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Least Privilege Legacy Apps and the Desktop “Wild West”: Part 2

Posted January 27, 2011    Peter McCalister

This week we report the conclusions of our recent survey of 185 IT Administrators and Help Desk Operatives, in a report Legacy Applications and Least Privilege Access Management’  which reveals the way legacy apps leave Windows desktop environments unnecessarily exposed to attack from malware, as well as providing an open door to insider threats.

Our main focus was to discover which legacy apps which require users to be granted either administrator or Power User status to run, were most prevalent.  The results were revealing:

Looking closer at the data, we found that it was in larger organizations with more than 2500 active desktops, it was in-house bespoke applications (51% of respondents), and a range of ‘other legacy apps’ (40%) which force IT Admins to elevate privileges to Administrator or Super User status.

However, in organizations with fewer than 2500 active desktops, it was the popular payroll software suite, Intuit QuickBooks (33% of respondents), and again ‘other legacy apps’ (50%) which most often forced IT Administrators to elevate network access privileges to the more risky Administrator or Super User status.

Survey respondents were invited to name which legacy app they were nominating when selecting ‘Other,’ revealing over 50 different apps that were nominated (which we’ll reveal more about in later posts), with a number citing ‘too many to mention.’

This offers a revealing insight into the state of desktops today – i.e. they are littered with applications, each requiring different configuration settings for different users, making effective access management practically impossible.

What we can conclude from this, is that while the legacy app may be different, the experience of all IT Administrators and Help Desk Operatives is uniform.  Legacy applications make their lives difficult and consume a disproportionate amount of their time, regardless of the size of the organization.

This points to the ubiquity of Windows and its inherent problems in elevating privileged access based on company policy rather than the requirements of individual applications.

Fortunately, the fault is not the legacy applications.  Business need not give up the applications they need to run business as usual.  The fault is the lack of awareness of just how easy it is to automate the elevation of privilege user access at a granular level, based on the role definition of each employee.

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