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Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is one of the most important provisioning strategies for organizations seeking to reduce risk and gain high security return on investment (ROI) in their multi-cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructure. Using the basic concept of the principle of least privilege, the goal of PAM for the cloud is only the minimum access and permissions necessary to perform an operation should be granted to all identities (human or non-human) accessing multi-cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructure. Access should only be granted on demand for a minimum period of time necessary.

PAM combines security tools and technologies with identity access management (IAM) to secure and apply control over the privileged access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and operating systems across an IT environment.

In this context, privilege is the incremental permissions/entitlements or authority a given account has within a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructure system. Privilege allows end users, applications and system processes elevated rights to access specific resources in the organization’s cloud environment.

Privileged accounts have more capabilities and access than non-privileged accounts, which makes them larger risk targets across the cloud infrastructure. Applying PAM can help minimize companies attack surfaces and prevent or manage damage from external and internal attacks.

There can be a number of privileged accounts in an organization. Remember, privileged accounts have elevated access to resources across an organization’s cloud infrastructure. Privileged accounts include local administrative, privileged user accounts, domain administrative, emergency accounts, service accounts, active directory, admin accounts and application accounts.

Privileged Account Risks

  • Managing multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments can often lead to privilege creep – the concept that a lot of identities have access to resources that are outdated, or are no longer need to get the day to day job done. If organizations are not keeping track of who have privileged accounts, they are exposing the organization to cyberattacks, data breaches, threats and damage.
  • If privileged access is overly strict, it can frustrate employees and interrupt workflow. Therefore, IT teams tend to give excessive privileges, creating “superusers”. Employees are also gaining new responsibilities resulting in privileges they no longer use or need. This increases the risk of malware or hackers stealing passwords and installing corruptive code. The attacker could use an account’s privileges to access data and launch an attack against other computers within the network.
  • IT teams allow employees to share accounts and passwords for workloads and duties that are commonly shared to make it easier to set up. Shared accounts and passwords make it difficult for auditing and managing end users individually, and to pin down suspicious activity and security breaches.
  • Privileged credentials are needed to manage access control for applications, network devices, systems and IoT devices. The problem is that they are usually deployed as embedded credentials or employees plug in passwords, in text, within a code, file or script.
  • Companies have many accounts and systems they need managed. IT teams often take shortcuts by re-using qualifications across accounts. This can compromise security of all accounts sharing qualifications and can form an inconsistent security control of privileged accounts.
  • Applications and service accounts automatically execute privileged processes to communicate with other services and resources and perform actions. The automatic aspect leads to accounts owning more than needed access rights, which in turn poses security issues.
  • Many cloud infrastructure platforms are used in a company. IT teams have to manage and maintain each making the job inconsistent for the IT techs and users. Managing multiple platforms increases cyber risk.
  • Cloud and virtualization administrator consoles provide an unlimited amount of capabilities where end users can manage a multitude of cloud resources with their own privileges and privileged accounts. Companies need the right security to manage privileged accounts at a massive scale.

Identity access management

Potential Security Risks via Privileges

Poor privileged account management can lead to catastrophic damage in an organization’s multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environment.

Insiders are often a bigger threat than external hackers because they already are within an enterprise’s perimeters. Since insiders with user access are employees or trusted contractors, they usually know where sensitive data lies. Malicious insiders can inflict extensive damage on a company’s cloud infrastructure because of the level of trust they have by default. It is also harder to catch an insider if they start with a privileged account.

Phishing attacks are common attack methods for external threats. Insiders and on-premises users will be tricked into entering their usernames and passwords on a fake website, exposing access into cloud resources for an unauthorized identity, jeopardizing critical assets.

Although audit trails, monitoring and analyzing logs can identify suspicious activity, these credentials successfully bypass perimeter security and complicate detection. With privileged access credentials, intruders can gain administrative access to devices and systems of an entire enterprise, creating a major cybersecurity risk.

Benefits of Privileged Access Management

  • The more privileges a user or account has the more potential for external and internal attacks within a company’s cloud infrastructure.
  • Implementing Privileged Access Management with a focus on the least privilege principle is critical for all organizations leveraging multi-cloud or hybrid cloud infrastructure.
  • Limiting privileges to users and accounts, as well as the time they have to access resources, condenses the attack surface and protects against external and internal threats.
  • Did you know malware needs elevated privileges to install? Using the least privilege method with only the minimum access necessary to perform a task we can prevent malware installation.
  • Another benefit of Privilege Management is enhanced operational performance by restricting privileges to a minimal range of processes to perform an authorized activity.
  • Privileged Access Management can also increase regulatory compliance by restraining the privileged activities that can be performed.

IAM and the Principle of Least Privilege

PAM Best Practices for Cloud Infrastructure

PAM is a great method to assign, manage and monitor the growth of privileged access permissions across cloud infrastructure. Let’s look at some best practices of PAM strategies that will help organizations gain control over privileged access and identity management.

Identity and Access Management Functionality

  1. First you want to enforce and establish a detailed privilege management policy. The policy would govern how privileged accesses are given and taken away. The policy would also have records of privileged access inventory.
  2. Identify all privileged accounts and credentials and place in a password vault under management.
  3. Enforce least privilege over users, endpoints, systems, services, applications and accounts. To accomplish this you will need to remove all administrator rights on endpoints and give employees standard privileges. Only will they get privileged access to perform specific tasks for the time necessary to complete. You will also remove all administrator rights to servers and demote everyone to a standard user. Providing privileged access on an as-needed basis will reduce a company’s attack surface and protect top priority assets. Apply the least privilege principle across all security strategies to remove unnecessary privileges and enforce minimum access and time.
  4. An important best practice of the PAM solution is separating privileges like administrative accounts from standard account requirements or system functions. After that separate duties where each privileged account has privileges to perform specific tasks.
  5. Segment systems and networks to separate users and processes based on different privileged sessions – levels of trust, needs and privilege sets.
  6. Password management is a key aspect to securing data. Manage passwords like a library does with books where all credentials are tracked and can be checked out until the authorized activity is completed and then privileged credentials are checked back in and revoked.
  • Creating strong passwords and rotating them is recommended.
  • Implement one time use passwords for sensitive accounts.
  • Password sharing should also be avoided.
  • It is also good to remove embedded passwords in code.
  1. Monitor and audit privileged activity.
  2. Apply vulnerability and threat data about users or assets to decide on Privileged Access.
  3. Implement privileged threat/ user analytics to easily track risks to a company’s security cloud infrastructure.


Solutions for Effective PAM for Cloud Infrastructure

The challenges for effective PAM for critical systems in the cloud are daunting, but CloudKnox can help. With the only multi-cloud permissions management platform that enables the automated enforcement of least privilege policies at cloud scale, organizations can save a tremendous amount of overhead and neutralize the risks of privilege creep.

The CloudKnox Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) platform:

  • Collects the privileges and activity data of all unique identities that can touch the cloud infrastructure from each platform
  • Provides a three dimensional view of all your machine and human identities, their privileges and the resources they have accessed

The CloudKnox cloud security platform continuously monitors, assesses, adapts and responds to risks as needed in real-time, effectively treating least privilege as a continuous improvement process.