Securing Privileged Accounts with Hitachi ID Privileged Access Manager
Hitachi ID Privileged Access Manager is a system for securing access to privileged accounts.
It works by regularly randomizing privileged passwords on workstations,
servers, network devices and applications. Random passwords are
encrypted and stored on at least two replicated credential vaults.
Access to privileged accounts may be disclosed:
- To IT staff, after they have authenticated and their
requests have been authorized.
- To applications, replacing embedded passwords.
- To Windows workstations and servers, which need them to start services.
Password changes and access disclosure are closely controlled and audited,
to satisfy policy and regulatory requirements.
Privileged Access Management
In a typical medium to large organization there are thousands
of servers, workstations and network devices. Often, there is a
single, shared administrator password for every type of device.
For example, one password may be used for each laptop of a
given type or for every server built with a given image. This is
convenient for data center and desktop support staff: if they need to
perform maintenance or an upgrade on a system, they
know how to log in.
Such static and well-known privileged passwords create both
operational challenges and security problems:
- When administrator login IDs are shared by multiple IT users,
there is no audit trail linking administrative changes to individual
IT staff. If someone makes a change to a system that
causes a malfunction, it can be difficult to determine who caused the
problem. This makes problems harder to diagnose and repair.
- When the same privileged account and password exists on
many systems and is used by many people or software agents, it
is difficult to coordinate password changes. As a result, privileged
passwords are rarely changed and are often
known to former employees and departed contractors.
Privileged Access Manager secures privileged accounts across the IT landscape and
at large scale:
- It periodically randomizes passwords to privileged accounts.
- Users must sign into Privileged Access Manager before they can access
privileged accounts. This is an excellent opportunity to require
strong, multi-factor authentication. This also allows organizations
to apply a central authorization policy -- who is allowed access
to which account, when and from where?
- Privileged Access Manager launches login sessions on behalf of users,
without displaying passwords -- single sign-on.
- Privileged login sessions can be recorded, including screen
capture and keyboard capture. This creates strong accountability
and forensic audit trails.
Types of Privileged Accounts
There are broadly three types of privileged accounts in
- Administrator accounts:
There are accounts, often shared by multiple IT users,
which are used to establish interactive logins to systems
and applications. These logins are used to manage those
systems -- apply patches, change configuration, manage
users, retrieve log files, etc. Examples include
Administrator on Windows,
root on Unix/Linux,
sa on SQL Server,
SYSTEM on Oracle databases,
and many others -- at least one per platform.
- Application to application accounts:
These accounts are used by one application to connect,
identify and authenticate to another. Common examples
include applications used by a web application to connect
to a database server, object broker or directory.
- Service accounts:
These accounts provide a security context in which to
run unattended processes, such as scheduled tasks,
services or "daemons." In the context of this document,
we are mostly concerned with the management of
Windows service accounts, because -- unlike
on other platforms -- on the Windows operating system,
to start a process in the security context of a given
account, the password for that account must be provided.
This creates the need to manage passwords for service
accounts on Windows (on other platforms, service accounts
normally do not have a password).
Technical Barriers to Privileged Password Changes
The obvious solution to the security vulnerability of static and shared
privileged passwords is to change these passwords so that each
one is unique and changes regularly. Doing this can be technically
- There are thousands of privileged accounts:
Automation is required to onboard systems and accounts,
schedule password changes and authorize access to accounts.
- There are many kinds of systems, all with privileged accounts:
The automation must include many integrations -- to client and server
operating systems, databases, applications, hypervisors and guest VMs,
network devices, health monitoring hardware, web services and more.
- The majority of privileged accounts are on PCs and laptops.
End user PC passwords are hard to manage centrally:
- PCs may be powered down, disconnected or firewalled.
- PC IP addresses may change along with physical location and be behind NAT in any case.
- PCs may be configured to block inbound service connections, including
requests to change local passwords.
- Connectivity to servers and applications.
- Network-attached systems may not always be running. This is especially
true of demand-driven VMs.
- Routing problems, firewalls and name resolution (DNS) problems may
block access to network services.
- Systems with privileged accounts are heterogeneous -- a single mechanism
or protocol cannot support them all.
- Secure, reliable storage.
Once automation is implemented to regularly change passwords,
technical challenges regarding their storage must be addressed.
The password storage system must:
- Be secure.
An insecure storage system, if compromised, would allow an
intruder to gain administrative access to every device in
the IT infrastructure.
- Be reliable.
A disk crash or facility interruption affecting the credential
vault would lock out access to every privileged account.
- Include fine-grained access controls.
Only the right people should get access to the
right accounts, at the right time, after strong authentication.
- Log access disclosure.
Access to privileged accounts must be logged, to create
accountability, both operationally and in the event of a forensic
A privileged access management system must have the following
- It must randomize passwords regularly --
sensitive passwords should be unique and short-lived.
- It must be able to disclose passwords to or inject passwords
into sessions on behalf of appropriate users and software agents,
but only under the right circumstances:
- To IT staff, if they have been assigned appropriate access
- To IT staff who have not been assigned permanent access rights,
but have been granted one-time permission.
- To programs that start services using a named Windows or
AD domain account (Windows Service Control
Manager, Scheduler, IIS, etc.) so that services can be started
after password changes.
- To applications, to eliminate embedded passwords in programs
- Regular users, who use certain privileged accounts frequently,
should be pre-authorized for this access, whenever they need it.
- Other users, who only rarely need to use privileged accounts,
should be able to request such access, but only gain it subject
to one-time approval.
- The system must log both password updates and access disclosure.
Failed updates can be used to identify infrastructure problems
while logs of access disclosure create accountability.
- The system should be able to control concurrent access to a given
account -- for example, to limit the number of people
who might perform administrative tasks on a system at the same time
and to link changes to few (or one) individual(s).
Randomizing and Vaulting Passwords
Privileged Access Manager secures sensitive passwords by periodically setting them to new, random values:
- On systems integrated via "push mode:"
Note that "push mode" normally means that no software is deployed to the
managed endpoint system.
- Periodically -- for example, every night between 3AM and 4AM.
- When users check passwords back in, after they are finished using them.
- When users request a specific password value.
- In the event of an urgent termination of a system administrator (randomize
all passwords that person may have known).
- On systems integrated via "pull mode:"
Note that "pull mode" implies a local agent on the managed endpoint
system. This approach is useful on laptops, on rapidly
provisioned/deprovisioned VMs in a cloud environment and in some
isolated network segments.
- Periodically -- for example, every day.
- At a random time-of-day, to even out workload on the Privileged Access Manager service.
- Opportunistically, whenever network connectivity happens to be
available from the managed endpoint to the central privileged access system.
Privileged Access Manager can enforce multiple password policies. There is a
global password policy as well as sets of password rules in
each managed system policy.
Password policies specify the complexity of both randomly chosen and
manually selected passwords. In addition to mandating character types
(lowercase, uppercase, digits, punctuation), each policy can specify
minimum and maximum password lengths, prohibit the use of
dictionary words, etc.
Privileged Access Manager is designed to not only randomize and securely store
privileged passwords, but also to connect users and programs to
privileged accounts after appropriate authentication and authorization.
Passwords and/or access can be disclosed to:
- frequent users, subject to access control policy;
- infrequent users, subject to a one-time approval workflow;
- applications, to replace embedded passwords, via a web
services API, client-side library, OTP, IP address validation,
program fingerprinting and more; and
- service launching infrastructure, such as the Windows SCM and scheduler,
by injecting new passwords and optionally restarting services.
All disclosure is subject to user identification, strong authentication,
SSL encryption in transit and audit logs.
Frequent Users: Pre-approved Access
The most common form of access control in the Privileged Access Manager is based
on managed system policies. These policies are named collections of
managed systems containing privileged accounts whose passwords may be
randomized and access to which is controlled.
Managed systems may either be attached to a policy explicitly (e.g.,
"attach system SYS0123 to policy MSP-A") or implicitly,
using an expression such as "all systems of type Linux at 10.0.1.0/24
are attached to MSP-B". Expressions may be based on the operating
system type, IP address, MAC address, system name or other metadata.
Managed system policies are configured with operational and access
control rules, including:
- Which accounts' passwords to randomize on attached systems.
- How often to change passwords.
- How to compose random passwords (e.g., length, complexity, etc.).
- What actions to take after successful or failed attempts to
- What access disclosure methods to offer authorized users -- e.g.,
launch a given type of client program with ID/password from the
credential vault, display a password, copy buffer integration,
temporary group membership or SSH trust, etc.
Privileged Access Manager users are organized into user
groups, also either explicitly or implicitly. Most commonly,
users are assigned to Privileged Access Manager user groups by virtue of their
membership in Active Directory or LDAP groups.
Groups of users are then assigned specific rights with respect to
specific managed system policies. For example, "every user in
group A may launch RDP sessions to privileged accounts on systems
in policy B."
Business rules, such as segregation of duties between different
sets of users, can also be enforced. This is done by examining,
managing and limiting group membership on reference systems, such as
Active Directory or LDAP.
Occasional Users: One-time Workflow Approval
Privileged Access Manager includes the same authorization workflow engine as is
used in Hitachi ID Identity Manager. Workflow enables users to request access to a
privileged account that was not previously or permanently authorized.
When this happens, one or more additional users are invited (via e-mail
or SMS) to review and approve the request. Approved requests trigger
a message to the request's recipient, including a URL to Privileged Access Manager
where he or she can re-authenticate and "check out" access.
The workflow process is illustrated by the following series of steps:
- User UA signs in and requests that the then-current password to
privileged account PA on system S be made available to user UB at
some later time T. UA may be the same person as UB (a self-service request).
- Privileged Access Manager looks up authorizers associated with LA on S.
- Privileged Access Manager may run business logic to supplement this authorizer list,
for example, UA or UB's manager. The
final list of authorizers is LA. There are N authorizers but approval
by just M (M <= N) is sufficient to disclose the password to PA.
- Privileged Access Manager sends e-mail invitations to authorizers LA.
- If authorizers fail to respond, they get automatic reminder e-mails.
- If authorizers still don't respond, Privileged Access Manager runs
business logic to find replacements for them, effectively escalating
the request. Privileged Access Manager will invite replacement authorizers next.
- Authorizers receive invitation e-mails, click on a URL embedded
in the e-mail invitation, authenticate themselves to the Privileged Access Manager
web portal, review the request and approve or reject it.
- If any authorizers reject the request, e-mails are sent
to all participants (UA, UB and LA) and the request is terminated.
- If M authorizers approve the request, thank-you e-mails are sent
to all participants. The e-mail sent to the recipient includes
a URL to an access disclosure page.
- UB clicks on the e-mail URL and authenticates to Privileged Access Manager.
- UB clicks on a button in the web portal to check-out privileged access.
- UB then may click on a button to do one of the following (the options
available will vary based on policy):
- Display the password (rarely allowed).
- Place a copy of the password in the operating system copy buffer (sometimes allowed).
- Launch an RDP, SSH, vSphere, SQL Studio or similar login session to
PA on S (most common).
Concurrency Controls -- Checkin/Checkout
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to control the number of users who can
simultaneously connect to a given privileged account. This is done
using a checkout/checkin process, in a manner similar to checking a
book out of a library and returning it later.
- Rather than simply granting access to a privileged account, a user
may be required to check out access. Checkout is subject to
- A counter is incremented whenever access is checked out,
indicating that one more person is allowed to sign into
the account in question.
- The number of users who may concurrently access an account
is limited -- for example, up to two at a time.
- The time interval during which a user may be allowed to sign
into an account is limited -- for example, no more than two hours.
- Users are asked to check-in access rights when they are done using
a privileged account.
- The account's checkout counter is decremented.
- If the maximum allowed checkout time has elapsed, Privileged Access Manager
may automatically perform a checkin. This normally causes the
account's password to be re-randomized.
- Checkout and checkin supports coordination among IT workers:
- Privileged Access Manager can notify users who have already checked out access
to an account of subsequent checkouts (e.g., via e-mail or SMS).
- Privileged Access Manager can inform users who request a new checkout
about already-active checkouts.
- Passwords are normally randomized whenever the checkout
counter returns to zero. This ensures that access does
not persist after the last user disconnects from a privileged
Single Sign-on, Privilege Escalation and Other Disclosure Methods
Privileged Access Manager controls access by users and programs to privileged
accounts on managed endpoint systems. In most cases, this means
that when a user is authorized to connect to a privileged account,
the user is able to launch a login session directly to the managed
account without seeing its password.
Display of current password values can be enabled through Privileged Access Manager
policy configuration but is usually only recommended for users physically
in the data center, who need access to a server console.
Access disclosure options include:
- Directly launch Terminal Services Client (RDP), SSH (PuTTY),
VMware vSphere, SQL Studio, web browser/form login and other
connections to target systems from the Privileged Access Manager web user
interface, without displaying a password value.
- Place a copy of a sensitive password into the Windows copy buffer.
This password is automatically
cleared from their copy buffer after a few seconds.
- Temporarily place the authorized user's Active Directory
account in a local or domain security group.
- Temporarily append the authorized user's public SSH key into
the managed account's .ssh/authorized_keys file.
- Where password display is required, display the password but
automatically clear it from the user's browser display after a
Policy rules determine which mechanisms are available to what users,
managed systems and managed accounts.
Replacing Embedded Passwords
Privileged Access Manager includes an API that enables applications to disclose passwords
as needed, at runtime and eliminates the storage of static, plaintext
passwords. Privileged Access Manager periodically randomizes passwords used to connect
to network services (DB, FTP, web, etc.), while applications use the
API to retrieve passwords when required.
The Privileged Access Manager API is accessed as a SOAP web service over HTTPS.
For example, Privileged Access Manager may randomize an Oracle DBMS login
password every 24 hours. Web applications which use the password
to establish database connections can periodically sign into
Privileged Access Manager with their own credentials (see below) and retrieve
the current value of this password.
An important design consideration when implementing a privileged
password retrieval API is how the client which requests password
disclosure (the web application in the above example) authenticates
itself to the web service. Privileged Access Manager secures this process with a
combination of access controls, one-time passwords and network
- API clients each have their own ID, used to sign into Privileged Access Manager.
- These IDs are attached to console user groups and assigned access rights
to privileged accounts managed by Privileged Access Manager. This allows Privileged Access Manager to
determine which passwords a given ID is allowed to retrieve.
- API client login IDs are assigned one-time passwords (OTPs).
In effect, the password used by the client software to sign into the
Privileged Access Manager API changes to a new, random string after each successful
login by the client application into the Privileged Access Manager web service.
- API client login IDs are linked to IP subnets.
An API client can only sign into the Privileged Access Manager web service from an
IP address in the correct range.
An "API wrapper" library is provided to simplify use of the Privileged Access Manager
web service. Different versions of the library are provided for a
variety of runtime platforms and programming languages, such as .NET,
Java, Linux/C, etc. This wrapper code performs several functions:
- Storing the one time password (OTP) used to authenticate to the API.
- Serializing access to the API, so that the OTP is always valid
(avoiding race conditions where two threads receive two OTP values at
almost the same time).
- Keeping cached copies of passwords previously retrieved from the API,
along with cache expiry time. This improves system performance as
calls to the wrapper library do not always trigger web services calls
to Privileged Access Manager. This also ensures service resilience, in the event that
Privileged Access Manager becomes temporarily unavailable.
- Encrypting both the OTP and locally cached passwords.
Encryption of the OTP and cached passwords implies an
encryption key. The API wrapper libraries support a variety of methods
to produce this key, all of which are intended to fingerprint the
authorized application and its runtime environment. This includes:
- A static key (e.g., embedded into the application or configuration
file) -- useful during development or debugging.
- A key generated from characteristics of the machine on which
the application runs, such as its MAC addresses, IP addresses,
- A key generated from characteristics of the program which is
calling the API (i.e., a cryptographic hash of the program itself).
- Hashes of configuration files and command-line arguments.
The objective of these key generation mechanisms is to lock down the
application and its runtime, so that only the approved application
running on an approved system will be able to retrieve a password
from Privileged Access Manager or from the local cache. An attacker who compromises
the system running an application should be prevented from adding
logging statements to display the retrieved password, from moving
the application to another server and retrieving passwords there,
from running the program with different command-line arguments or
configuration files, so that it prints the password to a log file, etc.
Hitachi ID Systems is happy to provide new versions of this wrapper library
for different run-times or programming languages based on customer
The wrapper library is also provided in command-line form, suitable for
use in scripts and for troubleshooting.
Changing Windows Service Account Passwords
On the Windows operating system, service programs are run either
using the SYSTEM login ID, which possesses almost every privilege
on the system (and consequently can do the maximum harm) and which
requires no password or using a named local or domain account.
Services are run in the security context of a named account in order
to reduce the privileges available to them at runtime.
When Windows services are run with a named account, the password for
that account is needed to start the service process. This means that
the Service Control Manager (SCM), IIS web server, Scheduler, etc.
all need to know both the ID and password of service accounts,
when they are configured to run jobs, services, application pools or
similar contexts as a named account, rather than as SYSTEM.
Service account passwords differ from administrator passwords in
that they appear in at least two places:
- Hashed, in the security database -- e.g., the local SAM database or Active
Directory, just like any other account.
- Reversibly encrypted or plaintext, in the registry or a configuration
file, where the program that starts the service (e.g., Service
Control Manager, Scheduler, IIS, ...) can retrieve the password
value when starting a new service process.
Some Windows components, notably IIS, are able to periodically change
the passwords of local service accounts they use. Unfortunately,
this capability does not extend to domain service accounts,
used to run services on multiple systems and does not apply to all
types of service accounts. This means that many Windows service account
passwords remain static by default.
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to secure service account passwords.
This means two things, depending on the mode of operation:
- In push mode (i.e., no local agent on the Windows server), Privileged Access Manager
servers periodically connect to Windows servers or Active Directory
in order to change the passwords of service accounts.
- If the local workstation service is installed on a Windows system
(i.e., the "pull mode" agent), the Privileged Access Manager service periodically
changes service account passwords locally, in coordination with
the central Privileged Access Manager server cluster.
In both cases, Privileged Access Manager must notify the program that launches
services -- the subscriber -- of the new password value, so that it
can successfully launch the service at the time of the next system
restart or when an administrator manually stops and restarts the
service in question. In some cases, for example when domain accounts
are used to run services, an immediate restart may be required or
advisable, due to Kerberos token expiry. Privileged Access Manager can be configured
to restart services after each automated password change.
Privileged Access Manager includes extensive automation to discover subscribers
and subscriber-to-service-account dependency. This allows
Hitachi ID Systems customers to review what services are run in the security
context of what named users, on what systems. This is particularly
helpful where services run in the security context of domain accounts,
since multiple services on multiple servers may run as the same
service account and may therefore require notification after each
Privileged Access Manager includes several mechanisms to accomplish safe and
secure changes to service account passwords:
- Auto-discovery of subscriber/account dependencies for a variety
of subscriber types: IIS (multiple sub-components may have service
accounts/passwords), Scheduler, SCM, DCOM, at various OS and
- White-list policy tables:
- Initialized with discovered data about service accounts and services.
- Allow organizations to specify a password randomization schedule.
- Allow organizations to name application owners, who will be notified
of password changes and any issues.
- Allow organizations to specify a style of notification. For example,
notify the subscriber of new password values before a password
change, after or both? Restart the subscriber or not?
- A mechanism that tests for the availability of all subscribers
before each password change. In particular, if some systems
where services run in the security context of a domain service
account are unreachable, then changes to that account's password
will be deferred.
- Built-in tools to notify subscribers of new password values and
restart services if this was specified in the policy.
- A transaction manager that will retry notifications to
subscribers that went off-line after a password was changed and
before they could be notified of the new password value.
The above are primarily used when managed systems are integrated
with Privileged Access Manager in "push mode" -- i.e., there is no locally
installed agent on the target system and Privileged Access Manager
initiates all connections remotely, over the network, directly
or via a Privileged Access Manager proxy server deployed near the target system.
Where push mode is inappropriate -- for example because
the relevant services (remote registry, WMI, etc.) are disabled
or firewalled or because the end system is offline or inaccessible
due to name resolution or IP routing issues (NAT, etc.), a
local workstation service can be installed on the managed system,
which performs essentially the same functions but
with much simpler connectivity (call home over HTTPS) and
no need for network accessible services on the local system.
The local workstation service is most often used on laptops and in
firewalled network segments (DMZs).
Privileged Access Manager is normally configured to contact application owners after
each password change and in the event of a problem. This makes
troubleshooting easier in the event that notification failed and
a service subsequently could not be started.
The entire infrastructure mentioned here is extensible. Customers
can expand it to support other process-launching systems, such as
third job party schedulers for example.
An alternative to privileged accounts: temporary group membership
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to provide privilege elevation
by temporarily placing a user's (normally unprivileged) personal
account into a privileged security group on the target system.
This process works as follows, using an Active Directory domain, a
Windows server and an RDP connection in our example:
- Administrator A requests privileged access to system C.
- The request is approved either because A has been pre-approved
for such access (typically via membership in a separate AD group) or
because some other user, designated as an owner of system C,
approves the request.
- Administrator A "checks out" access to system C.
- Privileged Access Manager places A's AD account into a privileged group
on system C, such as (local group) "Administrators."
- A connects to C using RDP. This connection might be mediated
by Privileged Access Manager, which can launch the RDP session directly from
its web portal using an ActiveX control.
- Depending on how Privileged Access Manager and C are configured, A may
have to type his personal AD password to establish
the RDP connection to C.
- At some later time, A will either check-in the session or the
session will time out. At this time, Privileged Access Manager will
remove A's AD account from the privileged group on C.
This approach of manipulating group memberships rather than
disclosing passwords has the advantage that audit logs on
the target system (C in the example above) show activity
by the individual administrator (A in the example above) rather
than by a generic local administrator account.
The limitations of this approach are:
- It does not help with access to systems that are not linked to
a directory (e.g., Windows in AD, Linux in LDAP, etc.) since
it presupposes that the user can already sign into the system
in question, but not with adequate privileges for the desired activity.
- It does not help with systems which are disconnected from the network.
- Users, once granted elevated privileges, can connect from a
different client device and therefore bypass any client-based
or proxy-based session monitoring infrastructure. If there is a
desire to record (keylog, video capture, etc.) user activity,
then this approach is not appropriate.
A Unix/Linux alternative to password injection: temporary SSH trust
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to grant privileged access to Unix
and Linux computers by temporarily placing an administrative user's
personal SSH public key into the trusted keys file of a functional
account on the target computer.
This architecture works as follows:
- The Privileged Access Manager server gets its own SSH public and private keys.
- Every user who may require privileged access to Unix/Linux systems
- An SSH client on his PC.
- A well known SSH public key.
- A copy of the public SSH key for every user is kept on the
Privileged Access Manager server or on a Unix/Linux system which Privileged Access Manager can
- Each managed Unix/Linux computer is configured with:
- An SSHD listener.
- The SUDO package.
- A set of functional accounts (see below).
- The /etc/sudoers file on each managed Unix/Linux computer
is configured to grant a set of predefined privileges to each
functional account. For example:
- The account dba might be allowed to perform DB-related tasks.
- The account backup might be allowed to perform filesystem backups.
- The account procmon might be allowed to perform runaway processes.
- The account monitor might be allowed to perform stats from /proc.
- The .ssh/authorized_keys file of each of the functional
accounts is configured to trust the public SSH key of the Privileged Access Manager
- At access checkout time, Privileged Access Manager modifies the
.ssh/authorized_keys file of the functional account
to which access was granted to include the public key of the
user who needs access to that account.
- At access checkin or expiry time, Privileged Access Manager modifies the
.ssh/authorized_keys file of the relevant functional
account to remove the public key of the user who had access to
The access disclosure process works as follows:
- Administrator A requests access to functional account
F on computer C.
- The request is approved either because A has been pre-approved
for such access (typically via membership in an AD group) or
because some other user, with ownership rights to F@C,
approves the request.
- Administrator A "checks out" access to F@C.
- Privileged Access Manager retrieves a copy of the .ssh/authorized_keys
from F@C, adds A's public SSH key to the file and puts the new
.ssh/authorized_keys back in F@C's home directory.
- A connects to F@C using SSH. This connection is authenticated
using an SSH key exchange (not a password).
- A may have to type a password to access his own SSH private key,
depending on how whether his SSH key is encrypted with his password.
- Eventually A will either check-in the session or the session will
time out. When either event happens, Privileged Access Manager will remove
A's public SSH key from F@C's .ssh/authorized_keys file.
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to take advantage of an existing
directory of users for identification, authentication and authorization
- Users may sign into Privileged Access Manager with their Active Directory or
LDAP login ID and password.
- Users may be required to authenticate with a two-factor technology,
such as an RSA SecurID token.
- User membership in Privileged Access Manager security groups and consequently
user privileges, may be based on user membership in AD or LDAP
Externalizing user identification, authentication and authorization
can significantly reduce the administrative overhead of managing
a Privileged Access Manager deployment and is recommended.
Privileged Access Manager also supports multi-step authentication. For example,
a user may be required to type their AD password and then a PIN which
was sent to their mobile phone via SMS or a token pass-code.
Multi-factor authentication is strongly recommended for Privileged Access Manager
deployments, as it protects logins into Privileged Access Manager against keylogging
attacks on user devices.
Administrators (IT staff) authenticate to the Privileged Access Manager web portal
- By typing their current password to a trusted system (e.g., Windows/AD,
LDAP, RAC/F, etc).
- By answering security questions.
- Using a security token (e.g., SecurID pass-code).
- Using a smart card with PKI certificate.
- Using Windows-integrated authentication.
- Using a SAML or OAuth assertion issued by another server.
- By typing a PIN that was sent to their mobile phone via SMS.
- Using a combination of these mechanisms.
Auditing and Regulatory Compliance
Privileged Access Manager logs and can report on every disclosure of access to every
privileged account. This means that the time interval during which a
user was connected to a privileged account or during which a password
was disclosed to a program or person is always recorded, is retained
definitely and is visible in reports.
Privileged Access Manager also logs all attempts by users to search for managed
systems and to connect to privileged accounts, even if login attempts
were denied. This means that even rejected attempts and requests to
access privileged accounts are visible in reports.
Privileged Access Manager also logs auto-discovery and auto-configuration
process status as well as manual changes to its own configuration.
This means that the health of systems on the network can be inferred
from Privileged Access Manager reports.
Exit traps can be used to forward copies of Privileged Access Manager log entries
to another system (e.g., an SIEM, typically via SYSLOG) for analytics
and tamper-proof archive.
Privileged Access Manager includes event reports, which make it possible to see,
among other things:
- What users launched login sessions to what accounts.
- How often access to any given account was granted.
- When and how often passwords were changed on target systems.
- How often users attempted to sign into Privileged Access Manager.
- What the results of those authentication attempts were.
Reports are also included to examine the set of discovered / managed
systems and accounts.
Privileged Access Manager status and process trends are visible in dashboards.
For example, how many checkouts are currently active, how many
systems are currently under management, how many requests are pending
approval, etc. are all visible in a dashboard.
Included reports can also be used to find anomalous activity.
For example, there are reports on popular checkouts by system,
account, requester and approver. This can be used to identify users
with unusually high (are they hacking?) or low (are they getting
any work done?) activity. Reports can also be based on time of day.
For example, a regularly scheduled report (every morning) can enumerate
all checkouts made between 6PM and 6AM and send that data to a security
The Privileged Access Manager schema is well documented and the database is
a standard, relational SQL back-end. This makes it possible for
Hitachi ID Systems customers to write custom reports using off-the-shelf
programs such as Crystal Reports or Cognos BI.
In the context of a forensic audit, Privileged Access Manager enables
organizations to see:
- Who had administrative access to a given system or application
in a given time period.
- Who authorized the access, in the event that it was a one-off
request (as opposed to a permanent right to access the system in
- When the access was first used (e.g., password or access check-out).
- When the access was terminated (e.g., password or access check-in).
Privileged Access Manager includes a session recording feature, to record the
screen display, keyboard input and even web-cam screen shots from the
workstations of system administrators while a login session connects
them to a privileged account on system integrated to Privileged Access Manager.
By recording administrative access to key systems and in some cases
by requiring multiple people to approve such access before it happens,
Privileged Access Manager can both limit and record access to sensitive systems
that contain privacy-protected or financial data. These controls
assist in complying with regulations such as HIPAA, SOX, PCI and more.
Session capture and playback
Privileged Access Manager can be configured to record screen, keyboard and other
data while users are connected to privileged accounts. The recording
may be of just the window launched to connect a user to a privileged
account or of the user's entire desktop.
The session recording system is tamper resistant -- if users attempt
to interrupt recording, their login sessions to privileged accounts
are disconnected and an alarm is raised.
Session recordings may be archived indefinitely and may serve a variety
of purposes, ranging from knowledge sharing and training to forensic
audits. Access to recorded sessions is secured through a combination
of access control policies and workflow approvals, designed to safeguard
The Privileged Access Manager session monitoring infrastructure is included at no
extra cost. It works using ActiveX components and does not require
software to be permanently installed on user PCs. There is no footprint
on managed systems and no proxy servers are used.
Session monitoring is compatible with all administration programs
and protocols, as it instruments the administrator's PC, rather than
network traffic. Recordings can be made of SSH, RDP, vSphere, SQL
Studio and any other administrative sessions launched via Privileged Access Manager.
Recordings can include key-logging, video, webcam, copy buffer and
more, based on policy settings and without regard to the type of
session (protocol, client tool) that was launched.
Privileged Access Manager Architecture
The Privileged Access Manager network architecture is illustrated in general
terms in Figure [link].
Privileged Access Manager Network Architecture Diagram
In the figure:
- There are normally at least two Privileged Access Manager servers, preferably
at least two different physical locations. This is so that
a server crash or a site disaster does not cause all privileged
passwords to be permanently lost or be temporarily unavailable
at other sites.
- Privileged Access Manager server software is installed on Windows 2008 or newer.
- Security officers, auditors, IT staff, application owners (authorizers)
and others who need to interact with Privileged Access Manager do so using a web
UI. This access is typically mediated by a load balancer which
sends sessions to one of two or more load balanced Privileged Access Manager
- If privileged passwords are randomized on mobile devices, there
is typically an agent installed on the endpoint device (available
for Windows) which periodically requests new
password values, group membership changes, etc. for local, privileged
accounts (local service mode). On all other systems, password changes are
initiated by the Privileged Access Manager servers and there is normally no
agent software on the target system.
- Each Privileged Access Manager server has its own database which contains
encrypted credentials for privileged accounts on target systems,
along with policy data, audit logs and a variety of configuration
data. The database may be SQL Server or Oracle.
- All updates to Privileged Access Manager databases are mediated by a
Privileged Access Manager database service, which is responsible for reliable
replication of these updates to peer Privileged Access Manager servers.
This includes a replication queue on each server.
- Each Privileged Access Manager server is responsible for pushing passwords
to a set of target systems. This allows multiple Privileged Access Manager
servers to share the work of randomizing passwords on many
target systems (as many as 2,000,000 password changes every 24
hours using just three Privileged Access Manager servers).
- Connectors are provided to push passwords to over 120
types of systems.
- If connections to some target systems are blocked by a firewall
then a Hitachi ID Systems proxy server may be co-located with those systems
and the responsible Privileged Access Manager server will ask that proxy to make
password updates locally. This reduces the number of ports that
must be opened through firewalls when Privileged Access Manager operates in a
large, segmented WAN.
- Requests for access disclosure may be authorized immediately,
because the recipient named in the request has been pre-authorized
to gain privileged access via group membership and a persistent ACL.
Requests are entered via a web portal or API.
- Requests for access disclosure may require manual approval,
using the Privileged Access Manager workflow engine. This includes N of M
authorizers, reminders, escalation, and delegation. Authorizers
may be statically assigned to groups or managed devices or calculated
dynamically. Authorization is invited via e-mail and completed
via an authenticated web session.
Communicating with managed endpoints: push, pull and proxy
There are three styles of outbound connectivity from a
Privileged Access Manager server to managed systems, as illustrated in
Push-mode, pull-mode and proxies to connect to managed systems
In the figure:
- Direct access is where the Privileged Access Manager server runs a connector
locally. This connector connects to the target system over the
network. This is also called a push mode target system.
- Indirect access via a Privileged Access Manager proxy server is where an active
Privileged Access Manager server connects to a proxy server. The proxy server runs
a connector on behalf of the active server. The
connector connects to a target system on the network. Proxy
servers are typically co-located with one or more distant or firewalled
managed systems. Interaction with target systems via a proxy
is still considered push mode, because an active Privileged Access Manager server
initiates each connection.
- Direct or web-proxied connections initiated from a client device,
accessing a web services API URL on an active Privileged Access Manager server.
This is called local service mode and is typically deployed on user laptops,
to allow for the fact that they may be powered off, relocated
assigned dynamic IP addresses, firewalled, NAT'ed and generally
be difficult or unreliable for a central Privileged Access Manager server to find.
Privileged Access Manager Host Platform
Privileged Access Manager must be installed on a Windows 2008R2 or 2012 server.
Installing on a Windows server allows Privileged Access Manager to leverage
client software for most types of target systems, which is available
only on the "Wintel" platform. In turn, this makes it possible for
Privileged Access Manager to manage passwords and accounts on target systems without
installing a server-side agent.
The Privileged Access Manager server must also be configured with a web server.
Since the Privileged Access Manager application is implemented as CGI executables,
any web server will work. The Privileged Access Manager installation program
can detect and automatically configure IIS or Apache
web servers, but other web servers can be configured manually.
Privileged Access Manager is a security application and should be locked down accordingly.
Please refer to the Hitachi ID Systems document about hardening Privileged Access Manager
servers to learn how to do this. In short, most of the native
Windows services can and should be removed, leaving a very small
attack surface, with exactly one inbound TCP/IP port (443):
- IIS is not required (Apache is a reasonable substitute).
- No ASP, JSP or PHP are used, so these engines should be disabled.
- .NET is not required on the web portal and in most cases can be
disabled on IIS.
- No ODBC or DCOM are required inbound, so these services should at
least be filtered.
- File sharing should be disabled.
- Remote registry services should be disabled.
- Inbound TCP/IP connections should be firewalled, allowing only port
443 and possibly remote desktop services (often required for some
Each Privileged Access Manager server requires a database instance. SQL 2008R2 or
SQL 2012 are the most common options, but Oracle database is also
Privileged Access Manager is designed to be secure. It is protected using a
multi-layered security architecture, which includes running on a hardened
OS, using file system ACLs, providing strong application-level user
authentication, filtering user inputs, encrypting sensitive data,
enforcing application-level ACLs and storing log data indefinitely.
Privileged Access Manager never requires plaintext passwords to be stored in configuration
files or scripts and does not store plaintext passwords anywhere.
Privileged Access Manager does not ship with a default administrator password -- one
must be typed in at installation time.
These security measures are illustrated in Figure [link].
Network architecture security diagram
Supported Target System Types
Privileged Access Manager comes with built-in connectors for most common systems
and applications, as illustrated below.
All connectors are included in the base price.
Any LDAP, AD, NDS, eDirectory, NIS/NIS+.
Windows 2000--2012, Samba, NDS, SharePoint.
Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, DB2/UDB, ODBC, Informix, Progress.
Linux, Solaris, AIX, HPUX, 24 more variants.
z/OS with RAC/F, ACF/2 or TopSecret.
iSeries (OS400), OpenVMS.
Tokens, Smart Cards:
JDE, Oracle eBiz, PeopleSoft, SAP R/3, SAP ECC 6, Siebel, Business Objects.
Lotus Notes, Exchange, GroupWise, BlackBerry ES.
RSA SecurID, SafeWord, RADIUS, ActivIdentity, Schlumberger.
CA Siteminder, IBM TAM, Oracle AM, RSA Access Manager.
BMC Remedy, BMC SDE, ServiceNow, HP Service Manager, CA Unicenter,
Assyst, HEAT, Altiris, Clarify, Track-It!, RSA Envision, MS SCS Manager.
McAfee, CheckPoint, BitLocker, PGP.
Salesforce.com, WebEx, Google Apps, MS Office 365, Concur, AWS, vCloud, SOAP (generic).
OLAP, Hyperion, iLearn, Caché, Success Factors, VMware vSphere.
Cisco IOS, Juniper JUNOS, F5, iLO cards, DRAC cards, RSA cards, etc.
SSH, Telnet, TN3270, HTTP(S), SQL, LDAP, command-line.
Privileged Access Manager includes a number of flexible connectors, each of which
is used to script integration with a common protocol or mechanism.
These connectors allow organizations to quickly and inexpensively
integrate Privileged Access Manager with custom and vertical market applications.
The ability to quickly and inexpensively add integrations increases
the value of the Privileged Access Manager system as a whole.
There are flexible connectors to script interaction with:
Back end integration:
- C, C++
- Java, J2EE
- COM, ActiveX
- MQ Series
- TN3270, TN5250
- Simulated browser
- SQL Injection
- LDAP attributes
- Power Shell
Organizations that wish to write a completely new connector to integrate
with a custom or vertical market application may do so using whatever
development environment they prefer (J2EE, .NET, Perl, etc.) and invoke it
as either a command-line program or web service.
If Hitachi ID Systems customer develops their own integrations, an effort of between four
hours and four days is typical. Alternately, Hitachi ID Systems offers fixed-cost
custom integrations for a nominal fee.
Privileged Access Manager supports management of passwords on laptops,
which may be mobile, have dynamic IP addresses, get unplugged, etc.
This is done using client software, which works by "pulling" new,
passwords from the Privileged Access Manager server cluster.
Client software is available for:
- Windows 2000, XP, Windows Vista/7/8, 2003, 2008 and 2008R2.
- Unix (various vendors) and Linux (IA86).
The Windows pull-mode service includes plug-ins to notify operating
system components of new service account passwords. Plug-ins are
provided for the Windows Service Control Manager, Windows Scheduler