How Can We Reduce Our Risk of Credential Compromise?

In the world of hybrid work, it’s essential to make sure that users with elevated privileged are authenticated and authorized. But this isn’t always straightforward. With employees increasingly logging on remotely, it’s more complicated than ever for businesses to verify the identities of their privileged users. Moreover, with their unfiltered access privileges, it’s challenging for companies to keep track of how these users interact with company data. 

Many organizations turn to privileged account management (PAM) to combat these challenges. PAM is way to evaluate, manage and audit privileged user accounts.

What are privileged user accounts?

Before we dive into the ‘what’ of PAM, let’s first define privileged accounts. These are user accounts with administrative access: they can see, alter and even delete sensitive company data, files and applications. Common examples include IT admins administrator accounts, service accounts, and domain accounts. 

These accounts differ from standard employee accounts, which are much more limited. Standard accounts don’t have the power, permissions, and control of being an admin user.

The cybersecurity risks surrounding privileged accounts

Privileged accounts are a goldmine for hackers. With standard accounts, a cybercriminal won’t cause that much damage quickly. If they can break into a privileged account, though, they could promptly cause disruption and steal sensitive data. In line with this, Forrester estimates that 80% of enterprise data breaches occur because of hacked privileged accounts. 

Unfortunately, privileged account passwords are often easily guessable, making it light work for a malicious actor to break in. As well as this, the advent of LinkedIn has made it easier than ever for criminals to do online research about companies they want to breach. With a bit of detective work, they can find out who your IT administrator is, the cadence of your company email addresses and might even find ready-to-use passwords on the dark web. 

Then, there’s the insider threat: employees who intentionally compromise or steal data. This tends to happen when an employee is about to move to a competitor or has left an organization with bad blood. 

How to better audit privileged accounts

To combat these risks, you need to put a strategy in place to keep track of privileged accounts. This is where PAM becomes essential. However, not all PAM strategies are created equal.

If your process is paper-heavy and time-intensive, you might struggle to keep on top of auditing, making for an ineffective solution.

We advise our clients to digitalize the PAM process so that it’s intuitive and straightforward to keep track of privileged accounts. Here’s how to do it. 

1. Create a directory of your privileged accounts 

To effectively manage your accounts, you need to understand who your privileged users are, what access privileges they have, and how they interact with company resources.

So, the first thing to do is create a directory with this data. This document needs to be a work in progress. You should regularly update it according to company changes, new hires and exits. 

In cases where one of your employees need excess privileges for a company project, you should also document this change in access rights in the directory. You should make sure that the person’s privileges are only elevated to what’s necessary, and you should change their permissions back to normal as soon as the task is over. 

2. Educate your people 

We advise putting in place written guidelines detailing how privileged users are expected to use their privileges: this should include do’s and don’ts, such as: 

  • Do set complex passwords
  • Do use multi-factor authentication
  • Do not share your password details with other users 

To complement these guidelines, you might want to consider incorporating regular security training into your employee program – both for privileged users and your employees generally. 

3. Automate privileged user monitoring 

Inventory and training lay the foundations for PAM. You need to proactively monitor how privileged users interact with corporate resources to solidify your program. You should look for evidence of irregular behavior, such as an employee downloading files in the middle of the night or from an unknown location. 

Of course, keeping an eye on these accounts 24/7 is an impossible task for a human – we all need our sleep, evenings and weekends! This is why we recommend automating the process with artificial intelligence. These solutions use data analytics and pattern recognition to spot risky behavior in real-time. They can then block or flag risky behavior, preventing a data breach from happening. 

Need Help With Privileged Account Management? 

ECN IT Solutions can help your Tucson business put access and authorization policies in place to reduce the risk of account compromise. 

We’re here and ready to talk data security with you! Reach out at 520-355-7553 or through our website.