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Why should you audit privileged access management?

By Passportal Blogger

To pull off a data breach, today’s cybercriminals have some formidable tools at their disposal. They can use software to guess simple passwords. They may infect a system with ransomware, only returning stolen information when they’re received payment. They might choose to deploy a social engineering attack and gain access to a network through human error. Or, as is often the case, they could compromise privileged accounts and run rampant across IT infrastructure before admins even know what’s happened. 

This last strategy has become more and more common over the years. In fact, Forrester reports more than 80% of enterprise-grade hacks are a direct result of compromised privileged accounts. This means that cybercriminals, external or internal, are exploiting poorly managed or orphaned accounts with administrator-level privileges to do some serious damage. And because they appear like insider profiles acting the way they’re permitted to act, they can do this damage without immediate detection.

Combating these savvy cybercriminals calls for a proactive approach to digital security, rather than just a reactive one. To do so, MSPs and their customers should consider how privileged access management (PAM) can help them better patrol their IT infrastructure. By exercising greater control and building deeper insight into the ways that team members use privileged accounts, MSPs stand a better chance of detecting threats before they cause serious damage. 

However, maintaining this kind of visibility is a serious strategic challenge. While developing a comprehensive understanding of every end user, endpoint, and tool would be complicated at best, it’s even more difficult doing so while critical workflows are ongoing and constantly changing. To effectively audit privileged accounts on modern business networks, MSPs need a new and powerful suite of tools designed to execute privileged access management at scale.

What does it mean to audit privileged access management?

Auditing PAM means exercising greater control over who has administrator-level credentials, for what tools, and for how long. Standard users should be able to browse the internet, access applications, use approved SaaS tools, and maybe tap into proprietary information depending on their unique roles. Guest users will have even fewer options, and will likely be limited to internet usage and maybe some rudimentary applications. 

Privileged users receive credentials that give them special access to an organization’s most sensitive information, as well as directories, applications, and more—often with administrator-level powers. This means that someone with privileged access will typically have the ability to make substantial changes across a network, such as installing programs, deleting other accounts or files, and even managing their own privileges to give themselves greater power. 

Because of these broad capabilities, it’s critical that MSPs actively manage who has privileges and for how long. That’s where auditing comes in. Auditing privileged password management means taking a more conscious role in how users and technicians are granted privileges. While organizations without an effective PAM strategy might just dole out privileged access on an ad hoc basis without a clear strategy for monitoring, MSPs can help teams take a more responsible approach. 

To audit privileged access is an ongoing process, rather than a one-and-done event. MSPs can work with customers to implement tools to closely monitor who is doing what with special privileges. Organizations that audit access on an ongoing basis can better adhere to the principle of least privilege, which states that users should have only the minimum amount of access necessary to perform their responsibilities. To reduce risk, privileged credentials should be checked back into a secure, central repository after approved tasks are complete.

What are the cybersecurity risks of ineffective access management?

With unmonitored access to sensitive resources, privileged accounts can pose a serious risk to business continuity and cybersecurity. If bad actors gain access to privileged credentials, they can use the associated powers to steal a business’s most sensitive information, delete other accounts, install malicious files, and more. No matter what cybercriminals decide to use these privileged credentials for, it’s likely that workflows will be disrupted, and your reputation will be harmed in the process. 

Unfortunately, these threats are even more concerning because they can theoretically be both external and internal. If external cybercriminals secure access to a privileged account, they take any of these actions without facing much of a fight. Because they’ll appear as privileged users, they’ll seem to be accessing resources that a given account is allowed to access. 

Ineffective access management also makes it easier for internal users to do damage, whether intentionally or accidentally. For example, it’s possible that well-meaning users who should no longer have privileged access—but do—might accidentally make serious and permanent changes to their team’s IT infrastructure. It’s also possible that disgruntled former employees whose privileged accounts were never properly disabled might use them to inflict institutional harm on their former employer.

How can you audit privileged access management?

To make an effective audit, MSPs need a powerful suite of tools. These tools need to be able to scale seamlessly across multiple customer accounts, from SMB partners to sprawling enterprise networks. The right PAM tools will help MSPs provision privileged credentials, monitor how they’re being used, and ensure that they’re checked back in after approved tasks are completed. They should also secure privileged credentials in encrypted vaults that help protect them from external and internal threats. 

MSPs prepared to invest in their privileged access management offerings should consider N-able Passportal. Passportal delivers streamlined and secure password management as well as granular access control, empowering MSPs to securely connect technicians and other privileged users with the access they need. With Passportal, MSPs can exercise greater control over who has access to what credentials and build deeper, actionable insights into how those credentials are deployed to prevent devastating cyberattacks. 

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