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Businesses failing to secure privileged accounts

Thor Olavsrud | July 26, 2016
A new benchmark survey finds that more than half of organizations have a failing grade when it comes to securing privileged accounts that can give attackers access to their entire networks.

privileged accounts

Most companies fail to secure the "keys to the kingdom," according to a new benchmark survey .

Last week, privileged account management (PAM) specialist Thycotic and research firm Cybersecurity Ventures released their 2016 State of Privileged Account Management security report, based on the responses of more than 500 IT security professionals who have participated in the Privileged Password Vulnerability Benchmark survey to date.

High priority, low compliance

While 80 percent of respondents indicated PAM security is a high priority for their organizations, and 60 percent said PAM security is required to demonstrate compliance with government regulations, 52 percent of participants received a failing grade on enforcement of proper privileged credential controls.

A big part of the problem, says Joseph Carson, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) responsible for EMEA Product Marketing and Global Strategic Alliances for Thycotic, is that the number of devices and systems with privileged credentials within the enterprise is expanding at a rapid rate. But 66 percent of organizations still rely on manual methods, like Excel spreadsheets, to manage privileged accounts.

"The large amount of devices that we're getting is so quickly accelerating that organizations are struggling to do the simple fundamentals," he says. "Every piece of networking equipment, switches, Internet of Things devices — and organizations are doing things manually. If they're not managing it, they're leaving it as the default setting."

Privileged accounts mean machines, too

Organizations have a tendency to think of privileged accounts in terms of the people who are using them. But privileged accounts are also extended to machines and systems to allow them to interact.

"Sometimes it's two to five times the number of systems that an organization has," Carson says. "If an organization has 1,000 systems, typically they have 2,000 to 5,000 privileged accounts. Every system that gets deployed comes with a default account."

They also get connected to service accounts to maintain the systems. Each virtual machine that gets deployed also receives privileges that frequently don't expire when the machine they're associated with get spun down. And if the VM is cloned those privileges get cloned along with them. The end result is that organizations typically have many rogue privileged accounts with access to their environment.

The benchmark survey found that 20 percent of organizations have never changed their default passwords on privileged accounts. Other failures to secure privileged accounts include the following:

  • 30 percent of organizations still allow accounts and passwords to be shared.
  • 40 percent of organizations use the same security for privileged accounts as standard accounts.
  • 70 percent of organizations do not require approvals for creating new privileged accounts.
  • 50 percent of organizations do not audit privileged account activity.


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