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Security In Context

Bringing you news and commentary on solutions and strategies for protecting your critical IT infrastructure.

Do You Sudo? SHOULD You Sudo?

Post by Peter McCalister March 14, 2011

Chances are, if your organization utilizes Unix and Linux servers, your IT staff uses sudo. After all, sudo ships free with virtually all versions and flavors of Linux and Unix and has long been a favorite tool for administrators to define what commands OS users can execute as root, without actually disclosing the root password.

But where the typical sudo implementation excels in convenience, cost, and quick deployment, it falls remarkably short in security and compliance. The very benefits sudo offers actually discourage the development and rollout of a disciplined, well-thought-out privileges management program. For example, sudoer files, which contain user privilege information, can be readily created or modified by any admin with root access and are rarely centrally managed or controlled.

Let’s face it: the insider threat is real. Verizon’s latest security study (2010 Data Breach Investigations Report), conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Secret Service, asserts that 48% of corporate breaches are invoked from the inside. Most companies are highly cognizant of the potential threat insiders pose – through accidental, indirect, or intentional activity – to their mission-critical business applications such as ERP systems. Given inappropriate access privileges, users can commit fraud in any number of ways; segregation of duties is a priority and is routinely tested and verified.

So why aren’t the same safety precautions taken with IT organizations, which more often than not have access to the same mission-critical corporate assets, but at the server OS level? In many cases, it’s because sudo is embraced by IT personnel and their assurance that data security is being maintained at this level is readily accepted. In fact, the companies that put security policies in place at the server level are often the first ones to recognize the need to replace sudo with commercial privileged identity management solutions, as sudo deployment can get out of control quickly and proving compliance is difficult and heavily labor-intensive.

So if you decide to peek under the covers of your company’s sudo deployment, what you may find may be unsettling. But in the interest of protecting your corporate assets, it may be time to do just that.

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