For many IT Security Professionals, whether they choose to admit it or not, fear the worst—that middle of the night telling them their organization has been breached. We see the fallout of these breaches play out on a regular basis across social media and news outlets. While it’s the call no one in the security industry wants to receive, IT and security professionals have already accepted the fact that it’s not a matter of “if” a breach will occur, but “when.”
So, what are the best steps organizations can take to reduce the likelihood of the ugly wake up calls?
In this blog, I’ll discuss how implementing privileged password management in a zero trust environment might be the most impactful way to meaningfully improve your security posture.
Addressing Privileged Identity Risk
At the heart of every organization lives Identity and Access Management. IAM is ultimately where the creation of Identity all begins with User Accounts, Rights, Entitlements, Security groups, and Attributes, which entail some form of privilege. Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available, to a particular person, group, or even resource, such as an application.
Historically, conventional wisdom was that IAM was about “access”. However, that view has shifted in an era of vanishing perimeters, cloud computing, distributed and edge environments, and remote work. A recent IDSA survey asked IT security professionals if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Identity management used to be mostly about access, now it is mostly about security.” An overwhelming 90% of security respondents agreed with that statement. The security piece that is most important here is the privilege. No identity is more important to manage and protect than a privileged identity.
For some organizations, privileged accounts number in the hundreds, for others, it can be in the thousands and even tens of thousands. All these accounts and associated privileges make for a tantalizing target for bad actors. Why? Because odds almost guaranteed that one or more of the privileged accounts—whether associated with a human or a machine identity (application, software robot, identity) will have a weak or predictable password. This is partly why an estimated 80% of breaches are said to involve a compromised privileged credential.
Modern privilege password management solutions not only solve this huge privileged identity risk for organizations, but also addresses several other critical security use cases. For instance, these solution provide automated discovery and onboarding of privileged identities and credentials (passwords, secrets, SSH Keys etc.). Privileged Password Management also layers on robust privileged session management, which includes video recording, keystroke logging, and mouse click captures. Any session – whether initiated on or off the corporate network (i.e. remotely) can be audited in real-time, with the ability to also pause or terminate a suspicious session. This level of oversight can prove to auditors, or even internal security teams, that what was done was appropriate.
Another strength of privilege password management is the ability to remove the element of human error. Humans are notoriously flawed at picking and remembering passwords. Privileged Password Management automates the generation and rotation of passwords in consistent adherence to best practices, and at the tremendous scale required by today’s largest enterprises. These technologies can even enforce one-time-passwords (OTPs), which expire after each use, rather than being reissued from a vault each time it is needed. Limiting the life of a password helps eliminate password re-use attacks, which can occur via many methods and are one of the most effective ways for initiating or advancing an attack chain.
Privileged Password Management & Zero Trust: Better Together
The concept of zero trust is built around the context of not trusting any identity/account by default. Privileged password management essentially entails not trusting anyone with passwords, the management of passwords, or the responsibility of maintaining passwords.
Zero trust and zero trust architecture (ZTA) as defined by NIST 800-207, clearly outline the Data and Control plane, Policy Engine and Policy Administrator, Gateway, Agents, and Resources. All of which are native characteristics of Privilege Password Management solutions.
Today, privileged password management and zero trust need and complement each other. For example, one important use case involves layering Privilege Password Management with zero trust for legacy and outdated systems that cannot take advantage of modern security principals. In fact, using a Zero Trust Resource Enclave with Privilege Password Management at the center is now the accepted best security standard for securing these legacy systems, especially when those systems cannot be sunset or retired.
We all know these legacy systems exist. Even some big box stores still use DOS-based, Windows 2000-based, and other legacy software programming that just aren’t designed to run on the new modern server platforms and operating systems. Unless organizations with environments such as these adopt security practices like zero trust combined with privileged password management, they are at an elevated risk of a breach—and all the ugly calls and fallout.
When it comes to prioritizing security improvements, you need to understand your risks and where you are most vulnerable. The bad actors and cyber criminals of the world are certainly interested in where you are vulnerable and highly motived to seek out and exploit those vulnerabilities.
With the average time to detect and contain a breach reaching 287 days, these bad actors are already in, already sifting through your data, already creating, modifying, and deleting accounts, and creating new backdoors and loopholes into your environment. Let that sink in for a moment… 287 DAYS!! Almost an entire year before they are detected and contained. By then, it’s already too late.
Whether you need to secure the crown jewels for your organization, your legacy systems, or just want to sleep better at night knowing your privileges are secure, take a proactive approach.
For a better understanding of how privileged password management and zero trust work together, please read our paper: A Zero Trust Security Model for Privileged Password Management.
Christopher Hills, Chief Security Strategist
Christopher L. Hills has more than 15 years’ experience as a Senior Security and Architecture Engineer operating in highly sensitive environments. Chris is a military veteran of the United States Navy and started with BeyondTrust after his most recent role leading a Privileged Access Management (PAM) team as a Technical Director within a Fortune 500 organization. In his current position, he has responsibilities as a Senior Solutions Architect consulting on PAM implementations and reports to the Office of the CTO as Chief Security Strategist for the Americas. In his free time, Chris enjoys spending time with his family on the water with their 32-foot speedboat in the summer and taking to the sand dunes and off-roading in the winter.