A robust PAM solution in place deprives threat actors of the ability to utilize compromised admin credentials for malicious access and enables organizations to ensure that those who need privileged access get it in a secure manner.
However, due to its lengthy and complex deployment time, PAM programs can often stretch over months and even years and in many cases are never fully completed. A prominent reason for this complexity is the low to partial visibility identity teams have into the privileged accounts in their environment, especially in machine-to-machine service accounts.
This post explores this challenge and its implications and shows how Silverfort’s ability to automate the discovery, monitoring, and protection of service accounts enables organizations to successfully take their PAM programs to the finish line.
Table Of Contents
The PAM Promise: Real-Time Protection of Privileged Accounts
Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions have become a key part of a successful cybersecurity strategy. PAM prevents adversaries from utilizing compromised privileged accounts for lateral movement and malicious access, by providing these accounts with a dedicated protection layer. It delivers this protection by employing various security measures such as personalization of user access, creation of temporary access accounts, control of the access and use of shared accounts, automated password management, and management of visibility of connections made by users with privileged access rights.
All of these enable PAM solutions to provide real-time protection, preventing identity threats from taking place, rather than merely alerting and maintaining access to critical systems, servers, and databases guarded and secure. However, the deployment process of PAM solutions entails severe challenges that often bar these security advantages from taking place in practice.
Partial Visibility into Privileged Accounts Prevents PAM Solutions from Delivering on their Promise
PAM solutions revolve around placing additional protection on your privileged accounts. The caveat is that there is an implicit assumption that you already know who these accounts are. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case, and the common reality is quite the opposite.
IAM solutions don’t provide an easy and straightforward way to comprehensively discover all privileged accounts in a given environment. This problem further intensifies in the case of service accounts that cannot be vaulted without the accurate mapping of their dependencies, interacted systems, and supported apps. Placing them in the vault and rotating their password without having this knowledge would likely result in breaking the systems and apps that are using them.
So, the only way in which service accounts can gain PAM protection is by acquiring this knowledge manually. As any member of the identity team will tell you, this task ranges from extremely complex and resource-consuming to downright impossible in most environments.
The Double Visibility Challenge of Service Accounts: Who they Are and What they do
Service accounts introduce two unique visibility challenges. First, there is no straightforward way to efficiently filter them from the human-associated accounts. Second, even when a service account is identified as such, there is no easy way to know its dependencies, the machines it connects to, and the application it supports.
The root cause of the visibility challenges with service accounts is due to the following creation and usage patterns:
- Misuse of admins that use their own credentials for machine-to-machine access.
- Misuse of admins that use service accounts interactively.
- Bad practice of sharing the same service account between various applications,
- Lack of documentation on the service account’s creation, either when the accounts are created by installed software, or manually by admins to automate management tasks.
All the above patterns result in organizations having partial visibility into their service accounts. Failure to know that a service account exists or how it is used prohibits organizations from vaulting and applying password rotation to the service accounts, leaving them exposed to compromise.
Silverfort Eliminates all Visibility Gaps to Accelerate PAM Journeys and Take them to the Finish Line
Silverfort Unified Identity Protection platform enables organizations to overcome this PAM deployment hurdle by providing effortless, automated visibility into all privileged accounts, including both human admins and service accounts.
This is the first time all the knowledge of the service accounts’ inventory, type, behavior, and machine interaction is made available without effort, providing identity teams with the ability to make an informed decision about what service account to place in the PAM’s vault and subject it to password rotation without fear of breaking app performance or operational process the account performs.
Even following this discovery, there might be service accounts that could still not be vaulted – for example, ones that are hardcoded in legacy systems – and would also need protection. Silverfort enables them to protect these accounts with dedicated access policies that would block their access when abused by attackers.
The Silverfort Four Steps PAM Acceleration Path
Here are the four steps you can implement with Silverfort to accelerate the PAM program without delaying the deployment process:
Privileged and Service Accounts Discovery
Discover all admin accounts (including Shadow Admins) and service accounts (including undocumented or misclassified ones) and gain real-time insights into their access attempts, authentications, and risk level.
Account Dependencies Mapping
Leverage Silverfort’s automated discovery of privileged accounts and visibility into all their authentication and access activity to easily map all the sources and destinations where they are used, including hidden apps, processes, scheduled tasks, etc.
After completing the discovery and dependency mapping (which takes place automatically within a few weeks), use this information to properly onboard all admin users and service accounts to the PAM vault without causing operational disruption.
Enforcing Complementary Controls
Apply access policies for the onboarded accounts to protect against PAM bypass attacks, as well as for any admin and service accounts you’ve decided not to vault, ensuring that all your privileged accounts are resilient to compromise.
Organizations that implement these four steps in their PAM program can rest assured that all their privileged accounts are now protected.
To learn more about how Silverfort can help accelerate your PAM program, request a demo here.