Password leaks are dangerous. Cyberattacks aren't slowing down, and a hacker can take just one compromised credential to gain access to an enterprise network, self-elevate permissions, and siphon off business-critical information. In fact, most of the major data breaches across the years have involved stolen, weak, forgotten, or default passwords in one way or other.
In 2018, Verizon stated in its 11th edition of the Data Breach Investigations Report that 81 percent of breaches were caused by credential theft. Today, the recently released EMA report claims that passwords are still the top risk factor for enterprises, with 42 percent of respondents indicating their firm had been breached as a result of a user password exposure.
As passwords continue to be hackers' prime targets, the advent of digital transformation has complicated the risk. The digital age—by introducing technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), application containerization, and robotic process automation (RPA)—has led to swift infrastructure scaling and network extension. This virtual business boom has produced continued onboarding of new endpoints to meet increased operational requirements, further adding to credential proliferation in enterprise networks.
A downside of monumental growth spurts like this is loss of control and visibility. As the number of privileged accounts and passwords far surpass the employee count in an organization, tracking credential ownership and usage becomes cumbersome. Once ambiguity sets in and passwords are left unmanaged, malicious users (rogue insiders, criminal third-parties, and hackers) leverage the situation for unauthorized access to critical data servers.
According to ITRC's 2019 End-of-Year Data Breach Report, unauthorized access accounted for 36.5 percent of the total number of data breaches reported for 2019. Moreover, it represented a whopping 86 percent of the total number of sensitive records exposed in 2019. With weak passwords being a top way for malicious actors to gain unauthorized access, consolidating and storing all privileged account credentials in a secure, central repository that's built with fine-grained access controls can substantially mitigate password misuse risks.
Aside from tackling the rapidly expanding attack surface, modern enterprises are also required to comply with a number of federal directives, industry regulations, and security mandates. Since passwords are the first line of defense for sensitive information, most of these regulations, such as PCI DSS, SOX, HIPAA, ISO/IEC 27001, GDPR, and FISMA, call for robust privileged account protection and access controls to ensure data security.
Run automated discovery scans to detect all IT assets on the corporate network and subsequently discover the associated privileged account credentials. Maintain an auto-updating database of privileged accounts with periodic synchronization schedules.
Create an inventory of all critical, shared user accounts that hold elevated privileges, and store them in a secure vault. Isolate access to the vault with granular role-based access controls. Ensure the privileged accounts are encrypted with strong algorithms such as AES-256.
Standardize password management best practices across the enterprise by implementing a strict policy that covers various password security aspects. Eliminate weak passwords and satisfy compliance requirements.
Avoid unauthorized access attempts. Mandate an IT head's approval for every password access request. Make the workflow stronger with a dual control mechanism by requiring supervision and approval from at least two higher IT officials.
Assign strong, unique passwords for remote resources using a robust built-in password generator. Reset credentials any time on demand or randomize them periodically through scheduled tasks.
Implement robust password management for multiple platforms across physical, virtual, and cloud infrastructures. Secure the passwords of endpoints even in remote locations without direct connectivity such as the ones protected by firewalls or residing in demilitarized zones (DMZs).
Use automations to take bold steps forward without worrying about credentials being compromised. Integrate password security best practices in your application communications, DevOps routine, and RPA workflows. Abolish hard-coded passwords.
Capture every single user operation, establishing accountability and transparency for all password-related actions. Submit exhaustive access logs during regular internal audits and ad hoc forensic investigations. Always know who did what with a password, where, and when.
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Administer multiple stages of authentication and associate every password-related activity with a valid user profile. According to Microsoft, multi-factor authentication (MFA) blocks 99.9 percent of unauthorized login attempts, even if hackers have a copy of a user’s current password.