Cybersecurity & Privileged Access Management

A report released by Check Point Research revealed that there had been a 50% increase in cyber-attacks on various corporate networks in 2021. A different report by Verizon Data Breach Investigation revealed that up to 61% of cyber-attacks targeted privileged accounts in 2021. Organizations are increasingly exposed to malicious activities due to the sophisticated nature of attackers and the complexity of enterprise IT infrastructures. You can help protect your Cincinnati business by having a better understanding of PAM.

To ensure security compliance, organizations must implement a comprehensive Privileged Access Management (PAM) strategy. PAM is designed to protect access to privileged accounts and systems by providing secure authentication and authorization of privileged users. It can help organizations manage and control access to sensitive data and systems, track the activity on privileged accounts, and monitor privileged usage.

This article looks at how organizations can implement an effective PAM solution. So, read on to learn more about the best practices for deploying PAM solutions.

Understanding PAM and Why it is Important

Privileged Access Management refers to a set of robust and comprehensive security procedures, technologies, and processes that are designed to protect privileged accounts. These accounts are critical for your business because they provide access to sensitive data, systems, networks, applications, etc.

Your Cincinnati business should ensure that its privileged accounts are secure from attack by implementing a comprehensive PAM strategy. This involves controlling and monitoring access to the accounts, ensuring authentication for privileged users, regularly changing passwords, and providing regular security training for employees with access to these accounts.

PAM not only helps ensure security compliance but also helps to increase the overall efficiency of an organization. This is because, with PAM, organizations can quickly identify and respond to potential threats, as well as gain better visibility into their privileged accounts.

With new technologies being adopted by organizations, the need for robust PAM solutions has become more integral than ever before.

The Key Features of Privileged Access Management

A good PAM solution should have the following features:

  • Access control and authentication

This includes ensuring that privileged users are securely authenticated to access their accounts, as well as controlling who has access to privileged accounts. Privileged access should only be granted to authorized users, and access should be revoked when necessary.

  • Activity monitoring

The activity on privileged accounts should be monitored and logged. This helps organizations detect any suspicious activity on privileged accounts, ensuring that any malicious activities are quickly identified and addressed.

  • Password management

Organizations should also have a comprehensive password management system in place to ensure that passwords for privileged accounts are regularly changed and updated.

  • Security training

Employees with access to privileged accounts should be regularly trained on security protocols and best practices. This helps to ensure that they understand the importance of protecting privileged accounts, as well as how to maintain the security of these accounts.

  • Authorization and role management

This feature allows organizations to assign roles or privileges to each user in order to control what they can do on privileged accounts.

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Why PAM is Important: Key Benefits

When you look at the features of a PAM solution, you can see why it is important for organizations to deploy one. Here are some of the key benefits that a good PAM solution can provide:

Improved security compliance

PAM helps organizations comply with various security regulations and standards, such as ISO 27001, SOx, NIST, HIPAA, and FISMA. These regulations require organizations to have a strong level of security for their privileged accounts.

Reduced risk of data breaches

Organizations can reduce the risk of data breaches caused by unauthorized access or malicious activities by controlling and monitoring access to privileged accounts.

Increased visibility and control over privileged accounts

PAM solutions help IT teams gain better visibility and control over privileged accounts, allowing them to identify and respond to potential threats quickly.

Improved efficiency

PAM solutions also help organizations streamline their security processes and procedures, improving operational efficiency. This can result in cost savings as well as improved productivity.

Enhanced user experience

By managing access to privileged accounts, PAM helps to ensure that users have a secure and seamless experience with the accounts they need to access. This helps to improve user satisfaction and productivity.

Ability to quickly detect and respond to potential threats

Organizations can quickly detect and respond to potential threats by monitoring privileged accounts. This way, the organizations can reduce the impact of any potential security incidents.

PAM Tools for Organizations

The PAM tools are generally divided into three major categories:

Privileged Account Session Management (PASM), Privileged elevation and delegation management (PEDM) and Secrets management.

Let’s look at each of these tools in detail:

Privileged Account Session Management (PASM)

PASM solutions ensure the safe creation of credentials and session management in order to secure an organization’s privileged accounts. PASM tools are designed to protect users’ credentials and grant access only to authorized personnel.

A user is granted one-time access to the privileged account, ensuring the session is secure and monitored. This helps to reduce the risk of unauthorized access or malicious activities on privileged accounts.

PASM solutions have the following features:

  • Real-time monitoring- session monitoring and alerting for unauthorized access
  • Password manager- ability to manage, store and rotate passwords
  • Audit log- records of user activities on privileged accounts
  • Remote sessions- these sessions ensure better visibility of the privileged user’s actions
  • Password rotation- to reduce the risk of password theft

Privileged elevation and delegation management (PEDM)

PEDM is also known as Endpoint Privilege management (EPM). It enables organizations to manage, control and monitor access to privileged accounts. The PEDM solution helps IT teams configure role-based access control for users to grant or restrict access based on different privileges assigned to them.

This tool permits the application of the principle of least privilege, whereby only necessary privileges are granted for the task at hand. This helps reduce the risk of data breaches caused by misuse or unauthorized access to privileged accounts.

In a nutshell, PEDM capabilities include the following:

  • Endpoint least privilege management- these solutions help to reduce the risk of data breaches caused by misuse or unauthorized access
  • Application whitelisting- this helps to prevent unknown or malicious applications from executing on a system
  • User entitlement management-these solutions help organizations to configure user privilege levels and control what they can do with privileged accounts
  • Server and infrastructure privilege management- this ensures that users can access only the protected areas of the network and systems
  • Active Directory (AD) bridging- allows organizations to authenticate users securely with their AD credentials

Secrets Management

A Secrets Management solution is a tool that enables organizations to centrally store, manage and secure their sensitive information such as passwords, OAuth tokens, API keys, and certificates. These solutions enable organizations to store and secure data in encrypted form, which is accessible only by authorized personnel.

These tools allow for the secure sharing of privileged credentials across multiple users and systems. This helps organizations maintain high levels of security while ensuring access to the data is only granted to those who need it.

The features offered by Secrets management solutions include the following:

  • Encryption- these solutions encrypt credentials and certificates so that only authorized personnel can access them
  • Password vault- securely stores passwords and other privileged information
  • Access control- provides access control rules to ensure that only authorized personnel can view or edit confidential data
  • Auditing- records user activity on the system for better visibility and improved security
  • User authentication- ensures that only authenticated users can access secured credentials.

Types of Privileged Accounts and Credentials

Privileged accounts are those accounts with elevated privileges or access to sensitive data and systems. IT teams use them to manage, configure and monitor corporate networks, servers, and applications. These accounts are associated with various credentials, such as passwords, token IDs, digital certificates, and OAuth tokens.

Types of Privileged Accounts

Organizations need different types of privileged accounts and credentials to secure. They include:

Local Administrator Accounts

These accounts offer local access to devices but are not personal. They have often shared passwords used by the IT staff to configure workstations or carry out maintenance; as a result, malicious agents might target them.

In reality, local administrator accounts are mostly accountable for excessive employee-oriented access and allow hackers to learn about and evaluate the security levels of a business. They may also be used to manage resources, set up local users, and delegate user privileges and access control permissions.

Service Accounts

Service-related accounts work on the same level as administrator accounts, with access to system files and databases. They don’t leverage user authentication and cannot be used to log in directly to an endpoint.

Domain Service Accounts

These are generally used for backup, software development, system-level services, and automated tasks. Administrators use domain service accounts to run scripts and applications remotely without providing a valid user account.

Application Accounts

These privileged accounts are used by IT staff to manage specific applications or systems. They come in two types: Local Application Accounts (LAA) and Domain Application Accounts (DAA).

LAA accounts are used for logging in to a local application, while DAA accounts can be used to access applications running on the domain. LAA and DAA accounts have elevated privileges and are generally more difficult to secure than user or service accounts.

Domain Administrator Accounts

Domain administrator accounts are the most powerful type of privileged account. They have access to perform management tasks, such as creating and managing user accounts. As a result, it is important for organizations to properly secure these accounts or else their systems could be vulnerable to malicious attacks.

Privileged User Accounts

Privileged user accounts are those owned by individuals who have been granted higher privileges than normal users. These account holders have the ability to make system changes, install and configure applications, and access sensitive data. As a result, these accounts need to be monitored closely and their access permissions updated regularly.

Who Is Privileged in Your Company/Organization?

Determining who is privileged in your company or organization should be a top priority. Privileged users have elevated access to sensitive systems and data and can include:

System, Database, and Application managers

The system administrators are responsible for maintaining, configuring, and monitoring the computer systems. Sometimes, they are responsible for managing user accounts and granting access permissions.

The IT security personnel

These individuals have the knowledge, skills, and experience to manage an organization’s cybersecurity initiatives. They are responsible for ensuring that systems are secure against potential threats and attacks.

Network engineers

Network engineers are in charge of designing, implementing, and maintaining the business’s computer networks. They must also understand security protocols to ensure their network is secure from intrusions and other cyber threats.

Developers

Software developers are responsible for developing applications and systems that organizations use to carry out daily operations. As they usually have access to source code, they must be aware of security best practices and procedures to protect the company’s data.

Business owners/executives

Business owners and executives have the highest level of access to sensitive systems and data, so it is essential that they understand the importance of secure computing practices and regularly update their access permissions.

Help desk staff

Help desk staff with uninterrupted access to different organization assets, such as customer data, need to be aware of their responsibilities and adhere to best practices for secure computing.

Business application users

Business application users are responsible for the day-to-day tasks related to a company’s applications. They need to keep their accounts secure and not share credentials with others.

Account users like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google

Account users who access different online services, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google, must be aware of the importance of proper security measures to protect their accounts from malicious actors

It’s important for organizations to identify all privileged users and ensure that their accounts are properly secured. This includes setting up strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication and password vaulting, as well as monitoring privileged user activity and regularly updating access permissions.

Organizations can ensure that their sensitive data and systems remain secure by taking the necessary steps to protect their systems from potential threats.

Why Privileged Accounts Are Targeted by Cyber Attacks

Privileged accounts are an attractive target for hackers because of the following reasons:

Access Sensitive Data

A cyber attack aims to access sensitive data, and privileged accounts provide a convenient way to do that. By gaining access to privileged accounts, hackers can bypass security protocols and access confidential information.

Escalate Access Privileges

Once a hacker has gained access to a privileged account, they may be able to escalate their privileges by exploiting vulnerabilities in the system or gaining access to other user accounts.

Carry Out Malicious Activity

Once a hacker has gained access to a privileged account, they can carry out malicious activities such as launching a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, installing malware or ransomware, redirecting users to phishing sites, and stealing data.

It is important for organizations to be aware of the risks posed by privileged accounts and take steps to protect them.

Vulnerabilities and Risks Related to Privileged Accounts

Privileged accounts are a risk due to the nature of their access privileges. Without proper security measures in place, privileged accounts can leave organizations vulnerable to malicious attacks and data breaches. Additionally, hackers can access confidential information or carry out malicious activities with impunity if an account is compromised.

Vulnerabilities and Risks

There are several vulnerabilities and risks related to privileged accounts, such as:

  • Unauthorized Access

As I discussed earlier, privileged user accounts can provide attackers with access to sensitive data and systems. This data may be used to attack the organization or stolen for financial gain.

  • Insider Threats

Privileged accounts can also be compromised by insider threats, such as disgruntled employees who may use their privileged access to launch malicious attacks or steal sensitive data.

  • Reused Credentials

If privileged user credentials are reused across multiple systems, attackers may be able to gain access to multiple systems with a single pair of credentials. This increases the risk of a successful attack.

  • Privilege Escalation

Once an attacker has gained access to a privileged account, they may be able to escalate their privileges and gain additional access. This can give them greater control over the system and allow them to carry out malicious activities.

  • Weak Authentication

If organizations are not using strong authentication measures, attackers may be able to guess or easily crack passwords and gain access to privileged accounts.

  • Insufficient Access Control Policies

When organizations do not have sufficient access control policies, attackers can easily gain access to privileged accounts. Once they gain access, they will have control over the system and be able to carry out malicious activities.

How PAM Can Help

Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions can help organizations protect their privileged accounts and reduce the risk of a successful attack. PAM solutions provide features such as:

  • Two-Factor Authentication

You need to authenticate users to access privileged accounts. PAM solutions provide two-factor authentication, which helps protect against unauthorized access and password theft.

  • Password Management

A PAM solution can help manage privileged passwords, ensuring they are secure and not reused across multiple systems. Hackers can try to guess passwords, so having strong passwords is important.

It can also implement password policies and enforce password expiration so that passwords are changed regularly.

  • Monitoring and Alerts

PAM solutions can monitor privileged accounts for suspicious activity and send alerts when any suspicious activity is detected. This helps organizations identify malicious attacks quickly and respond accordingly.

  • Audit Logs

Audit logs are an important part of any PAM solution. They provide an audit trail of privileged account activity, which can be used to investigate malicious activities or security incidents.

With these logs, you can determine who accessed a privileged account, when they accessed it, and what activity was performed.

  • Access Control Policies

PAM solutions can also help organizations define and enforce access control policies. Access control policies specify who has access to what resources and how they can use them. This helps ensure that privileged accounts are only accessed by authorized users and used for legitimate purposes.

  • Privilege Escalation Detection

There is a need to detect privilege escalation attempts and alert administrators. PAM solutions can detect and block privilege escalations, preventing attackers from furthering their attacks.

You will be able to ensure that privileged accounts are only used for their intended purposes and prevent the misuse of credentials.

Trends

Currently, there are some trends in PAM solutions. Many companies are looking to move away from on-premises solutions and towards cloud-based solutions due to their scalability and cost savings.

Additionally, more organizations are beginning to implement Zero Trust security models, focusing on least privilege access and strong authentication measures. This helps reduce the risk of successful attacks and better protect privileged accounts.

Some of the common trends in PAM solutions include:

IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) involves the connection of physical devices to the internet, enabling them to “talk” to each other. You’re probably wondering how this is related to PAM. IoT devices often have privileged accounts associated with them; without proper security measures, these accounts can be easily compromised.

PAM solutions can help organizations manage the access control policies for these privileged accounts and better protect their IoT devices. Now, it’s important to note that the security of IoT devices depends on the implementation and enforcement of access control policies.

Cloud and Virtualization

Cloud and virtualization technologies have enabled organizations to store data in the cloud or virtual machines instead of on physical servers. This can present challenges for PAM solutions, as it is more difficult to secure privileged accounts with these technologies.

To remain secure, PAM solutions need to keep up with cloud and virtualization technology changes, such as multi-cloud environments and containerization.

DevOps Environments

DevOps is a methodology that combines software development and IT operations, making the process of delivering applications faster and more efficient. This approach to application delivery is becoming increasingly popular, but it presents unique challenges for PAM solutions.

PAM solutions need to be able to detect access violations in dynamic DevOps environments and alert administrators when there is any suspicious activity. They can also provide role-based access control, ensuring that only authorized users can access privileged accounts.

What are the advantages of PAM solutions for DevOps environments?

The advantages of PAM solutions for DevOps environments include increased security and compliance, improved access control, better visibility into user activities, streamlined onboarding and offboarding processes, and more.

With these solutions in place, organizations can ensure that only authorized users can access privileged accounts, detect and prevent potential breaches, and keep their systems up-to-date and secure.

PAM solutions can also provide organizations with enhanced operational efficiency by automating processes such as collecting audit logs and limiting user privileges for increased security. This helps to create a more streamlined process for DevOps teams, allowing them to work more efficiently and securely.

Examples of Attacks That PAM Could Prevent

There are several attacks that PAM solutions can help protect against. Some examples include:

Privilege Escalation Attacks

These types of attacks involve a user attempting to gain access to resources or accounts they are not authorized for. With the help of PAM solutions, organizations can detect privilege escalation attempts and alert administrators before any damage is done.

The administrators will then be able to review the activity and take appropriate action.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is a common threat involving attackers sending malicious emails to steal user credentials or install malware on their systems. With PAM solutions, organizations can detect and block phishing attempts before any damage is done.

This is done by enforcing strong authentication measures, such as two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication, and providing visibility into user activities.

Credential Stuffing Attacks

In credential stuffing attacks, attackers attempt to gain access to accounts by trying different combinations of usernames and passwords.

PAM solutions can help organizations detect these attacks and alert administrators when suspicious activity occurs. This helps organizations protect their systems from potential attackers.

Malicious Insider Attack

An attacker with legitimate privileged access uses their credentials to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or systems. After this, they can use their access to steal information or introduce malware into a system.

PAM solutions can help organizations protect against malicious insider attacks by monitoring user activities and alerting administrators whenever suspicious activity occurs.

Brute Force Attacks

This attack involves an attacker attempting to guess a user’s password by entering different combinations of characters.

You can detect these attempts using PAM solutions and alert administrators before any damage is done. This helps organizations protect their systems from potential attackers.

Preventing Privileged Account Attacks Using PAM Solutions

Organizations can prevent privileged account attacks by using PAM solutions. These solutions help organizations by doing the following:

Detecting Suspicious Activity

Let’s say you have a system with privileged accounts, such as root or administrator. PAM solutions can help detect any suspicious activity that could be associated with malicious attacks.

Alerting Administrators

After detection, it is the responsibility of the administrators to take appropriate action. PAM solutions can alert administrators and provide them with details about what is happening on the system, such as who initiated the activity and from where.

Enforcing Access Policies

PAM solutions can also help organizations enforce access policies to ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive systems and data. This helps prevent unauthorized access, which is one of the main goals of PAM solutions.

Auditing User Activity

Additionally, PAM solutions provide visibility into user activities, so administrators can track any suspicious behavior and investigate further if needed. This helps organizations identify any potential threats before they become an issue.

Providing Multi-Factor Authentication

Finally, by providing multi-factor authentication, PAM solutions also help organizations protect their privileged accounts. This helps prevent attackers from gaining access to accounts, even if they know the user’s username and password.

PAM FAQs

How can PAM solutions help organizations protect against data breaches?

PAM solutions can help organizations protect against data breaches by providing visibility into user activities, enforcing strong authentication measures (such as two-factor or multi-factor authentication), monitoring privileged accounts, and detecting any suspicious activity.

Additionally, these solutions can help organizations limit access to privileged accounts and create more secure passwords to prevent unauthorized access. Organizations can ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information and protect their systems from potential attackers by implementing PAM solutions.

What are the best practices for using PAM solutions?

The best practices for using PAM solutions include implementing strong authentication measures (such as two-factor or multi-factor authentication), monitoring privileged accounts, limiting access to privileged accounts, creating more secure passwords, and detecting any suspicious activity.

Organizations should ensure that their systems are kept up-to-date with any security patches and that they have an incident response plan in place to handle any potential breaches. By following these best practices, organizations can ensure that their systems remain secure and protected from malicious actors.

How do PAM solutions help organizations comply with data privacy regulations?

PAM solutions can help organizations comply with data privacy regulations by providing visibility into user activities, enforcing strong authentication measures, monitoring privileged accounts, and detecting suspicious activity.

Additionally, these solutions can help organizations limit access to privileged accounts and create more secure passwords to prevent unauthorized access.

This ensures that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and helps organizations meet the requirements of various data privacy regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA. With PAM solutions in place, organizations can ensure that their systems comply with applicable data privacy regulations.

Final Thoughts

PAM solutions are an essential component of any organization’s security strategy. They help organizations protect their privileged accounts and enforce access control policies. Additionally, they can detect suspicious activities and alert administrators when necessary.

With so many new technologies emerging, it is essential for organizations to stay up-to-date and implement the necessary security measures to stay abreast with current trends. PAM solutions can help organizations keep their systems secure and compliant with data privacy regulations.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with an overview of PAM solutions and how they can help organizations protect their privileged accounts.

Written by James Forbis
Posted on: January 11, 2023
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