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Securing Privileged Accounts | @CloudExpo #Cloud #BigData #Security
With good reason, staying on top of privileged accounts is a major concern for CISOs

Six Tips for Securing Privileged Accounts

Insider threats are on the rise more than ever. It's a malicious activity that originates from users within an organization, as opposed to attacks like DDoS that come from the outside. Cyber hackers of this kind get inside the system to steal intellectual property from the company via user credentials. They can use a variety of techniques like phishing links, password brute force, password scanning, keyloggers and many others to get their foot in the door of the enterprise network.

Once an attacker compromises one employee's account, they attempt lateral movement to gain access to privileged accounts that have elevated access to the network. Many of these attacks go unnoticed for years, as enterprise security teams frequently run short on resources and hardly anyone monitors the activity of privileged accounts.

With good reason, staying on top of privileged accounts is a major concern for CISOs. Many organizations are busy following up on potential threats and breaches, and privileged accounts often end up on the back burner. Unfortunately, there is a lot of risk involved. Here are some best practices for keeping privileged accounts secure:

1. Keep track of privileged accounts. Privileged accounts can cause serious damage in the wrong hands. Keeping track of privileged accounts and endpoints is the first step towards keeping them secure. There are many things to stay on top of. Are privileged accounts being used consistent with corporate policy and best practices? Are there shared accounts that could have higher risk? Have user roles changed that should impact privileges?

2. Review the list and downgrade the accounts. Users with unnecessary privileged access present a common problem for many enterprise networks that are heavily exploited by cyber attackers. Privileged access means a higher risk of compromising the enterprise network. There can be many reasons why some users have incorrect assigned privileged access, such as:

  • Users who are assigned to a group by default or due to a misconfiguration
  • Former employees whose account access was not updated when they left
  • Mismanaged IT contractors and developers who can leave the residual privileged accounts

Not all developers working on IT applications need privileged access. Security admins should downgrade an account from privileged account, but provide necessary permissions so developer and service accounts can still perform their necessary functions.

3. Not all service accounts need privileged access. Some of the service accounts that are used by applications required to make changes that only privileged account can be, they can be privileged account but not all service accounts need to be privileged accounts. Service accounts should be carefully review and appropriate access should be provided.

Managing service accounts is a nightmare for security teams. IT Administrators use their privileges to set up service accounts, but then they move to another team, leave the company, and no one is there to manage these service accounts. As the team grows, these issues become more severe.

4. Don't use the administrator account as a shared account. In many enterprise networks, the administrator account is used for servicing other accounts or making changes in the network. A shared administrator account should never be used as a service account or otherwise. Doing so can lead to serious consequences, such as:

  • Every time an administrator account is used locally on a machine, it leaves the hash on that machine for an extended period of time. If that machine is compromised during the time when hash was stored or it is already compromised, cyber attackers can easily compromise the administrator account. This gives them access to the company IP and let them make changes to the network, steal information, shut down services and much more.
  • If a member of the IT team makes changes intentionally or accidentally that cause damage to enterprise network, loss of information etc., it is almost impossible to tell who made those changes.
  • Shared accounts expose higher risk and have a negative impact on IT audits
  • If a cyber-attacker gets hold of shared administrator account and makes changes in the network, it would difficult to pinpoint if those changes were done by genuine IT administrator or a cyber-attacker.

5. Remove stale privileged accounts. One of the challenges of privileged account management is to clean out accounts that are no longer in use. As the IT team grows bigger, security teams should regularly review service accounts and privileged user accounts on a regular basis. If a privileged account is stale, security personnel should review it and disable it if it is not required anymore.

6. Change default passwords and enforce strict password rules. According to this interview, The Impact Team - the hackers behind the popular Ashley Madison data breach - said the organization's security was, simply put: "Bad. Nobody was watching. No security. Only thing was segmented network. You could use Pass1234 from the internet to VPN to root on all servers."

When administrators create accounts for new employees or to perform a temporary task, they often use a default password or simple, easy-to-crack ones like ‘admin,' ‘password123,' etc. Weak passwords are a common culprit that let cyber attackers into enterprise networks or let them gain access to more servers and user accounts by lateral movement.

Organizations should look to prioritize these best practices, and those with limited manpower or resources should look for solutions that provide more visibility into their privileged users to reduce their attack surface.

About Roman Blachman
Roman Blachman is the co-founder and CTO of Preempt, a new cybersecurity company that protects enterprises from security breaches and malicious insiders. Previously, he was a mobile security engineer at Lacoon Mobile Security, and prior to that, served as a Research & Development manager for the Israeli Defense Forces.

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