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How to Secure Privileged Access in the Cloud

In times of increased cyber threats, securing privileged access is a critical step to establishing security assurances for business assets in a modern enterprise. The security of most or all business assets in an organization depends on the integrity of the privileged accounts that administer and manage IT systems. Cyber-attackers are targeting these accounts and other elements of privileged access to rapidly gain access to targeted data and systems using credential theft attacks. Protecting administrative access against determined adversaries require you to take a complete and thoughtful approach to isolate these systems from risks.

Privileged Access Management (PAM) combines the most current and comprehensive defence strategies against malicious third parties executing cyber-attacks with increased efficiency and the support of greater resources. Constantly updated and evolving Privileged Access Management manages to be efficient in terms of protecting your data, including cloud security.

Establishing Cloud Security with Privileged Access Management

Since it is quite difficult to be protected against the vulnerabilities and risks of cloud technologies with standard safety precautions, data access security should be established via innovative approaches such as Privileged Access Management. This is one of the most effective ways to create a more productive security ecosystem for digital services such as cloud technologies. Some of the steps to establish cloud security via Privileged Access Management include:

  • Use of Zero Trust

All cloud service providers utilize management consoles to manage accounts, configure services and troubleshooting. Cyberattacks commonly target these consoles in order to access various data. Cloud-based service providers should carefully monitor users with privileged access rights and privileged access requests. Authorized accounts must be taken under control in order to prevent attacks and data leaks via various controlling tiers such as privileged session manager.

Modern privileged access management starts with an assumption that every user is a remote user for an organization. Zero trust building blocks of continuous authentication and verifying the user, context-based privileges are required to secure modern privileged access.

Zero trust follows the principle of “never trust, always verify” policy and least access/privilege model that focuses on identity-based authentication and access controls to ensure bad actors cannot use easily compromised credentials to gain privileged access, move around the network, and extract sensitive and valuable data. As organizations move to adopt zero trust, we are also finding organizations adopting a zero standing privilege posture, where no one has access rights or privileges permanently assigned; rather, access is granted just in time for a limited duration to reduce the attack surface and eliminate the potential for malicious actors accessing any infrastructure, even if they are able to compromise existing credentials.

  • Use of Multifactor authentication

Virtual servers, data storages, and other cloud resources are common targets for cyberattacks. Malicious third parties may try to utilize automatic provision tools in order to initiate attacks and cause downtime. Therefore, service providers should establish strong security systems and applications such as two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authorization in order to prevent unauthorized access to cloud automation command files and provision tools. The use of multifactor authentication for all privileged user access to cloud environments should be mandatory, and this likely could have prevented the initial compromise of Code Spaces’ console. Many providers offer a variety of different forms of multifactor access, including certificates on the endpoint, hard and soft tokens from leading multifactor providers, and SMS codes – which are not as secure, but still better than nothing at all.

  • Use of APIs

Cloud applications commonly use APIs in order to halt and initiate servers or conduct other environmental changes. API access authorization data such as SSH keys are generally coded built-in to the applications and placed in public storages such as GitHub. Then, they become targets for malicious third parties. Therefore, enterprises should remove built-in SSH keys from applications and make sure only the authorized applications to access through areas with encrypted infrastructures that act as digital safe, such as dynamic password controller. Such Privileged Access Management steps ensure efficient protection of cloud technologies, which are so hard to be protected via only legacy security software or firewalls.

Security is always best deployed in layers. While traditional security controls are necessary at the perimeter, we need to constantly think about how to prevent malicious privileged access, assuming that the bad actors are already on the inside and may already have access to credentials. Privileged accounts, credentials and secrets are found in devices, applications and operating systems allowing organisations to secure the infrastructure and applications, run business efficiently and maintain the confidentiality of sensitive data. In the wrong hands, privileged credentials can be used to cause catastrophic damage to a business. This is why they must be protected, managed and monitored.

For more information about Privileged Access Management, download the Whitepaper below:

How to Implement a Zero Trust Model?

Today, we see increasingly distributed workforces and work regularly outsourced to contractors, partners and freelancers alike. As a result, the traditional company network perimeter has altered dramatically and many businesses have struggled to keep up with the rate of change. All that is a prerequisite for external cyberattacks and potentially harmful internal data breaches.

At its core, Zero Trust is a framework in which an organization forgoes one large perimeter in favour of protection at every endpoint and for every user within a company. This approach relies on strong identity and authentication measures, trusted devices and endpoints, and granular access controls to protect sensitive data and systems.  Zero Trust requires granular visibility.

So, implementing a Zero-Trust framework does more than increasing the security. It also helps your data management and accessibility efforts by providing the visibility into connected endpoints and networks that a great percentage of organizations lack.

Implementing a Zero Trust Model

While establishing a Zero Trust architecture can increase security, many organizations find the implementation challenging. Understanding the steps involved, can help move toward a zero trust security approach.

  • Establish strong authentication processes (Identity and Authentication)

Identity authentication is the foundation of a zero-trust security strategy. To continuously evaluate access to resources, you must first centralize user management and establish strong authentication processes. In order to track and manage all users across your systems, user identity must be centralized in a user and group directory. As employees join the company, change roles or responsibilities, or leave the company, the databases should update automatically to reflect those changes. The user and group database acts as the single source of truth to validate all users that need to access your systems.

A single sign-on (SSO) system, or centralized user authentication portal, can validate primary and secondary credentials for users requesting access to any given resource or application. After validating against the user and group directory, the SSO system generates a time-sensitive token to authorize access to specific resources. A centralized user database supporting a single sign-on system is essential. Data in a SaaS application environment must be assumed vulnerable unless access is limited to an endpoint that you control. Once that database is in place, you can introduce an authentication process such as 2FA (two-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication) to harden your system and ensure that the users accessing your applications are who they say they are.

  • Define and implement policies around Access Management

Building on the identify and authentication mechanisms, the next step is to define and implement policies around who can access specific data and when they can access it. What makes the Zero Trust approach unique is that in order to minimize the ‘perimeter’ of any given individual and isolate the risk associate with that user, the Zero Trust approach supports the idea that an employee should only be given the minimum access and permissions needed for that employee to do their job. By limiting access in this way, risk is minimized. Should an attacker gain access to the credentials of a user in marketing, for example, that perpetrator is ‘laterally’ limited in that they cannot gain access to any of the tools, assets, or information outside of that user’s specific role.

There are several ways to ensure that an employee’s access is restricted to the tools and assets required for their job. The first is granular, role-based access and permission levels. These should be defined for each role within your organization, with cross-functional input agreement. Your organization’s appetite for risk and the breadth of access needed to effectively collaborate across teams will determine the level of granularity needed for team and individual role-based access levels. Once these role-based access levels have been defined, you can begin to map out the controls needed for each system and vendor in your organization. While your SSO or identity provider may be able to support some of your access control needs, you may find that not all applications provide the level of granularity needed to limit access in this way. Access controls are an important part of any vendor risk management assessment and integral to the long-term implementation of Zero Trust.

In order to adhere to the “continuous verification” tenant of the Zero Trust model, you will also need a way to consistently analyse audit logs to verify access controls and identify suspicious or unsanctioned activity in your systems. This information helps detect suspicious activity within your systems and supports the application of access and permission levels by allowing you to verify that those levels are implemented correctly and that there aren’t any suspicious actors that have gained access to a user’s credentials.

  • Monitor and audit everything

In addition to authenticating and assigning privileges, it is vital to monitor and review all user activity across the network. This helps organizations to identify any suspicious activity in real-time. Deep visibility is especially important for administrator accounts which have rights to access a wide spectrum of sensitive data.

  • Implement Principle of Least Privilege

Every Zero Trust architecture should include Principle of Least Privilege, which is based on the concept that individual users should only be granted sufficient privileges to allow them to complete specific tasks. For example, an application developer should not be allowed to access financial records. For maximum effectiveness, PoLP should be extended to “just-in-time” access, which restricts users’ privileges to specific time periods.

Implementing the Zero Trust security model is no simple task. For many organizations, especially large, established enterprises, implementation can take a considerable amount of time and effort. But the upsides are significant. Beginning to implement the foundational elements of Zero Trust Security is the key to securing your sensitive company data in the midst of the proliferation of cloud applications, devices, and user identities.

What Are the Main Principles Behind Zero Trust Security?

Nowadays the security modernization should be on the top of mind for most organizations, especially with increasingly complex hybrid environments and the need to support a remote workforce. At the same time, IT budgets are getting reduced in many organizations, and the cost to maintain aging legacy infrastructure continues to grow. To struggle the rising costs, more and more enterprises are turning to cloud-based services with the goal of enabling posture-driven, conditional access and zero-day threat sharing. Large companies need to streamline the security environment with cross-platform automation which provides secure access to applications and data.

As cybersecurity professionals defend increasingly dispersed and complex enterprise networks from sophisticated cyber threats, embracing a Zero Trust security model and the mindset necessary to deploy and operate a system engineered according to Zero Trust principles can better position them to secure sensitive data, systems, and services. As we mentioned in our previous articles, Zero Trust is a security model, a set of system design principles, and a coordinated cybersecurity and system management strategy based on an acknowledgement that threats exist both inside and outside traditional network boundaries.

Principles of Zero Trust security

To be fully effective to minimize risk and enable robust and timely responses, Zero Trust principles and concepts must impregnate most aspects of the network and its operations ecosystem.

  • Comprehensive security monitoring and validation

The Zero Trust security model assumes that a breach is inevitable or has likely already occurred, so it constantly limits access to only what is needed and looks for anomalous or malicious activity. Zero Trust embeds comprehensive security monitoring; granular risk-based access controls; and system security automation in a coordinated manner throughout all aspects of the infrastructure in order to focus on protecting critical assets  in real-time within a dynamic threat environment. This data-centric security model allows the concept of least-privileged access to be applied for every access decision, allowing or denying access to resources based on the combination of several contextual factors.

The philosophy behind a Zero Trust network assumes that there are attackers both within and outside of the network, so no users or machines should be automatically trusted. Zero Trust verifies user identity and privileges as well as device identity and security. Logins and connections time out periodically once established, forcing users and devices to be continuously re-verified.

  • Least privilege

Another principle of zero trust security is least-privilege access. The principle refers to the concept and practice of restricting access rights for any entity (users, accounts, computing processes) where the only resources available are the ones required to perform the authorized activities. The privilege itself refers to the authorization to bypass certain security restraints that would normally prevent the user to use the needed resources. This is extremely important to prevent the risks and damage from cyber-security attacks.

Implementing least privilege involves careful managing of user permissions. VPNs are not well-suited for least-privilege approaches to authorization, as logging in to a VPN gives a user access to the whole connected network.

  • Variety of Preventative Techniques

To prevent breaches and minimize their damage, a variety of preventive techniques are available. Multi-factor authentication is the most common method of confirming user identity. It requires the user to provide at least two forms of evidence to confirm credibility. These may include security questions, SMS or email confirmation, and/or logic-based exercises. The more means required for access, the better the network is secured.

Limiting access for authenticated users is another layer used to gain trust. Each user or device only gains access to the minimal amount of resources required, thus minimizing the potential attack surface of the network at any time.

  • Microsegmentation

Zero Trust networks also utilize microsegmentation. Micro-segmentation is a network security technique that involves separating networks into zones, each of which requires separate network access. For example, a network with files living in a single data center that utilizes microsegmentation may contain dozens of separate, secure zones. A person or program with access to one of those zones will not be able to access any of the other zones without separate authorization.

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multifactor authentication (MFA), or strong authentication, is a key component to achieving Zero Trust. It adds a layer of security to access a network, application or database by requiring additional factors to prove the identity of users. MFA combines two or more independent credentials: what the user knows, such as a password; what the user has, such as a security token; and what the user is, by using biometric verification methods.

The goal of MFA is to create a layered defence that makes it more difficult for an unauthorized person to access a target, such as a physical location, computing device, network or database. If one factor is compromised or broken, the attacker still has at least one or more barriers to breach before successfully breaking into the target.

Implementing the five principles of zero trust listed above will enable organizations to take full advantage of this security model. A continuous process model must be followed that cycles though each principle – then it starts over again. The zero-trust model also must continually evolve to accommodate how business processes, goals, technologies and threats change.

For more information about Zero Trust, watch the video below:

PATECCO Success Story – Integration of IBM Verify into Service Now

Last week, on the 6th of October 2021, PATECCO team had the opportunity to present one of its success stories at IBM Security Ecosystem Summit EMEA, with a focus on Zero Trust and Threat Management, Data and Identity. To increase the awareness for the interested ones, we wrote a summarised version of the story about the Integration of IBM Verify into Service Now.

Current Challenges in IT Infrastructures

Nowadays the complexity of multiple service management interfaces is constantly increasing. Such a complex interface can disorient the users in a mild case and completely alienate them in an extreme case. A lot of training is required to master all user interfaces, but that takes time, resources, and money. It’s also clear that companies spend quite a lot of time on redundant, manual tasks that can be automated. If you really want to take your business to the next level, you should think of investing in business workflow automation software.

It’s not an easy task to effectively manage and orchestrate the workflows, that’s why customers need to reduce the amount of different User Interfaces of their IT-Infrastructure The positive result will be increased user experiences, business efficiency, improved service and outcomes.

The concept of workflow automation

Most customers have an ITSM-solution, in most cases this is ServiceNOW. ServiceNow is a cloud-based workflow automation platform that improves operational efficiencies in enterprises by streamlining and automating routine work tasks. What needs to be integrated in the existing clients‘ infrastructures, is a centralized solution, so the workflows and processes should be centralized and automated in these systems.

It’s important to say that Workflow Automation is key to the success of every business. It’s an efficient solution to all those time-consuming and inefficient business processes. When implemented correctly, the workflow automation tool can help you save thousands of work hours every year.

Furthermore, the centralized workflow application allows users to stage and sequence tasks needed to produce the desired output, to minimize operational costs and increase ROI. All these features help to reduce time and improve efficiency. In addition, complete Governance logic is controlled by IBM Verify which is the whole controlling mechanism that governs the identities.

The solution

The advantage of utilizing the available ServiceNow integration App for IBM Verify is that the customers don‘t have to develop such integration, they need only to implement, configure and customize it. We utilize ServiceNow as a workflow engine, instead of building the workflows within IBM Verify and we also keep ServiceNow as the central place where we can efficiently build workflows.

Another advantage of the integration between IBM Verify and ServiceNow, is that they could be customized according to customers‘ specification. And for the proper customization of the workflows there needs to be an open and constant communication between all stakeholders. We use this system to make business process easier, more productive, user-friendly and time efficient. So, implementing automated workflows is the best possible way to achieve this goal.          

As a conclusion we can say that Zero Trust and Automation go hand in hand and they are one of the factors that determine the future of the cyber security. An efficient automation platform allows security teams to coordinate multiple technologies, ecosystems and vendor solutions, across on premises and cloud envirnments. It helps to streamline processes and drive efficiencies. It supports the Zero Trust model as it allows organizations to prototype, enforce and eventually update their security policy framework, no matter how big or complex that framework happens to be.

Why Zero Trust Is Important For Your Business?

Organisations today need to estimate the risk associated with each request for access to their critical resources, provided that a great part of these requests come from third party platforms, contractors, and, most important of all, remote workers. In such situation, relying on network centric models carry with them several challenges and expose several vulnerabilities that may be exploited to the detriment of companies.

Deploying a Zero Trust model directly addresses and solves security challenges of this nature, and in the process, also helps in streamlining businesses that are moving towards greater and secure adoption of digital transformation processes. A Zero Trust model moves away from the conventional, network-centric approach that traditional security models have come to rely on, and are instead moving towards a more nuanced approach that focuses on the identity of the users and the applications that only they are allowed to access. By focusing on user and device identity, and not assigning trust to any user by default, a zero trust model ensures a more rational approach to security.

Here, in this article, we have outlined the security and business benefits associated with the adoption of a Zero trust Model.

Why Zero Trust?

Adopting the Zero Trust Networking approach to security can serve well the needs of both corporations and consumers. To truly protect their own and their customer’s data, organizations must not trust any activity that might take place either inside or outside of their networks. Instead, they should verify every request to access their networks to ensure it’s safe.

To make the enterprise IT environment safe, organizations can utilize a number of technologies and protocols. Leveraging these security technologies — including IAM, multi-factor authentication, encryption, analytics, orchestration, scoring and file system permissions – Zero Trust makes it easier for businesses to be more alert about access to information, ensuring data security.

Benefits of Zero Trust for Business and Security

  • Lowers breach potential

Apart from the obvious financial losses, data breaches can also result in an immeasurable impact on customer trust in companies. Both customers and governments are growing increasingly strident in their demands for data privacy and security and it falls upon businesses to meet that obligation in the best possible way. To minimise breach potential, the network using Zero Trust architecture continuously analyses workloads vis-à-vis their intended states. The moment there is a mismatch, its communication privileges are cut off from the rest of the system. It’s a form of practicing automatic distrust by the system until there is adequate course correction as dictated by system policies.

  • Reduces business and organizational risk

Zero trust assumes all applications and services are malicious and are disallowed from communicating until they can be positively verified by their identity attributes—immutable properties of the software or services themselves that meet predefined authentication and authorization requirements. Zero trust, therefore, reduces risk because it uncovers what’s on the network and how those assets are communicating. Further, as baselines are created, a zero trust model reduces risk by eliminating overprovisioned software and services and continuously checking the “credentials” of every communicating asset.

  • Reduce management costs

In addition to centralizing the location of security tools, Zero Trust also reduces expenditures by centralizing security management. In a traditional network, each security control has its own management interface or consoles, so operational, maintenance, and training costs soar. By reducing the number and types of controls, Zero Trust reduces the number of management consoles needed for the network. Security employees spend less time on management and more on substantive security activities.

  • Becomes a partner in digital transformation

In a perimeter-based approach to security, the security team earned a reputation as paranoid custodians because once they allowed access into the corporate perimeter in support of a new cloud service, partner, or customer engagement model, they were opening a door or connection to the entire corporate network. In a Zero Trust network where the security team has segmented apps and data into secure enclaves or microperimeters, security pros can quickly support new services with the appropriate granular privileges and data protection without inhibiting existing business and employee productivity.

  • Ensures greater agility in Business and Operations

A Zero Trust Model offers businesses the flexibility to implement their priorities rapidly throughout the organisations. Once a Zero Trust Model has been implemented, it can allow for easy transition of workforces from on premise to remote locations without the accompanying security challenges that traditional security models often carry with them. Zero Trust Models also allow for easier accessibility of required resources for third party contractors, and allow for secure deployment of company assets on customer sites as well, which allows for easier integration with customer assets, and hence, better security for them.

  • Better control over cloud environment

One of the greatest concerns of security practitioners about moving to and using the cloud, is loss of visibility and access control. Despite an evolution in cloud service provider security, workload security remains a shared responsibility between the CSP and the organization using the cloud. That said, there is only so much an organization can affect inside someone else’s cloud.

With zero trust, security policies are based on the identity of communicating workloads and are tied directly to the workload itself. In this way, security stays as close as possible to the assets that require protection and is not affected by network constructs such as IP addresses, ports, and protocols. As a result, protection remains unchanged even as the environment changes.

The implementation of a Zero Trust Model ensures significant business benefits for businesses. Not only do they ensure better visibility across the network, their focus on a continuous assessment of risk and trust associated with each user, each device, and each access request ensures all round, streamlined security. At the same time, with their scalable on demand, multi cloud flexibility, a Zero Trust Model ensures an enhanced user experience and a smooth transition and operation in the cloud.

What is a Zero Trust Security Model?

Digital transformation and the adoption of hybrid multicloud are changing the way we do business. Users, data and resources are spread across different locations and it is getting more and more challenging to connect them quickly and securely. But focusing primarily on perimeter security and firewalls is no longer enough. That is why organizations start implementing zero trust security solutions to help protect their data and resources by making them accessible only on a limited basis and under the right circumstances.

  • What is Zero Trust and how it works?

Zero Trust is a security model and a coordinated cybersecurity and system management strategy based on an acknowledgement that threats exist both inside and outside traditional network boundaries. Zero trust can be defined under the following approach: “never trust, always verify.” This security approach treats every access attempt as if it originates from an untrusted network — so access will be denied, until trust is demonstrated. Once users and devices have been regarded as trustworthy, zero trust ensures that they have access only to the resources they need, to prevent any unauthorized lateral movement through an environment.

Zero Trust embeds comprehensive security monitoring, granular risk-based access controls and system security automation in a coordinated manner throughout all aspects of the infrastructure in order to focus on protecting critical assets (data) in real-time within a dynamic threat environment. This data-centric security model allows the concept of least-privileged access to be applied for every access decision, allowing or denying access to resources based on the combination of several contextual factors.

Adoption of zero trust can help address common security challenges in the workforce, such as phishing, malware, credential theft, remote access, and device security (BYOD). This is done by securing the three primary factors that make up the workforce: users, their devices, and the applications they access.

  • Identity and Authentication

Identity authentication is the foundation of a zero-trust security strategy. To continuously evaluate access to resources, you must first centralize user management and establish strong authentication processes. In order to track and manage all users across your systems, user identity must be centralized in a user and group directory. Ideally this database system integrates with your HR processes that manage job categorization, usernames, and group memberships for all users. As employees join the company, change roles or responsibilities, or leave the company, these databases should update automatically to reflect those changes. The user and group database acts as the single source of truth to validate all users that need to access your systems.

A single sign-on (SSO) system, or centralized user authentication portal, can validate primary and secondary credentials for users requesting access to any given resource or application. After validating against the user and group directory, the SSO system generates a time-sensitive token to authorize access to specific resources. A centralized user database supporting a single sign-on system is essential. Data in a SaaS application environment must be assumed vulnerable unless access is limited to an endpoint that you control. Once that database is in place, you can introduce an authentication process such as 2FA (two-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication) to harden your system and ensure that the users accessing your applications are who they say they are.

There are several ways to ensure that an employee’s access is restricted to the tools and assets required for their job. The first is granular, role based access and permission levels. These should be defined for each role within your organization, with cross-functional input agreement. Your organization’s appetite for risk and the breadth of access needed to effectively collaborate across teams will determine the level of granularity needed for team and individual role-based access levels. Once these role-based access levels have been defined, you can begin to map out the controls needed for each system and vendor in your organization. While your SSO or identity provider may be able to support some of your access control needs, you may find that not all applications provide the level of granularity needed to limit access in this way. Access controls are an important part of any vendor risk management assessment and integral to the long-term implementation of Zero Trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and has increased the threat landscape, with more targeted attacks on organisations from cybercriminals and nation-state groups. As well as remote work, the Internet of Things (IoT), operational technology (OT), and network-enabled smart devices introduce areas of potential compromise for enterprise networks. In such uncertain times, the best thing companies can do is to implement technology that can be scaled and adapted to meet unpredictable challenges. Beginning to implement the foundational elements of Zero Trust Security is the key to securing your sensitive company data in the midst of the proliferation of cloud applications, devices, and user identities.

For more information about Zero Trust Network Access, watch PATECCO video here: