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Posts Tagged ‘privileged access’

So what do we call this thing, anyways?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Every vendor in the privileged access management (PAM) market seems to refer to the product category using a different name and acronym. Some analysts simply refer to the market as PxM in recognition of this situation.

I’d like to put forward the argument, here, that the most appropriate term is PAM, as above. Our own product, Hitachi ID Privileged Access Manager (HiPAM), connects authorized and authenticated users, temporarily, to elevated privileges. This may be accomplished through a shared account, whose password is stored in the HiPAM credential vault and may be periodically randomized. It may also be via privilege escalation, such as temporarily assigning the user’s pre-existing (directory) account to security groups or temporarily placing the user’s SSH public key in a trusted keys file of a privileged account. In all cases, HiPAM assigns privileged access, to users, temporarily.

Following are other names for this product category, along with the reasons that I think each is incomplete or simply wrong:

  • Privileged Identity Management (PIM):

    Identity management means creating and deleting identities — such as login accounts — on managed endpoint systems. No PAM product actually performs this function. Rather, a PAM system connects authorized, pre-existing users to managed, pre-existing accounts for short time periods, subject to authentication, authorization and audit. There is simply no identity management, in the sense of Create/Update/Delete (CrUD) operations in the current generation of PAM products.

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM):

    IAM systems can, in principle manage the lifecycle of privileged accounts. In practice, there is rarely a need to do so, as most privileged accounts come pre-installed on the device, operating system, hypervisor, database, or other system that must be managed. The main IAM use case relating to privileged accounts is to create and track meta data, such as account ownership.

    Architecturally, typical IAM systems can scale to a few thousand endpoints. Enterprise PAM deployments, on the other hand, scale to hundreds of thousands of managed endpoints. Few IAM products, even with lots of custom code to close the functional gap, could deploy at PAM scale.

    In short, IAM is complementary to PAM, but the two product categories address distinct problem categories with distinct functionality at different scales.

  • Privileged User Management (PUM):

    The same argument presented vis-a-vis PIM above holds. User management — of privileged or other accounts — is simply not what PAM products available today do.

  • Privileged Password Management (PPM):

    Hitachi ID Systems previously use this term, before offering other methods to connect users, temporarily, to privileges. While this label may still apply to some products, today HiPAM also allows for temporary group membership and temporary SSH trust relationships, making the term obsolete.

  • Privileged Account Management (PAM):

    For some products in the market, this is probably an accurate description, since authorized users are connected to specific, pre-existing, privileged accounts for defined time intervals. This is also a fair description of one of the methods that HiPAM uses to connect users to privileges. Since HiPAM also supports temporary trust and temporary group membership (i.e., privilege escalation), this description would be incomplete for Hitachi ID.

  • Privileged Session Management (PSM):

    Some analyst firms refer to this as a distinct product category — software that establishes sessions connecting users to shared accounts on managed endpoints, typically via a proxy appliance. It’s not clear to me how such a product could function independently of a credential vault, presumably complete with a password change process. In short, this is a subset of what HiPAM actually provides and I’m pretty sure it’s a subset of what our competitors do too. Not a real product.

  • Application to Application Password Management (AAPM):

    Another subset of HiPAM functionality — allowing programs to be modified to eliminate passwords embedded in scripts and configuration files, and instead be fetched on demand from a secure, authenticating vault. Not a product category: just a subset of functionality.

  • Superuser Privileged Management (SUPM):

    A somewhat complementary product category, where a central policy server controls what commands a user can issue, to execute as root or Administrator, on individual Unix, Linux or Windows systems. HiPAM accomplishes much the same thing through a combination of temporary group membership, along with local policies linking groups to commands (via Linux sudo or Windows GPOs). In the Unix/Linux environment, I’m not sure I buy that products like this are actually effective. If you give me the ability to run something like sed or grep on a Linux box, as root, then I can do pretty much anything. Many programs would let me shell out to run a sed or grep command, so I suspect that this whole product category is more about optics than actual security. YMMV.

So what do you think? Anyone care to refute my ideas here, and support use of a different category name and acronym? :-)

Zero days and cyber-warfare

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

The ongoing saga of the Sony hack is quite interesting. Some notable developments:

  • It is quite clear that the attack on Sony was at least ordered and funded by a state actor (North Korea). They may have hired out the actual work to a criminal gang (in case they did not have adequate domestic talent to carry this off) but they certainly are behind it.
  • Sony has decided to pull the release of their movie about assasination of North Korea’s dictator. In effect, the aggressor in this case has won, the victim has capitulated. This is really unprecedented.
  • If you define cyber-warfare as aggressive action by a nation state, causing economic or physical harm, through disruption of digital systems, then this is clearly cyber-war. The only comparable case I can think of is the Stuxnet worm used by Americans and Israelis to disrupt Iranian centrifuges.

So how did the attack succeed so spectacularly? Presumably there was some combination of zero-day vulnerabilities and perhaps spear-phishing attacks against Sony’s network and people. This would get the attacker into the Sony network, but not compromise the entire house of cards.

From there, one assumes some combination of packet sniffing, DNS spoofing and/or keylogging was used to allow the attackers to expand their scope of influence. This is where a privileged access management system would have come in handy – to slow down the advance of the hackers. At the same time, there appears to have been a total failure to detect the ongoing attack. A SIEM system would presumably have helped to detect that something was amiss, as would a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) system.

Why all of these systems either were not in place to protect Sony, or did not function, is anybody’s guess. If nothing else, this incident should be a wake-up call to other organizations, reminding them that:

  • You are a target, whether you like it or not.
  • Zero day exploits and spearphishing attacks can be used to get inside your perimeter. Only an air gap will keep your perimeter 100% secure, and that’s not compatible with an ongonig business.
  • Security infrastructure, including patch management, perimeter defense, privileged access management, SIEM and DLP is not an option. You need all these components, and vigilance, to mitigate the risk inherent in attackers getting into your network.

Stay safe everyone!

Another day, another rogue admin

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Some people never learn, I guess.

This guy: (link to IT World article) will spend some quality time in jail for sabotaging work systems before he learned about his own imminent termination.

Getting fired sucks. Going to jail for these shenanigans is definitely worse.

Clearly, a privileged access management system could have mitigated the harm.

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