You Can’t Manage Privileged Passwords Until You Know What You Have

Nick Cavalancia, Founder/Chief, Techvangelism
October 22nd, 2015

enterprise-password-management

I got the opportunity to watch Matt Damon’s movie The Martian the day before it opened (great true-to-form science fiction movie, by the way). After realizing he was stranded (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this blog!), he realized he needed to manage his food supply to maximize his chance of surviving. So, what was the first thing you think he did? He performed an inventory. Every meal packet, ketchup bottle, salt shaker – everything was inventoried so that he knew exactly what he had to work with.

Even though it wasn’t completely shown on screen, it was even implied that astronaut Mark Watney didn’t just go through the bins of rations, but even his fellow astronauts’ personal items. So, if there was even a candy bar hidden away, he would have found it.

So, what does dehydrated meatloaf have to do with privileged passwords? Well, beyond the fact the neither of them actually taste like meatloaf, the idea of needing to take an inventory equally applies to privileged passwords. The first step is to create an inventory of every password you have in use on your network. And it’s not just the admin accounts in AD; if you really want to be in complete control over your privileged passwords, you must include every platform, every directory, every hardware device, and every application – all of it.

If you simply stop at the accounts you know about, truly, you’re only fooling yourself. We’ve all seen service accounts on servers so old, that no one in IT even remembers the password to them, networking devices nobody knows the admin credentials to, and more domain admin accounts than a single AD domain really needs.

Sound familiar?

That’s why, like Watney, you don’t just start with an inventory of what you know exists; you need to do a discovery – looking in places you normally wouldn’t – ensure you’ve found every last password hiding in the shadows. In his case, he had some time on his hands, so he did it manually. You have less free time than he did, so you’re going to need to either rely on scripts to scan Windows and Unix servers for possible services and daemons running with elevated privileges, as well as to build a list of network hardware that will serve as the basis for additional detective work (even that wireless access point has an admin password).

Now, Watney was desperate – he wanted to survive. But, in some ways, you want your network to survive too. The very reason for implementing enterprise password management is to protect the network and the organization from privilege misuse and abuse, hacking, data breaches, etc. – all things that can not only harm, but kill an organization.

Watney had a limited number of days before his time would run out. You’re actually in a worse scenario; you don’t know when the day will come that someone misuses a privileged password. Get started now. Time isn’t on your side.

If you would like to learn best practices on privileged password discovery, you can download chapter 1 of our new eBook – Six Critical Capabilities of Password Management. There’s more to come!

Nick Cavalancia, Founder/Chief, Techvangelism

Nick Cavalancia has over 20 years of enterprise IT experience, 10 years as a tech marketing executive and is an accomplished technology writer, consultant, trainer, speaker, and columnist. Nick has attained industry certifications including MCNE, MCNI, MCSE and MCT and was once accused at TechEd of "not having enough digits" in his MCP number (which only has 5). He has authored, co-authored and contributed to over a dozen books on Windows, Active Directory, Exchange and other Microsoft technologies and has spoken at many technical conferences on a wide variety of topics. Previously, Nick has held executive marketing positions at ScriptLogic (acquired by Quest, now DELL Software), SpectorSoft and Netwrix where he was responsible for the global messaging, branding, lead generation and demand generation strategies to market technology solutions to an IT-centric customer base.