April 8, 2022

You’re Better Without Permanent Access. Here’s Why.

Getting rid of permanent access helps your organization boost efficiency, cut costs, and better protect against cybersecurity threats. It also eliminates a big annoyance: password and key rotation. Here’s how it all works.

Since our beginning, as the creators of the Secure Shell Protocol, SSH has continued to pioneer the evolution of cybersecurity. Over the past 25 years, we’ve had the pleasure of helping encrypt critical IT infrastructures and improve privileged access management for companies across the globe.

Our company name pays homage to our history, but SSH is continuously evolving to meet the latest cybersecurity requirements. And today, we see a need for a new method of password and SSH key management — one that is more efficient, less costly, future-proof, and fool-proof. 

SSH coined the term “Better Without” to refer to a temporary access solution that, unlike existing permanent access solutions, entirely eliminates the need for passwords, keys, and other permanent credentials. 

But why is permanent access such a problem for enterprises? 

What is Permanent Access?

To put it simply, permanent access refers to access that is granted indefinitely. It does not expire and must be manually revoked. 

In a sufficiently secure environment, privileged users are only granted permanent access if they require continuous or repeated access to certain documents, databases, or network devices. But in reality, permanent access is often granted to employees who only need access for a short period of time. 

On average, every employee has access to 11 million files — and for every unnecessary instance of access, a vulnerability exists. 

Permanent access can be problematic for enterprises, especially large organizations with potentially thousands of credentials. It is notoriously difficult to manage such a significant number of keys and passwords, and unmanaged credentials can pose a considerable security risk. Moreover, since permanent access rights do not automatically expire, unmanaged permanent access credentials can quickly accumulate. 

What’s the Problem with Permanent Access?

According to Forrester Wave, 80% of data breaches begin with the misuse of privileged credentials. Moreover, Kaspersky has found that 90% of cyberattacks are caused by human error

Permanent access plays a key role in making these statistics a reality.

Difficult and costly management

Managing permanent access can be complex, time-consuming, and very expensive. In large organizations, potentially thousands of employees will need to have their permanent access credentials manually managed. This typically involves deleting accounts when necessary and updating credentials — repetitive and menial tasks for your IT specialists. 

We have calculated that a customer’s cost of managing their SSH keys with in-house tools and personnel averages at upwards of three million dollars per year.

Continuous vulnerability

All credentials can be copied or shared, including permanent access credentials. In fact, according to Kaspersky, 90% of all cyberattacks are successfully executed with information stolen from employees who unwittingly give away their system ID and access credentials to hackers. Often, this is a result of a hacker impersonating another staff member and requesting credentials. The ability to share credentials with so little oversight means that these instances are more common than many organizations realize. 

By nature of being indefinite and requiring manual management, permanent access is a continuous source of vulnerability. 

Forgetting to remove collaborators 

When not closely managed and revoked appropriately, individuals who have previously been granted access to a target can slip through the cracks and continue to have access long after it is necessary. 

Failure to remove accounts when appropriate can put the entire company at risk. This risk might manifest as a disgruntled employee, untrained staff member, or someone who has left to work for a competitor. Each of these individuals could be responsible for confidential or critical information being accessed, compromised, or exploited. 

Ample opportunity for error

Whenever permanent credentials pass through human hands, there is a significant chance of human error occurring. Errors might include failure to update or remove access, or the sharing and copying of credentials. 

But in addition to the ample opportunity for manual mistakes, organizations also face the risk of failed compliance. Permanent access credentials must be manually modified to comply with changing data laws or company policy changes. This is time-consuming and extremely difficult to manage at scale. 

Rotation is detrimental to security

Password rotation is an age-old security practice that has been seen as necessary. That is changing. It turns out that these practices lead to users creating easy-to-guess passwords that are often composed of sequential letters and numbers. 

This is why Microsoft doesn’t recommend password rotations or character compositions:

“Don't require mandatory periodic password resets for user accounts”

“Don't require character composition requirements. For example, *&(^%$”

The US Government is following suit. In their memorandum — called Moving the U.S. Government Toward Zero Trust Cybersecurity Principles — the government advises their agencies to move away from password rotation and requiring special characters.

“[...] agencies must remove password policies that require special characters and regular password rotation from all systems within one year of the issuance of this memorandum. These requirements have long been known to lead to weaker passwords in real-world use and should not be employed by the Federal Government.”

How Have Companies Tried to Solve the Permanent Access Challenge?

In the past, companies have attempted to resolve the issues associated with permanent access through manual interventions such as:

  • Enforcing passwords on issued keys
  • Rotating passwords, keys, and credentials to invalidate old ones
  • Identifying users behind certain keys and passwords
  • Restricting or preventing the sharing of credentials 

These methods require you to regularly sift through thousands of servers to make the appropriate modifications, which requires a significant amount of time and resources, even when point solutions are being leveraged. 

For many companies, the time, money, and effort required to manage their permanent access problem is simply too great. Some even choose to ignore the problem, which exacerbates it further. This leads to keys and passwords being shared, policies being violated, and rogue keys accumulating in your IT environment — all of which pose massive cybersecurity threats.

Fortunately, there’s a better way.

Introducing Your New Permanent Solution: Temporary Access

Enterprise key management solutions can help you manage the challenges associated with permanent access, but the fact remains that managing passwords, keys, and credentials at scale is a complicated operation.

SSH offers a solution in the form of our Universal Key Manager (UKM). This tool was designed specifically for companies hoping to more effectively manage their long-standing permanent credentials. But as the creators of innovative technologies like the SSH protocol, it’s in our DNA to look ahead and forge new paths in cybersecurity. That’s why we decided to take enterprise key management to the next level and launch UKM Zero Trust — a temporary access solution that allows you to migrate towards a fully passwordless environment at a pace that suits you.

There are three simple steps involved with SSH temporary access, which are as follows:

  1. Instead of using permanent access credentials, UKM Zero Trust issues a temporary access token called a just-in-time (JIT) certificate. JIT certificates contain all the secrets necessary to establish a connection, like the private key itself — however, they are completely invisible to the privileged user. 
  2. The user is authenticated using possession factors (something the end-user “has” like a phone, email account, or magic link) or inherent factors (something the end-user “is” like a fingerprint, eye or facial scan) instead of a password, SSH key, or other knowledge-based credential.
  3. Once the user is authenticated, the certificate expires automatically and access is automatically revoked. Everything disappears without a trace — no permanent credentials left to manage, rotate, or revoke!

With UKM Zero Trust, you can feel confident in the safety of your data, your end-users, and your company. 

The Perks of Saying Goodbye to Permanent Access

There are many benefits to going passwordless and leaving permanent access behind. Here are just a few:

Convenience of use

Keeping track of permanent credentials is incredibly challenging. By completely removing permanent access credentials from the equation, there’s no need to waste time and energy creating, deleting, updating, and managing permanent credentials. 

Lower storage and support costs

When you eradicate permanent access, you eliminate the need to store large amounts of permanent credentials. Think of all the time, resources, and processing power you’ll get back when you don’t have to store or manage potentially thousands of permanent credentials. 

Reduce complexity

Without permanent access credentials, your environment will be cleaner and simpler to use. Not only does this reduce points of failure associated with the system’s complexity, but it also removes access bottlenecks from your environment and can even boost your team’s productivity.

Streamline operations

Once you begin using passwordless authentication, your end-users will no longer need to recall, store, or enter their credentials into disparate systems — or worse, forget their credentials and go on long digital journeys to find them. Instead, users can be granted secure access quickly and easily. This will help your teams work faster and with fewer interruptions.

Minimize security and compliance risks

Less permanent credential management means less room for human error — eliminating the risks associated with weak passwords, poor SSH key management, and credential sharing. This reduces compliance and security concerns, enabling you to effectively prevent and respond to cyberattacks.

Demonstrate your dedication to security

Companies that eliminate the need for permanent access demonstrate a commitment to innovative, forward-thinking cybersecurity approaches like passwordless authentication. This positively reflects on your brand and prepares your organization for the future.

Go passwordless at your own pace

With UKM Zero Trust, it’s easy to gradually onboard a passwordless approach to your existing permanent access environment. With no modifications required post-deployment, you can benefit from a fully immutable infrastructure that promotes consistency and reliability.

Choose UKM Zero Trust 

With UKM Zero Trust, you can remove the risks and challenges associated with permanent access and leverage a better, future-proof approach to privileged access management. 

Key features of UKM Zero Trust include:

  • Reduce the number of static permanent credentials, passwords, and keys
  • Ensure internal and external end-users don’t come in contact with private keys
  • Link access back to identified users or machines
  • Shrink your attack surface and minimize policy-violating credentials
  • Gain full visibility into credentials on a centralized key access estate
  • Avoid unwanted modifications with just enough access (JEA)
  • Increase simplicity and efficiency of SSH key and password management
  • Cut down on total costs by reducing time, money, and resources

Learn more about how UKM Zero Trust can help you keep pace with the future of cybersecurity.

Tag(s): Tectia SSH , SSH

Jani Virkkula

Currently employed by SSH.COM as Product Marketing Manager, Jani is a mixed-marketing artist with a strong background in operator and cybersecurity businesses. His career path of translator->-tech writer -> marketer allows him to draw inspiration from different sources and gives him a unique perspective on all types...

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