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Why It’s Important to Regularly Audit Privileged Access

Each year, hackers and large criminal groups employ new tactics that fuel many of today’s sophisticated cyberattacks. Cybersecurity is the battleground of the 21st century — and always going to be at the top of the priority list for you and your clients.

As an IT business owner, it’s important to not only provide expert advice and MSP services to help your clients protect against the latest threats, you also need to be prepared yourself.

Part of that preparation is knowing what types of attacks are on the rise. One particularly troubling trend is the rise in credential compromise.

The number one cause of data breaches is now compromised credentials (IBM Security).

As many as 80% of data breaches are connected to privileged accounts being compromised. While all accounts need to be protected to avoid a breach of your systems, privileged accounts represent a higher risk because they have more access to system and security settings.

Once a privileged account is compromised, the hacker can do things like:

  • Lower security settings
  • Access information for other users
  • Change system configurations
  • Access any systems connected to the one breached
  • Add and remove users
  • Steal and/or delete data
  • Plant ransomware or another malware
  • Send phishing emails from a user account 
  • Access stored payment details and other sensitive information inside the account

What Is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

A new acronym you’ll want to become familiar with if you’re not already and share with your customers is PAM, which stands for privileged access management.

Just about any SaaS app or other business application that you use will have levels of access for users. These usually begin at the lowest level of access for “guest” or “read-only” users. These will be accounts that can’t really access the functions of a tool, they can only read the data that’s been entered.

The next level will usually be a basic user access level that allows work to be done but does not grant access to change settings, add or remove users, make payments on an account, etc.

Then, you’ll have privileged accounts, also known as “admin” accounts. These will be the ones that can access a variety of functions like adding users, changing security configurations, turning on or off features and more.

Depending upon the system, you may have multiple layers in each category of user access.

PAM is about ensuring that all your high-level administrative accounts with privileged access to your business systems are accounted for. For example, there should not be any unused privileged accounts still open. You also don’t want to have too many privileged accounts in one of your cloud tools because it leaves your account more vulnerable to a breach.

Privileged account auditing is vital to MSPs because of the access they have to client systems through their remote monitoring and management tools.

Ways to Audit & Secure Your Privileged Accounts

Review All Services to Find Unused Accounts & Remove Them

One of the biggest risks for compromised admin credentials is those that are not used actively any longer. When an employee leaves a company, their user accounts should be closed and removed from all services, but sometimes companies don’t get around to doing this right away.

Then the account is forgotten about and the fact that no one is monitoring it leaves it more susceptible to being breached.

One recent example of widespread consequences from not closing an unneeded user account is the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. The attack, which happened in the spring of 2021 and sent gasoline prices across the country soaring, was facilitated by an unused VPN account being compromised.

You should review all user accounts in your various systems and online tools for any open privileged user accounts that are still active, and close those.

Review Your Requirements for New Admin Users

Is your company giving users admin credentials that don’t really need them? Many businesses will take a “just in case” mindset, giving users that don’t need admin access on a regular basis a privileged account anyhow, just in case they may need it some time.

It’s best to follow the rule of least privilege and only give users the lowest-level credentials they need to do their daily tasks. 

Use One Dedicated Admin Account

One method that helps prevent privileged account compromise is drastically reducing your number of admin accounts to just one; a dedicated account used only for system administration functions.

Using this dedicated admin account reduces risk because you can easily add your strongest protections on this account without significantly inconveniencing users.

Your administrative users have their own lower-level accounts they use daily. Then, when they need to handle an administrative task, they log into the dedicated admin account and log back out when finished.

This also mitigates the chance of leaving an unused privileged employee account open.

Use RMM & PSA Tools Designed With Top Security Features

The Syncro RMM/PSA platform helps you efficiently manage your clients’ systems knowing your connection is completely secure. 

© 2022 Syncro. All Rights Reserved.

This document is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Syncro makes no warranty, expressed nor implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information contained herein.

Caitlin Good

Denver-based content marketing manager for Syncro. Curator of new experiences: creating compelling and helpful content on the weekday, exploring nature and cities on the weekend.