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Overview: The Business Problem

It can be difficult to securely manage access to thousands of privileged accounts. Consequently, in many organizations, the passwords to privileged accounts are:

  • known to many people, possibly including former staff,
  • often the same on many systems,
  • rarely if ever changed and
  • stored in plaintext, by people and by applications.

There are serious consequences to these password management practices, including:

  • There is no accountability for use of shared, privileged accounts. This is a security risk and regulatory compliance problem and can increase the difficulty of diagnosing operation problems and auditing user access.
  • Former staff may retain sensitive access.
  • Malicious actors have an easier time compromising an enterprise's systems.
  • If one system is compromised (e.g., an IT user's PC or an application server), the threat actor can leverage passwords stored or typed on that system to compromise additional systems.

These problems create security vulnerabilities. For example, if administrator passwords don't change, then former IT workers retain them beyond their term of employment. This clearly violates internal controls: former employees should not have administrative access to corporate systems.

In most organizations, strong internal controls are mandatory. Privacy protection legislation such as GDPR and HIPAA, as well as legislation regarding corporate governance such as SOX requires that systems containing sensitive data be secured against unauthorized access. Effective management of access to privileged accounts is therefore not an option, but a requirement.

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