What is password management?

Close Privileged access management practices for healthcare cyber hygiene

Password management is the process of securing and managing passwords throughout their life cycle from creation to closure by adhering to a set of sustainable practices. As the IT landscape expands, passwords proliferate, and as more passwords need to be protected, a centralized password management routine becomes crucial. Moreover, passwords act as the first line of defense for sensitive information, but are naturally one of hackers' prime targets and can spell doom when mismanaged or compromised.

Types of password management

Password management can be broadly classified into personal and enterprise. Personal password management is individual-specific and involves a set of security best practices aimed at protecting a user's personal information such as email accounts, credit card numbers, social security numbers, banking accounts, contact addresses, phone numbers, location, etc.

Enterprise password management also known as privileged password management is an integral part of any organization's IT security management and is focused on protecting the credentials of corporate accounts that hold elevated access privileges. This usually involves storing accounts such as local administrator accounts, domain administrator accounts, root accounts, service accounts, application accounts, and system accounts in a centralized, safe repository that's designed with strong vaulting provisions.

The importance of privileged password management

While password management in all forms is equally important, secure management of privileged account passwords has been gaining prominence recently due to an increased number of organizations falling prey to cyberattacks, owing to poor password protection. According to a 2016 Forrester report, "80% of security breaches involve privileged credentials," as a compromised password is the easiest way for a hacker to gain administrative access to critical information systems and exfiltrate business-sensitive data. As it happens, hackers are always on the lookout for static and weak privileged passwords that will allow them to pass through an enterprise network undetected.

Methods hackers use to steal privileged passwords

Phishing emails are one of the most common methods hackers use to steal admin login credentials. These email scams are very popular among hackers because, despite continuous warnings from security experts. Verizon's 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report claims that approximately one in 10 employees will still open a phishing email and click on the link inside. This lets hackers easily deploy keylogging malware on workstations to capture all credentials used on that particular system. Similar methods include login spoofing, shoulder surfing attacks, brute-force attacks, and password sniffing.

Compromise of even a single privileged account password via these attacks can provide hackers with unrestricted access to an organization's IT infrastructure and lead to irrevocable losses. To tackle such attacks, organizations should focus on devising a judicious approach towards privileged password storage, protection, management, and monitoring.

Best practices to secure the privileged passwords in your IT ecosystem

  • Create an inventory of all critical administrative accounts that hold elevated privileges or provide administrative access to workstations, and store them in a secure location. Ensure the accounts are encrypted with strong algorithms such as AES-256 while at rest.
  • Protect and manage privileged accounts with strong password policies, regular password resets, and selective password sharing based on the principle of least privilege.
  • Control the retrieval of privileged credentials by implementing granular restrictions for any user who requires administrative access to any IT resource.
  • Mandate an IT head's approval for every password access request. Make the workflow stronger with a dual control mechanism by necessitating at least two higher IT officials to supervise and approve such requests.
  • Allow retrieval of passwords only for genuine users who have passed through multiple stages of authentication, thereby associating every password-related activity with a valid user profile.
  • Moderate password usage for third-party vendors and contractors who access internal systems on a regular basis for business purposes, i.e. ensure the accounts provided to them only hold limited privileges as required for their jobs.

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