them out, connects remotely with compete session recording, and automatically randomizes and resets passwords once sessions are complete.
Morey J. Haber, Chief Security Officer at BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is the Chief Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored three books: Privileged Attack Vectors, Asset Attack Vectors, and Identity Attack Vectors. He is a founding member of the industry group Transparency in Cyber, and in 2020 was elected to the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) Executive Advisory Board. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust security and governance for corporate and cloud based solutions and regularly consults for global periodicals and media. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition where he served as a Product Owner and Solutions Engineer since 2004. Prior to eEye, he was Beta Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.