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Privileged Accounts are Pervasive and Problematic

Posted December 13, 2010    Peter McCalister

If someone is walking around your organization with t-shirt that says “Bow before me, for I am root.,” then you will have a big problem on your hands when the auditors come around or if a hacker decides to target your company for theft or cyber sabotage.

How pervasive are privileged accounts in your organization?  Just start with anentitlements audit.  Request your Information Technology department, or outsourced provider, generate a report of every user’s access status (i.e. entitlement credentials) across servers, desktops, network devices, virtual servers and cloud applications.  Once you have this, just add up how many times you see “root, ” “superuser,” “administrator,” “su,” “suid” or any other credential with superuser/administrator-level privileges.  If your organization is like most others, you will discover there is at least one account which is shared across IT admins for each server and network device. You may also discover there is one admin to 5-10 servers with this level of privilege.  If you use MS Windows in the standard configuration, then every desktop user will also have administrator level access to their desktop or laptop computer. Now that’s pervasive!

How problematic are privileged accounts in your organization?  Just ask any hacker what their number one target is for any attempt at infiltration. The answer will come back as “harvesting admin credentials for direct access to the resource desired.”  Check out this story in Forbes for one example of what happened at the University of Central Missouri, or this story in the Wall Street Journal to see what happened at Goldman Sachs.

How do you protect privileged accounts in your organization?  The short answer is to eliminate all admin rights across servers, desktops, networks devices, virtual servers and cloud environments.  You can do this by implementing a privileged identity management solution.  Check out this white paper to learn how.

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