Guide to Auditing Privileged Accounts for Better Cloud Security

Guide to Auditing Privileged Accounts for Better Cloud Security

Gone are the days when employees would work from computers in the office. Now, work is mobile, hybrid, and even fully remote. Cloud applications – like Microsoft 365, Slack, and Trello – have become the backbone of employee productivity, facilitating collaboration and communication from a distance. 

The cloud isn’t without its risks, particularly regarding privileged accounts. Recent Verizon research indicates that 77% of cloud data breaches are due to compromised credentials. This attack happens when a hacker gains access to the login details of one of your employees. 

These days, credential compromise is widespread. Poor password practices and frequent data leaks mean that it’s not difficult for cybercriminals to get their hands on this kind of data. Moreover, because employees log in remotely, it’s difficult for organizations to differentiate an authentic login from a suspicious one. 

The threat becomes even more severe when a hacker gets their hands on the credentials of a privileged user. These are accounts like IT admins administrator accounts, service accounts, and domain accounts that have deeper access to company resources than the traditional employee. These accounts can, for example, install or remove software, upgrade operating systems and alter application and infrastructure configurations. They also tend to have unrestricted access to company data. 

With all these permissions, it’s easy to see why privileged credentials are dangerous in the hands of a malicious actor. They could steal sensitive data, inject malware into your cloud applications and even shut down your whole business. 

Managing User Access is Essential to Security

As companies rely on the cloud more and more, protecting privileged access to cloud accounts is essential. You need a way to authenticate, monitor, and manage your privileged accounts. This is where privileged account management (PAM) comes in. PAM is a strategy for assessing, managing, and auditing user accounts with escalated privileges.

For PAM to work, you have to have solid foundations. This means that you should have robust controls to separate privileged account access from regular employee access. You should apply the principle of least privilege to every employee account, ensuring that they only have the access privileges they need to complete their work – as opposed to looking at or altering any files in the business. 

This tactic is essential to reducing the likelihood of a successful data breach. It will prevent cybercriminals from wreaking havoc on your system should they steal the credentials of the average employee. 

In following the principle of least privilege, there should be only a handful of users – the privileged account users – that have unhindered access to your resources. Even then, though, there is more work to do. Privileged accounts cannot be left to their own devices.

The Cybersecurity Risks Surrounding Privileged Accounts

Privileged account compromise is one of the biggest threats to your business. Forrester found that 80% of enterprise data breaches are caused by compromised privileged account credentials. 

Today’s cybercriminals know how businesses work. They know that certain accounts have more access privileges than others. Plus, with the rise of social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s easier than ever for them to find the identity of privileged accounts. Combine this with the fact that, more often than not, employee passwords are easy to guess, and you can see how easy it is for a hacker to potentially breach your system. 

As well as this, privileged accounts are a potent risk for the insider threat – employees that maliciously exfiltrate sensitive data. While this risk is less common, you should still have policies and solutions in place that communicate to your privileged users that they will get caught out if they try to steal company data. 

To defend against these threats, you must put a process in place for auditing privileged accounts. The pace of change in organizations today is quick, meaning that paper-based records simply won’t cut it. 

How to Better Audit Privileged Accounts

A great PAM system can drastically improve your company’s security maturity level. Not all systems are created equal, though. A winning strategy follows a few critical success factors: 

1. Keep a real-time record of your privileged accounts 

You can’t manage your privileged accounts if you don’t know who has access to what. The first thing to do is create a record of your privileged users, including data about what they have access to, where they typically log on from, and so on. This document should be considered a work in progress – something you update when employees change roles, leave the business, or request more access rights for a project.

In the latter case, you should make sure that the employee’s privileges are escalated only for the length of time needed to complete their task. Their permissions should be switched back to normal as soon as possible. 

2. Educate your people 

You undoubtedly have expectations around how you want your privileged users to use corporate resources. However, if you don’t communicate these expectations clearly, then discord might arise. So, create a policy document that explains how privileged users are expected to act – including, for example, guidelines around setting complex passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, and never sharing credentials with other employees. 

3. Monitor privileged user behavior

With these foundations, you can now begin monitoring your user behavior to ensure that everything runs smoothly. You should regularly assess how your privileged users are interacting with corporate data. You’ll get a baseline idea of their standard behavior in doing so. From there, it will be easy to spot when a user is acting suspiciously – such as logging in from a strange location or logging on in the early hours of the morning. 

Manually monitoring accounts can be labor-intensive and difficult to achieve 24/7. This is why we recommend automating the process. Some solutions use artificial intelligence to automatically monitor and scan how users interact with data. If they spot a risky or suspicious action, they can automatically block the user – preventing a data breach in real-time. 

Get Help Deploying PAM

When deploying a critical new technology change, you don’t have to go it alone. Unity IT can help your Fresno area business effectively deploy PAM to improve security and productivity.

Contact us today to schedule a technology consultation at 559-297-1007 or reach out online.

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