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Privileged Access Management Best Practices

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is critical in safeguarding an organization's sensitive data and systems. With cybercriminals becoming more sophisticated, managing and monitoring privileged accounts is no longer optional but a necessity.

This post explores the best practices in PAM that businesses should adopt to enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect their most valuable assets.

Understanding Privileged Access Management Best Practices

Privileged Access Management is a cornerstone of a robust cybersecurity strategy, focusing on the special requirements of managing privileged accounts that hold higher access within an organization. These accounts are often targeted by attackers due to the unrestricted access they can provide to an organization's most sensitive data and critical infrastructure. Implementing best practices in PAM is essential to minimize risks and ensure that the access to these accounts is secure and compliant with regulatory standards.

A comprehensive PAM strategy should include rigorous access controls, real-time monitoring, and regular auditing to track and manage privileged access effectively.

1. Developing a Formal Strategy for Privileged Access Management

Establish Baseline Security Controls

Baseline security controls are the minimum security measures that every organization should implement. These include multi-factor authentication, password policies, and the encryption of sensitive data. By setting these controls, organizations can ensure that privileged accounts are not easily exploited by attackers and that access to critical systems is monitored and managed effectively.

Identify Critical Assets and Access Points

An effective PAM strategy requires a clear understanding of the organization's critical assets and access points. Identifying which systems contain sensitive data, as well as who has access to these systems, is crucial. This knowledge enables organizations to prioritize their security efforts and apply stricter controls where they are most needed.

2. Changing Default Usernames and Passwords

One of the most straightforward yet overlooked aspects of privileged access management is the practice of changing default usernames and passwords. Default credentials are a common entry point for attackers, as they are often publicly known or easily guessable. Ensuring that all default credentials are changed before deploying systems and software is a simple step that can significantly bolster an organization's security.

It is crucial to replace these defaults with strong, unique passwords and to manage them securely. This may involve using a password manager or a privileged access management solution that can store and manage credentials securely, rotate them regularly, and ensure that they are only accessible to authorized users.

3. Managing Shared Accounts in Privileged Access Management

Shared accounts, while convenient for collaborative work environments, present a significant security risk. These accounts, often used by multiple individuals, can make it difficult to track individual user activities and pinpoint responsibility in the event of a security breach. Therefore, managing shared accounts effectively is a critical component of PAM best practices.

To mitigate the risks associated with shared accounts, organizations should aim to minimize their use and instead assign individual accounts wherever possible. When shared accounts are necessary, strict controls should be in place. These include setting up unique login credentials for each user, even when accessing a shared account, and implementing robust auditing measures to monitor and log all activity.

Furthermore, the use of shared accounts should be coupled with comprehensive access controls, such as time-of-day restrictions and location-based access permissions. This ensures that shared accounts are only used under specific, controlled conditions, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access and providing a clear audit trail.

4. Building Techniques to Monitor Privileged Activity

Utilize Advanced Monitoring Tools

Advanced monitoring tools are essential for keeping an eye on privileged account access and activity. These tools can provide real-time alerts on suspicious activities, such as unauthorized access attempts or changes to critical system configurations. By leveraging technologies that offer dynamic access management and logging, organizations can detect and respond to threats more rapidly.

Review Access Logs Regularly

Regular review of access logs is another best practice that should not be overlooked. Access logs contain valuable information about who accessed what, when, and from where. Auditing these logs can reveal patterns that may indicate misuse of privileged accounts or attempted security breaches. It is important for organizations to have a structured process for reviewing these logs and to conduct the reviews on a consistent basis.

5. Implementing Least Privilege Across the Internal Landscape

Restrict Access to Vital Systems

To implement the least privilege effectively, organizations must first identify their most vital systems and data. Once these are pinpointed, access can be restricted to only those individuals who require it for their specific roles. This not only secures sensitive information but also simplifies the management of user permissions.

Automate Privilege Elevation Processes

Automating the process of privilege elevation can provide users with temporary access to elevated privileges when needed, without granting them permanent rights that exceed their normal duties. This automation can be based on predefined policies that consider the context of the access request, such as the user's role, location, and the time of the request. By automating this process, organizations can maintain tight control over their privileged accounts while still providing the flexibility required for users to perform their tasks efficiently.

6. Establishing Protocols for Regular Review and Updates in PAM

Schedule Periodic Access Reviews

Periodic access reviews are crucial to ensure that the right people have the appropriate level of access. These reviews help identify any discrepancies or outdated permissions that may have arisen due to changes in job roles or employment status. By scheduling and conducting these reviews regularly, organizations can keep their access privileges up-to-date and secure.

Update Security Policies to Reflect Current Threats

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, and so too should an organization's security policies. Regular updates to these policies are necessary to reflect the latest threats and incorporate new cybersecurity solutions and best practices. This includes revising password policies, access control measures, and response plans to ensure they remain effective against the latest security challenges.

7. Privileged Access Management For Cloud Environments

In cloud environments, the dynamic and scalable nature of resources necessitates a flexible and responsive PAM approach. Best practices in this context include the use of cloud-native PAM solutions that can automatically adjust permissions based on real-time demands. These solutions should integrate seamlessly with other cloud services and provide centralized management of access across various cloud platforms.

Additionally, the adoption of zero trust principles is particularly important in cloud environments. By never assuming trust and always verifying every access request, organizations can effectively minimize their attack surface and protect against both external and internal threats.

When managing privileged access in cloud environments, it is also crucial to consider the shared responsibility model, which delineates the security obligations of the cloud provider and the customer.

PrivX™ Hybrid PAM Solution by SSH

If you want to employ a PAM solution that's been backed by all the great practices, consider choosing PrivX™ Hybrid PAM Solution by SSH. The PrivX™ solution is designed to streamline access management without compromising security, ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to critical systems and data. It operates on a zero-trust model, where trust is never assumed and verification is always required, regardless of the user’s location or device. This approach not only enhances security but also improves the user experience by facilitating seamless access through just-in-time provisioning and on-demand privileged access.