IT Teams Need More Than Password Managers

IT departments need more than a password manager to keep them—and a company’s data—safe from cyberthreats

All companies today are, to some extent, dependent on technology and the IT teams driving their systems and security in the background. These IT administrators, of course, have privileges to modify system or application configurations, install or remove software, make changes to the operating system, and more. Most companies only use a simple password management app to manage all passwords, including for these privileged admin accounts. Sadly, this is no longer sufficient to protect them from malicious insiders, cybercriminals and hackers.

Why Password Managers Aren’t Enough

Before we get into why they’re not sufficient, let’s first talk about the typical capabilities of a password management solution. A password manager is a good way to begin securing general accounts such as NetFlix, Amazon, social media accounts, bank accounts, marketing tools such as Google Analytics and other apps. It helps users to consolidate passwords into a centralized vault, manage logins and streamline access to shared general accounts. However, when we look at any high-profile data breaches—such as those that occurred at Target, Marriott and Sony—we see cybercriminals primarily target privileged accounts. These could be local admin accounts, privileged user accounts, domain administrative accounts or service accounts, all of which are usually scattered across the company’s internal IT infrastructure.

Apart from using password-based authentication for IT systems, some companies (especially those in finance, high-tech and government) prefer using secure shell (SSH) keys to protect their privileged accounts. Most companies leave these privileged accounts unmanaged or orphaned, and only a handful of privileged accounts are stored in the password management app. According to the “2019 Data Breach Investigations Report” by Verizon, privilege abuse is one of the most common threats in data breaches.

This Verizon report offers crucial perspectives on threats that organizations face. It is built on real-world data from 41,686 security incidents and 2,013 data breaches provided by 73 data sources, both public and private entities, spanning 86 countries worldwide. Remember the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who breached the National Security Agency (NSA)? He simply used this privileged account management loophole to gain access to one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated security agencies. Similarly, once cybercriminals get access to a privileged account, they can eventually gain access to all of the organization’s sensitive information, deploy remote access tools, steal as much data as possible and even may perform financial fraud.

What Tools Does Your IT Team Require?

A password manager can work well for many departments including marketing, finance and human resources. However, your IT teams need a comprehensive privileged account management (PAM) solution to protect your company’s IT infrastructure in this era of cyberattacks. Your typical privileged account management solution can:

  • Automatically discover all privileged accounts in the network and manage them from a central admin console.
  • Add users and assign them access roles based on their everyday work.
  • Share privileged passwords only based on user roles or leverage a just-in-time privilege elevation method.
  • Periodically reset passwords for servers, databases, network devices and more based on the company’s internal IT policy.
  • Automate SSH key management across the network.
  • Launch direct connection to remote IT resources, websites and applications without revealing actual passwords in plain-text.
  • Video-record all privileged access and terminate suspicious sessions instantly.
  • Track unusual privileged activity and alert IT administrators.
  • Capture all privileged account operations and provide them as security insights reports.

These important differences between a password manager and a fully-featured PAM solution could be the key to protecting your organization’s information. According to leading research firm Gartner, privileged account management is also the number one security priority for chief information security officers (CISOs). Implementing a PAM solution alone may not help you to keep hackers at bay—there is always more to be done. However, a PAM solution will provide you with a solid foundation to continue building your defenses against cybercriminals.

Chandramouli Dorai

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Chandramouli Dorai

Chandramouli Dorai is a product marketing manager at ManageEngine, the IT management division of Zoho Corporation. He creates and manages educational content and provides technical support to customers around the world. He is currently involved in researching customer requirements to improve the user experience for ManageEngine's privileged identity management suite.

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