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Zero Trust Privilege for PAM Dummies eBook

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Written by Tony Goulding

August 10th, 2021

Security is Broken. Long Live Security.

At ThycoticCentrify, cyber security is our bag. We’ve blogged about how identity-based breaches are on the rise, fueled by a perfect storm of conditions that include cloud transformation, an expanding attack surface, and wholesale remote VPN-based access due to the increase in work from home. Businesses worldwide are deploying an increasing number of virtual systems, workloads, and data to the cloud. Our internal users, outsourced IT, and global business partners all need access. This makes it harder for security teams to define and defend a perimeter and deal with vulnerabilities across this expanded hybrid IT attack surface.

The cloud is adding to that attack surface with new silos of identities

This is a significant concern for all organizations because 70% to 80% of data breaches involve compromised privileged credentials. We care because the cloud is adding to that attack surface with new silos of identities. Threat actors are not blind or stupid; they follow the puck.

How do we do this when struggling to secure access to our traditional data center infrastructure? The answer is modern Privileged Access Management (PAM) combined with Zero Trust principles.

An Even More Brief History of (Zero Trust) Time

Zero Trust isn’t new. It’s been around for a while (conceptually, since 2005 by the Jericho Forum, but the analyst firm Forrester gave it legs and the Zero Trust moniker in 2010). Arguably it was ahead of its time, anticipating the kind of wrench the future cloud would throw into the works. It’s gaining momentum today as the cloud becomes ingrained into the fabric of IT and as security vendors bake its methodology into their products.

If you’re not already familiar with Zero Trust, it’s a security framework that focuses on de-perimeterisation and micro-segmentation at the network and device level. That’s how Zero Trust began life, in the domain of network providers such as Palo Alto Networks, Cisco, and Twingate.

Apply Zero Trust Principle to PAM | Chart

In 2017, Forrester expanded this framework as Zero Trust Extended Ecosystem Platforms, giving consumers (and vendors) additional on-ramps. Relevant to this conversation, “People” gave us the means to apply Zero Trust principles to PAM. That’s the link. Zero Trust as a modern security best practice combined with modern PAM as an identity-centric (versus network-centric) approach to security in a hybrid IT world.

You Can’t Buy Zero Trust

Zero Trust is not a product. It’s a model, concept, or framework. It’s incumbent on vendors such as ThycoticCentrify to incorporate its principles and guidance into their products.

PoLP As the Glue Between Zero Trust and PAM

Zero Trust and PAM align on the concept that humans are the weakest link. We make silly mistakes, fall for social engineering attacks, can be bribed and blackmailed, and generally don’t have strong password hygiene. Therefore, it makes no sense to trust human administrators with routine use of “keys to the kingdom” credentials. By doing so, we’re increasing our risk of a critical outage, a data breach, or a ransomware attack.

We can resolve this through the principle of least privilege (PoLP), a core concept in Zero Trust security and PAM. PoLP advocates eliminating implicit trust in users, having them routinely go about their day using an individual (not shared) account with minimum rights. If they legitimately need more, we must verify the user and the request, granting only what’s necessary for a limited time. Thus, if the user identity is compromised, the blast radius is contained and lateral movement within the network prevented.

Trust but verify is now never trust, always verify

This is a way of saying, “let’s not implicitly trust our admins to do the right thing with privileged accounts,” because history tells us that’s not a great idea. It is a one-eighty from the days when admins had carte blanch access to superuser accounts such as root, local administrator, oracle, cisco, sa, admin, and other built-in administrator accounts. The old security tenet of “trust but verify” goes out of the window, replaced with “never trust, always verify.”

Things to Look for in a PAM Solution

You must critically assess the competence of your PAM solution to support Zero Trust across two fronts. One is its ability to support least privilege. The other is whether the PAM vendor designed it to support cloud-based hybrid IT infrastructure.

There are two critical moving parts of PAM. Gartner defines these as Privileged Account and Session Management (PASM) and Privilege Elevation and Delegation Management (PEDM). Simplifying, PASM allows you to put shared privileged accounts in a secure vault for emergencies only, taking them out of play. PEDM is the part that enables a user with minimum rights (i.e., least privilege) to elevate and perform privileged tasks. They work in concert, so your PAM solution needs both for Zero Trust security, but a vault alone is insufficient.

Next, with IT infrastructure no longer contained by a defensible perimeter (your data center), legacy PAM solutions built for that paradigm are unsuitable and can’t adapt. What’s required is a modern SaaS platform for centralized PAM policy management plus distributed clients to enforce the policies in your distributed VPCs, VNets, and multiple clouds.

With this, the result is a PAM solution that supports modern cloud-based use cases aligned with Zero Trust principles that protect your critical IT infrastructure and data from identity-related attacks.

For more details – whether you are only just starting on a PAM journey, looking to replace an incumbent PAM solution for a cloud transformation project, or simply trying to figure out how Zero Trust fits into PAM – please check out our Zero Trust Privilege for Dummies eBook.

Privilege Manager

Implementing least privilege needn't be hard.

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