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Why Privileged Access Management is Essential for all Businesses

Privileged Access Management is principal to controlling access and delivers the required balance between system administrators and users. In contrast to Identity Management solutions, often confused with PAM, a Privileged Access Management solution offers a secure way to authorise, track, and protect all privileged accounts across all relevant systems, which ensures absolute control and visibility. That process allows the organisation to control users’ access and it is considered to be its most valuable asset. This process also proves the fact that PAM is one of the most important areas of risk management and data security in any enterprise.

In a time of digital transformation, business models are constantly changing which leads to more numerous and widespread privileged accounts. When they are not managed securely, businesses are exposed to the risks of abandoned accounts, unmanaged shared accounts. That is a favourable situation for criminals and hackers to steal and to use credentials for privileged accounts to gain access. To reduce this risk, implementing a cost effective PAM solution is essential.

The modern PAM implementations focus on implementing and maintaining a least privilege model and monitoring activity with advanced data security analytics. Least privilege gives users the access they need to do properly their job. Monitoring and data security analytics detect changes in behaviour that could indicate external or insider threats at work. Those two paradigms keep your business well protected.

Why is Privileged Access Management Important?

According to Gartner’s 2019 Best Practices for Privileged Account Management, a quality PAM solution should be based on four pillars: Provide full visibility of all privileged accounts, Govern and control privileged access, Monitor and audit privileged activity and Automate and integrate PAM tools. In this article, we list the most essential features that can help you secure privileged access to your company’s sensitive data according to these four pillars.

#1 Enhanced security with Multi-factor authentication

MFA feature is a necessary measure for making sure that only the right people have he right access to the critical data. It also prevents insider threats by mitigating the risk of malicious insiders “borrowing” passwords from their colleagues. Most MFA tools offer a combination of two factors: Knowledge (user credentials) and Possession. Validation techniques such as E-mail OTP, SMS OTP, biometrics, soft taken, challenge-response questions, etc. add an extra layer of security to the passwords making it almost impossible for hackers to decode it.

#2 Session management

A lot of security providers offer Privileged Access and Session Management (PASM) as a standalone solution or as a part of their privileged account management software. The capability to monitor and record privileged sessions provides security specialists with all needed information for auditing privileged activity and investigating cybersecurity incidents.

The main challenge here is to associate each recorded session with a particular user. In many companies, employees use shared accounts for accessing various systems and applications. If they use the same credentials, sessions initiated by different users will be associated with the same shared account. To deal with this case, you need a PAM solution that offers a secondary authentication functionality for shared and default accounts. So if a user logs in into the system under a shared account, they will be asked to provide their personal credentials as well, thus allowing to confirm that this particular session was started by this particular user.

#3 Quick detection of cyber risks

The security provided to privileged accounts is quite strict. As soon as any suspicious activity is detected the response comes immediately. That’s the reason why the incidences of data breaches and cyber attacks on privileged accounts are relatively less.

#4 Real-time privileged session monitoring and recording for detecting suspicious activity

The earlier the attack is stopped, the lesser the consequences will be.  In order to be able to respond to a possible security incident in a timely manner, you need to be notified about near to real-time.. Organizations with real-time privileged session monitoring and recording can detect suspicious activity the moment it occurs and automatically terminate such sessions hence reducing potential damages. Besides, session monitoring and recording enable for hackerproof storage of searchable audit logs which prevent privileged users from deleting their history or even editing them.

Most PAM solutions offer a set of standard rules and alerts. For instance, responsible security personnel will be notified every time the system registers a failed login attempt for a privileged account.

# 5 Comprehensive reporting and audit

A well-designed Privileged Access Management solution keeps a track of who is accessing the accounts, the number of times passwords change or updates are requested, how many times the accounts are being accessed, etc. A detailed report is generated and gives the organization a clear insight into the usage and security of the privileged account.

You should also be able to form different types of reports according to your specific needs and requirements. The best option is to get a full report about all activities performed underprivileged accounts or privileged sessions that were initiated out of the usual work hours.

# 6 PAM Enables Fast Track to Compliance

To comply with the standards of the organizations that handle regulations, you should have strong policies which cover privileged accounts, revoking of privileged accounts, audit usage, the security of logins for privileged accounts, and changing of the vendor default passwords amidst many other security control essentials. A PAM solution allows the organization to take control of the management and monitors the security of privileged accounts to meet the standards of the access control demands for a good number of the industry regulations.

Privileged access management remains a crucial element in the security infrastructure for all organizations as it offers solutions and benefits useful for defence against data threats. With privileged access management, companies can solve all potential dangers that might target their data. Here’s why PAM should come first for any business.

PATECCO’s Best Practices For Securing Privileged Accounts

In a time of rapid digital transformation, a lot of organizations face challenges managing privileged accounts. To strictly control, protect, monitor, and manage them, such companies use Privileged Account Management (PAM). It grants privileges to users only for systems on which they are authorized, centrally manages access over systems and eliminates local system passwords for privileged users. Besides, PAM creates an unalterable audit trail for any privileged operation and may track user activity to command detection.

PATECCO provides consultations on PAM solutions’ implementations into the customers’ infrastructure, especially in banking and telecommunication sector. The two main components of its PAM projects are Password management and Session management. The password management refers to different types of accounts such as Privileged (administrative) account, Shared account, Administrator, root, QSECOFR, Emergency account, Technical account (only used for machine to machine communication), etc.

For example, shared and emergency accounts, in general are highly privileged accounts. They differ in approval workflow to get the corresponding password. The use of shared accounts can be planned, but the emergency accounts need faster workflow. The problem with the shared accounts is that without PAM, it is not clear who uses this account, at what time. By using PAM, the companies can make sure, that only one person could use such account for a predefined time. This is stored in an activity log and after using this account by that person (checking in), the password is changed by PAM. This process is called “breaking glass scenario”.

In reference to session management, it is ensured that all data gathered (session files and some activity logs) is stored in a safe manner (encrypted) and the access to these is possible only via the “principle of four eyes”. Guideline and process documents are designed and agreed with the works council, the data security officer and some other people involved in compliance processes.

For the past 3 years, PATECCO developed high skills in implementing PAM solutions, describing and designing necessary processes, and connect systems to these solutions. Its IT consulting team can offer best practices in the following functional PAM subsets:

1. Identity Consolidation

  • Consolidate UNIX, Linux, LDAP identities under a single unique ID in Active Directory for centralized identity, role, and privilege management and Kerberos-based authentication
  • Deleting or disabling as many privileged accounts as possible to reduce the attack surface

2. Privileged Access Request

  • Establishing a solution (tool) that supports workflow-based privileged access request across both SUPM and SAPM components for stronger security, governance, and compliance

3. Super User Privilege Management (SUPM)

  • Minimizing the number of shared accounts. Reduce/disable the number of privileged accounts. Use of host-based SUPM for least privilege login with unique ID and explicit privilege elevation wherever possible, and use of SAPM for accounts where SUPM cannot be used as the EXCEPTION not the RULE.

4. Shared Account Password Management (SAPM)

  • Data breach mitigation is most effective when reducing the attack surface — reducing the number of privileged accounts as close to zero as possible and only using SAPM for emergency login scenarios such as “break glass”.

5. Application to Application Password Management (AAPM)

  • Replacing plain text passwords embedded in scripts with an API call to a company’s SAPM service for better security and reduced IT administrative overhead

After introducing PATECCO’s best practices in Privileged Account Management, it’s time to summarise the main goals of its PAM projects: to demonstrate PAM capabilities allowing privileged users to have efficient and secure access to the systems they manage, and ensuring that audit and compliance requirements are met.