Measures to protect privileged accounts with Privileged Account Management

Cybercrime has become the most prevalent criminal activity worldwide. Companies must therefore protect their privileged accounts against this ever-growing threat. These are, for example, administrator, service, root or database accounts. Cyber criminals favour such accounts because they allow access to sensitive and business-critical resources. Privileged accounts require particularly effective management and security to protect them.  Privileged Access Management (PAM) is one of the ways to achieve this. That cyber security solution requires that the assets are first identified, before being protected.

This article shows how PAM can effectively protect the privileged accounts against cyber threats.

Where are the privileged accounts?

Access rights apply to all parts of hybrid IT, from the local database administrator or application stewards to external partners, suppliers, application admins or developers, but also to helpdesks or computers and devices in the Internet of Things area. All these populations and privileged accounts are growing as IT expands towards new technologies such as cloud solutions or services managed by external partners

How does PAM help my company?

PAM makes it possible to manage all privileged accounts. All types of privileged accounts are recorded, categorised and automatically integrated into the system. This enables efficient management of privileged accounts and brings benefits within a very short time. PAM also helps with the management of privileged access rights by checking and monitoring the use of privileged access data.

As a result, organisations achieve complete control and accountability over privileged access. PAM solutions enable the management of business secrets and access to sensitive data and privileged credentials used by applications, tools and other non-human identities without compromising the agility of DevOps workflows. Secure privileged account management is easy to implement with a well-planned security strategy. IT departments can protect their privileged accounts with the following five measures:

1. Identify and prioritise privileged accounts

The basis of effective privileged account management is a complete overview of all existing privileged accounts in the company network. This may sound simple and manageable, but for many IT departments it is a major challenge. This is because these accounts are distributed throughout the company’s IT and it is not uncommon for their number to far exceed the number of employees. As complete manual identification is virtually impossible, companies should therefore rely on PAM solutions that automatically

recognise sensitive accounts and provide those responsible with a complete overview of all accounts and the number of all local admin users at all times. In a second step, the accounts should then be prioritised, making it easier to select the appropriate security controls.

2. Password management automation

One of the most effective means of preventing the misuse of administrator accounts and accounts with privileged rights is adequate password protection. This makes it even more important to create, store and change passwords in a secure environment – and to do so regularly. As with account identification, companies should rely on PAM solutions that are based on automation, i.e. that automate password changes according to an individually defined schedule. All connected systems and users are then informed of the changes in real time so that – unlike with conventional password vaults, for example – no manual intervention is required.

3. Least privilege: implementing a minimal assignment of rights

Access rights that are too broad represent a major risk for corporate security – especially when privileged authorisations and accounts are involved. A clear definition of access rights and responsibilities is therefore essential if companies want to maintain a clear security line. It is advisable to categorise accounts into user, service, system and infrastructure accounts and to allocate corresponding access rights according to the principle of minimum rights allocation, also known as the least privilege approach. This means that it is precisely defined who is allowed to access an account and how this access is organised. For example, it must be decided whether an administrator may know a fixed password or whether they must generate a new one before each session. Of course, this allocation must be checked and updated regularly.

4. Monitor privileged sessions

In addition, IT departments should utilise security technologies that provide them with complete transparency of all administrative activities and sessions, making it easier for them to identify unusual and potentially harmful access at an early stage (and before major damage occurs). This is most effectively achieved with solutions that use machine learning technologies and analyse user activities based on individual behaviour patterns and automatically report suspicious access to privileged accounts.

5. Incident response plan in the event of an emergency

In addition, companies should have prepared an incident response plan, which defines specific measures for defence and rapid containment of a cyberattack and ensures that companies do not lose any time in the event of an emergency. If, for example, privileged accounts have been compromised, an incident response plan is particularly important, as traditional protective measures – such as changing passwords or deactivating accounts – are not sufficient in this case and more comprehensive recovery measures must be implemented.

By combining these measures, organizations can significantly enhance the security of privileged accounts and reduce the risk of unauthorized access or misuse of elevated privileges. It’s important to tailor these measures to the specific needs and risk profile of the organization.

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