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What do you and your security team need to successfully improve privileged access controls? The first blog in this series offered direction on making the core decisions that power your overall strategy. Next we recommended ways to engage stakeholders across your organization. Now it’s time to provide guidance on the team, techniques, and tools you’ll need to drive this initiative.

Here’s what you need to get it done.

  1. Realistic expectations

Make sure you go into your privilege account management (PAM) deployment with a clear view of the process and its impacts on your organization. It is common to scope initial “quick win” phases to be completed in a matter of weeks, in order to gain traction and prove the value of the initiative. From there, the initiative is often launched with a phased approach. Rolling-out better privileged access controls across an enterprise can typically be a year to multi-year effort. Your organization can expect to see results in terms of risk reduction almost immediately after deploying improved controls around the first set of accounts.

During implementation, there will be some temporary disruption to business processes. Post-deployment, business processes are often sped up. If well-planned, improving privileged access controls can provide benefits such as increased efficiency, fewer user errors, increased uptime and easier troubleshooting. After the initial deployment, an ongoing effort will be required to ensure that privileged access controls keep up with changes in the environment.

  1. The right people with the right skillsets

PAM deployments can be fairy complex to deploy and maintain. Solutions typically touch multiple IT domains (Windows, Unix, databases, network devices, etc.) and require a broad set of skills from basic troubleshooting to creating custom scripts and code. This typically requires at least two dedicated engineering resources, a project manager, a service owner, and some engagement from professional services.

Required skillsets include:

  • Technical/design – Members of the security team must be skilled in handling technical issues, and questions and any arguments that might arise. Areas of expertise should include:
    • Infrastructure used in the organization
    • Platforms such as Microsoft Windows and Linux
    • Applications and databases
    • Application development practices with respect to permissions
    • Privileged account security controls
    • Security control design
    • Processes around technology service management
  • Security governance and risk – The team should be able to help business and IT leaders make governance and risk decisions and guide the optimization of policies and processes. This requires a thorough understanding of the business operations and goals. Knowledge of identity and access management (IAM) and account provisioning and maintenance practices are also important aspects.
  • Project management – A large-scale privileged access security initiative requires methodical planning and has many moving parts. You will need people with strong project management skills on the team to keep all of the various stakeholder groups aligned and focused on what needs to be done and to make sure it happens.
  • Soft skills – The security team will need people with diplomatic skills and an aptitude for negotiation, politics, and communication. Members of the team need to be able to explain why new processes need to be followed and be competent at listening to stakeholders and taking their concerns into consideration.
  1. Measurable and meaningful metrics

Your PAM deployment needs to deliver results and measurable outcomes. Metrics are valuable to illustrate the need for better controls, measure improvements, and demonstrate the value of the program.
Use metrics to:

  • Test effectiveness of controls – Through penetration tests, measure the potential vulnerabilities of credentials and show how vulnerabilities have been reduced after implementing improvements. Test how long it would take for an attacker to get control of domain admin accounts.
  • Show when to make course corrections – Measure access violations before and after implementing control changes. Be prepared to rework controls if expected results are not materializing.
  • Gauge the effect of controls on efficiency – Calculate the amount of time admins are spending on tedious tasks, such as resetting passwords.
  • Measure how the controls impact system availability – Applications with embedded credentials must periodically go through scheduled downtime so credentials can be changed. Take note of the amount of downtime required. Admin errors can inadvertently bring down a system. Compare the time required to recover from an outage before and after implementing control changes.
  • Assess impact on application performance – Test application performance and functionality before and after removing embedded passwords from applications.
  1. A plan with milestones

After identifying priorities, you’ll need to further break down the identified priority areas into phases. Here is one approach to how to phase your PAM deployment.

  • Phase 0: Installation and basic configuration of the PAM solution
  • Phase 1: Built-in accounts – Identify and onboard built-in accounts and enable password rotation on the accounts.
  • Phase 2: Domain admins and individual account privilege revocation – Address the onboarding of domain admin accounts into CyberArk. Isolate and monitor sessions of Tier 0 assets. Remove or minimize any local server privileged accounts or users that have been added to the “Administrators” group on local servers, with the exception of any that are required for service accounts. Create a process to do this as an ongoing process.
  • Phase 3: Databases, exchange admins and Tier 1 session isolation – Isolate and monitor Tier 1 assets. Onboard any privileged database and exchange admin accounts you may have.
  • Phase 4: Network devices, business apps, security systems, legacy systems – Identify any onboard network devices, business apps, and various security appliances. Use Privilege Session Management and the PAM’s MFA capability to protect privileged account access to legacy systems.
  • Phase 5: Service accounts – Identify and begin addressing the management of service and App IDs.
  • Phase 6: Desktop least privileged model and whitelisting of apps (OPM/EPM) – Allow only certain users to elevate their permissions. Limit which apps and commands can be run by which users.
  • Phase 7: Corporate accounts – Protect corporate communication and external financial systems accounts and other accounts. Use privilege session management to allow users to use these accounts without revealing the password.

Keep your momentum. Implementing more advanced controls across a large enterprise often requires a certain persistence and fortitude. A common reporting model is a weekly status meeting for the project team and a monthly review by an executive steering committee.

  1. The Right Tools 

Start by understanding your strategic goals and formulating your approach, then find tools that will help achieve those goals. Take the time to select privileged account security and management tools that support your specific security and enterprise requirements. Adopt processes to get the most out of tools and to help you stay on track. Some technology features that are especially important include the ability to:

  • Securely store credentials in an encrypted vault
  • Create a single sign-on environment
  • Uniquely identify users and restrict their use of privileged accounts
  • Limit the length of privileged sessions for a user or application
  • Centrally monitor and record the use of privileged accounts
  • Automate password changes to run on schedule or trigger when an employee leaves the organization
  • Scale and meet performance demands in a large enterprise environment
  • Integrate with the organization’s infrastructure, applications, and other security technologies

Other key tools and technologies that can be helpful include:

  • Enhanced monitoring and alerting systems such as Security Information and Event Management systems (SIEM) and Security Analytics/Big Data Platforms
  • Technology for two-factor authentication to be used for remote access, third parties, and infrastructure administrators who have root or domain admin privileges

The theft of privileged credentials and privilege escalation are key stages in most successful cyber attacks. Today’s threat environment is prompting many enterprises to address the gaps in their security program to better protect privileged credentials. It requires a strong combination of technical and soft skills, a methodical project plan, appropriate tools, and persistence.

CyberSheath has helped implement comprehensive enterprise-wide initiatives in privileged account security. We work with over 50 organizations ranging from the largest financial, healthcare, and development firms with thousands of users to new implementations at organizations with only a handful of IT users. Contact us to get your PAM initiative started.

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