Privileged accounts are the root of most threat vectors. So, it’s critical to take proper precautions to prevent catastrophic breaches. However, it often takes extra time and effort to fully recognize and mitigate Privileged Access Management security risks that put your organization at risk.
What are Privileged Access Management security risks organizations should be aware of?
Unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems
Any user in an organization has the potential to become a privileged user/a primary target for cybercriminals. General users often have access to confidential or sensitive information, such as sales, financial and other proprietary organization data. They also can provide access to internal systems that can be exploited using various hacking tools. The end result can be extreme damage to your company, from your internal operations all the way to your reputation in the eyes of your current and potential customers.
One of the Privileged Access Management security risks that organizations often overlook is that not all bad actors are outside the company. Malicious insiders with privileged account credentials can pose a serious threat to your organization since they already have the access they need to wipe out databases, misconfigure core devices and install malware on critical systems. Since privilege misuse is the third most prevalent cause of data breaches, it’s critical to utilize tools, such as advanced behavioral monitoring, to detect insider threats so you can respond quickly and prevent data loss.
Privileged Access Misuse
Despite the risks of allowing users to have constant privileged access, many admins use their higher-level accounts for daily tasks. Additionally, users with static, highly privileged accounts can grant elevated access to other users. With both of these habits in play, the number of users with high-standing privileges can quickly expand beyond reasonable sizes if they’re not monitored closely. That high level of access for daily tasks for that many users is not necessary and opens your organization up to increased risk. Hackers love taking advantage of locally cached and stored credentials. If the credentials they get ahold of are those of a highly privileged admin, they’ve hit the jackpot. And if the admin has a habit of using those same credentials for every single task, your organization’s cybersecurity teams won’t be able to identify suspicious account behavior when the hacker goes poking around using that account. If users’ access is kept to the bare minimum except when increased privileges are necessary to get a job done, this unnecessary vulnerability can be avoided.
Users with static credentials, or credentials that are rarely or never changed, are easy pickings for hackers. That’s why they’re such a huge PAM security risk. Just-In-Time Privilege issues temporary permissions to users on an as-needed basis or for a limited amount of time, minimizing the risks that come with weak credentials.
Lack of Visibility
There are so many Privileged Access Management security risks out there because organizations often lack the visibility needed to identify and manage which users need what access properly. Without proper visibility, IT teams have little to no idea of who needs privileged access and/or when privileged accounts become orphaned when someone leaves the company or gets new credentials. A lack of visibility also means that it takes them more time to recognize anomalies and bad behavior, meaning that bad actors with access to elevated credentials have more uninterrupted time to cause damage to your organization.
Lack of Compliance
Of course, when your IT teams can’t properly see who has access to what and when, they can’t properly prove your organization’s compliance during an audit either. Every organization is subjected to regulations and requirements that they need to adhere to. However, many companies are in the habit of patching up audit points when they know an auditor will come calling instead of addressing the bigger picture of their cybersecurity vulnerability. A PAM solution could address both, if your organization is willing to dedicate the time and money to save time, money and security headaches in the long run.
The consequences of not addressing these PAM security risks
If your organization chooses to ignore the various Privileged Access Management security risks and you can’t maintain and prove compliance, you could be facing a number of serious consequences:
- Poor Security
- 70% of data breaches are linked to privileged account abuse, and 61% involve improper credential management. This is even more problematic when you consider the fact that almost 90% of security professionals report that their organization’s users have more privileged access than is necessary to do their work. Not getting a handle on privileged identities leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattacks, plain and simple.
- Business Disruptions
- When a hacker breaches your environment, they often cause a disruption to your business operations, especially in the case of ransomware. While your teams are trying to get your environments back online, daily operations are put on pause, which directly impacts your customers and clients.
- Reputational Harm
- The damage of a data breach doesn’t stop with what the hacker did to your environments. Once customers or media outlets learn about the breach, your organization’s reputation is on the line. The resulting headlines can cause both brand and financial harm.
- Financial Consequences
- Even if your organization doesn’t fall victim to a cyberattack at the expense of poor security, you can still face significant consequences for lack of security during an audit. Today’s compliance frameworks and regulations make non-compliance a costly mistake. Depending on the necessary framework your organization has failed to follow, you could have to pay a wide range of fees and fines for violating regulations. Amounts may vary, but they often fall into the three categories of flat fees, assessed fines and revenue percentages.
- o If you’re especially unlucky with which compliance regulations and frameworks your organization failed to meet, business leaders can quickly find themselves facing imprisonment for their violations.
Best Practices for Mitigating PAM Risks
If you’d rather avoid all the consequences listed above, there are some best practices you can implement:
- Assess privileged accounts based on risk: What accounts are highly privileged? Do they have access to your business’ riskiest processes? These answers can give you a better understanding of your potential vulnerabilities.
- Eliminate orphaned accounts: If you find accounts that you’re not responsible for and can’t figure out where they came from or who owns them, delete them.
- Make users accountable for their credentials: Assign individual accountability for credential use to limit credential sharing.
- Determine which identities should be allowed access to which privileged systems (an Identity Governance and Administration solution can help you here): IGA should easily integrate with PAM to allow admins to quickly and simply add and remove access levels to identities.
- Implement the principle of least privilege and just-in-time elevation for privileged accounts: Ensures each user only has access to what they need to do their jobs and nothing more.
- Separation of duties: Provide users with separate credentials across account types so that they’re not accessing highly privileged sessions with the same credentials they use for daily activities.
- Multi-Factor Authentication: Provides a second check of a user’s identity before granting access to sensitive data.
- Team member training: People follow processes that they understand the benefits and consequences of improper use. Provide training for team members to mitigate potential risks.
- Regularly updated documentation: PAM documentation paired with technical training procedures helps prove compliance.
- Executive sponsorship: The support of the C-suite helps secure the funding and necessary support for PAM implementation. Explain the consequences of what can happen when Privileged Access Management is not properly in place.
- Periodic reviews: Periodic reviews of PAM programs ensure that they’re working as expected and can reveal if they can be further optimized.
The number of Privileged Access Management security risks organizations face make privileged accounts one of the most important priorities for your organization to address. Without a comprehensive PAM solution and implementation of PAM best practices, you won’t be able to fully manage your privileged accounts, leaving them open to misuse from both internal and external bad actors.