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5 essentials for privileged access management

By Passportal Blogger

Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for new ways of targeting and infiltrating our most valuable data and systems, and privileged users are the ideal targets. Privileged users hold the proverbial keys to the kingdom, and the abuse of their accounts can have a catastrophic impact on private and public sector organizations alike. If a cybercriminal manages to exploit credentials, they can map IT infrastructure and move from system to system with ease, accessing critical information. 

Managed services providers (MSPs) responsible for protecting these credentials are faced with a multitude of threats. The rise of the bring your own device (BYOD) trend continues to create compliance issues, simply because there are so many devices to be monitored. MSPs must also focus not only on preventing external threats, but internal and insider threats as well.

Fortunately, identity management and privileged access management systems can help. This article will focus on the latter, which play a crucial part in establishing robust cybersecurity practices. 

What Is privileged access management? 

Privileged access management (PAM), much like identity access management (IAM), includes the following key functions: 

  • Managing passwords across the entire organization
  • Provisioning, deprovisioning, and authenticating user access
  • Defining roles with employee data
  • Supporting multifactor authentication
  • Enabling and limiting access according to system policies

PAM, however, goes one step further than IAM, offering account management capabilities and granular access control. Because they come into contact with more critical systems and confidential information, privileged accounts require greater regulation and more advanced security controls. One of the features of PAM is to enforce the principle of least privilege, which dictates that users only have the minimum amount of access necessary to perform their routine responsibilities. 

There are a number of key benefits associated with PAM, which include:

  • Greater protection from external and internal threats due to a reduced surface area of potential access points for privileged information
  • Easier and more achievable compliance
  • Secure and centralized access to accounts
  • Increased operational efficiency

Risks and threats connected with improper access use

Implementing and using a privileged access management system should be considered a necessity for MSPs. Without appropriate management, you make it possible for users to improperly retrieve sensitive information and leave your company and your customers vulnerable to a variety of threats, including:

1. Decentralized privileged access management

If you don’t set up a centralized PAM system, you run the risk of smaller subsets of your organization taking the initiative to set up piecemeal privileged security controls or manage access rights manually. It will be unlikely that such systems are able to scale appropriately and manage the entire company’s assets, accounts, and permissions in the future. Thus, it will inevitably result in a lack of visibility and inconsistent policy enforcement across the enterprise, which is often as damaging as having no policies at all.

2. More widespread cyberattacks

When organizations don’t have a PAM system in place to partition roles and access requirements, users often take certain liberties for the sake of convenience. For example, teams might sync their credentials with one account to make data-sharing and collaboration easier. While this interconnectivity can save the team some time, privileged accounts are not meant to be used in this way. These accounts have the highest clearance levels and are able to enter the most critical data and systems within your company—which means exposing them to additional risk leaves the entire enterprise vulnerable. 

In that case, if a bad actor were able to gain unauthorized access to a single privileged account, it could then be used to lock out accounts, hold your data for ransom, or even shut the whole network down. Identity and privileged access management systems help you separate roles and ensure proper access in order to help you avoid such a situation.  

Five essentials for privileged access management

To ensure that MSPs are taking all the steps necessary to properly protect themselves and their customers, here are five privileged access management essentials to get them started:

1. Implement a robust account discovery process

To maintain a secure system, you need to set clear guidelines around which users and accounts are able to access critical assets. There should also be no unnecessary or out-of-use accounts, which can complicate management and introduce additional vulnerabilities. 

To define access clearly and clean up your system, you will first need to identify every existing use of privileged access—both in the cloud and on-premises. This should include non-traditional and traditional accounts—including shared and personal accounts—in addition to administrative accounts (like local administrator and root). Remember that systems, accounts, and applications are continuously updated, which is why it is important to establish an ongoing discovery process.  

2. Adhere to the principle of least privilege

To maintain high levels of cybersecurity and reduce the risk of breaches, always endeavor to give users only the necessary privileges required to do their job. You should also ensure that you remove full local administration access to endpoints. Not only will this minimize risk and vulnerabilities, it can also help your technicians stay on task and increase operational efficiency. 

3. Develop a privileged account password policy 

It is essential that a clear password policy is put into place and the appropriate parties all understand and accept its terms. Your policy should stress the importance of using long, complex passwords—or preferably, passphrases—and multi-factor authentication. 

4. Choosing the right privileged access management solution

There are plenty of solutions with varying features and deployment options to choose from, but some may not be a suitable choice for your organization. Before making a purchase, it is important to define use cases for privileged access within your company’s environment. Decide on preferred solution capabilities—for example, do you want access to service account management? Is asset and vulnerability management important? Are analytics a priority? 

Once you have defined your needs, you will be able to make a more informed decision when selecting the right tool for you and your customers.

5. Leverage reporting 

After you’ve implemented the above essentials and your PAM  system is operational, it’s important that your accounts are monitored continuously. User-behavior analytics capabilities offer insight, providing you with a baseline that considers user activity, access behavior, credential sensitivity, and account behavior. Once this baseline is established, it will be easier for you to spot suspicious behavior and proactively investigate.

Reaping the benefits of privileged access management

The right solution will help improve your cybersecurity strategy and leverage all the benefits of robust privileged access management. The N-able Passportal solution was designed specifically for MSPs and can help implement the five essentials mentioned above with ease.

Passportal is a cloud-based password manager and documentation management tool that stores credentials and passwords in an encrypted password vault, which is controlled by role-based permissions and multifactor authentication. This tool augments your privileged access rights management strategy with advanced password and documentation management functionalities. To learn more, request a demo of Passportal here.


Additional reading: 


© 2021 N-able Solutions ULC and N-able Technologies Ltd. All rights reserved.

The N-able trademarks, service marks, and logos are the exclusive property of N-able Solutions ULC and N-able Technologies Ltd.  All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

This document is provided for informational purposes only. Information and views expressed in this document may change and/or may not be applicable to you.  N-able makes no warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information contained herein.

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