Privileged account management (PAM) is the process of managing and auditing user accounts that have more access privileges than a standard user. Typically, these accounts incorporate IT administrator accounts, service accounts and domain accounts.
Broadly speaking, PAM works on the assumption of least privilege, whereby users are only given access to the data and resources they need to perform their duties – and nothing more. This means that only a handful of users – the privileged accounts – should have access to sensitive data and company-wide infrastructure.
While this limitation helps reduce the risks of data breaches, privileged accounts must still be audited regularly to ensure that privileged users are following company policy and that no accounts have been compromised.
What are the risks around privileged accounts?
We only need to look to recent data breaches to see the risks surrounding credential compromise. Forrester believes that over 80% of enterprise data breaches directly result from compromised privileged accounts.
Poor account management has significant risks but is also very common. Passwords are like the gatekeepers to company data, infrastructure and applications. Often, these passwords are generic and easy to guess. It takes just one compromised password for a cybercriminal to breach your company’s systems and steal your assets.
To manage this risk, you need to audit your privileged accounts. However, PAM can often be a cumbersome and complex process. Auditing can be paper-intensive and unreliable. Moreover, organizations must walk a fine line between protecting sensitive data and ensuring their administrators are productive.
How to effectively audit privileged accounts without compromising employee productivity
The good news is that there is a way to audit privileged accounts without sacrificing the user experience. Here’s how to do it:
Create a Live Inventory of Privileged Accounts
You can’t monitor your privileged accounts if you don’t know who has access to what. To that end, the PAM process starts with creating an inventory of your privileged accounts. It would be best if you documented all of your privileged users, including details of their permissions and the data they have access to.
This document shouldn’t gather dust either – it needs to be a live piece of work that you regularly review to ensure it is up to date. This will help you to accurately manage privileged users as their roles change.
In the event that a user needs additional privileges for a project, you should put in place a documented procedure to record the process. The user’s privileges should only be elevated for the time period needed to perform their task, and their permissions should be returned to normal as soon as possible.
Educate Your Users
Give your employees the guidance they need to use their accounts correctly. You should inform them of corporate policies and expectations around account usage. This guidance should include expectations such as prohibiting administrators from sharing their account credentials with other users. You should also ensure that your administrators use strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication.
Record Privileged User Activity
Rogue employees and compromised credentials are a real danger when it comes to privileged accounts. While we all hope that our employees will never abuse their privileges but relying on their goodwill isn’t enough. You need to have a monitoring system to ensure that privileged users use their accounts responsibly.
Solutions exist to automate this process, eliminating the lengthy time lost to manual reviews. We recommend speaking with a certified technician, who can talk you through your options for automating privileged account usage.
The solution you go for should automatically detect suspicious user behavior and log user actions over time so that you get a clear, accurate picture of how your privileged users are behaving – and can stop a breach before it happens.
Create Alerts for Suspicious User Behavior
A good PAM solution doesn’t just detect suspicious behavior, it flags it to your IT person or outsourced IT team so that they can take action. Suspicious behavior could be, for example, a privileged user logging on from a new location or a user downloading a large number of sensitive files. This could indicate that a hacker has compromised an account.
The best-in-breed of these auditing systems will block risky behavior before it happens or ask for additional verification from the user to ensure they are who they say they are. These types of solutions provide top-level security without compromising the user experience for your administrators.
We’ll do the audit, so you can get back to doing what you do best!
We can help you to reduce risk and streamline user privileges. Pro Tech Guy can help your Framingham or Natick company with a PAM audit to identify and address any weaknesses.
Contact us today to learn more. Call 508-364-8189 or reach us online.