December 22, 2015 By David Strom 2 min read

Account Credentials Are Child’s Play for Cybercriminals

The “Black Hat 2015 Hacker Survey Report” from Thycotic showed just how easy it is for attackers to steal privileged account credentials. According to the study, which was completed during this year’s Black Hat USA conference, 94 percent of cybercriminals find this information in unprotected files, including spreadsheets.

Keep in mind that the study is somewhat self-serving since Thycotic sells password access managers. But given the way IT can be its own worst enemy when it comes to security, it is worth taking a closer look at the survey results.

The study asked 200 hackers, who identified both as black-hat and white-hat types, what they thought about the state of cybersecurity. The vast majority — 75 percent — saw no improvement in the security of privileged accounts over the last two years. One-fifth of those surveyed found information about these accounts “all the time” in unprotected files, compared to only 6 percent that never found this information this way. The favorite target of their attempts are health care-related businesses.

Recommendations for Password Access Managers

The report did come with a solid set of recommendations to improve security practices around privileged password access. The four main points include:

  1. Discover rogue accounts and secure them immediately. Spend time tracking down all of your privileged accounts and bring them into one of the secure password access managers available on the market. For example, besides Thycotic, there are tools from Lieberman Software and Zoho/ManagedEngine that can accomplish this task.
  2. Rotate passwords on privileged endpoints constantly. Use the built-in automation of password access managers to do this.
  3. Actively audit and monitor privileged user access. It is still important to build a layer of monitoring around the use of those credentials in order to verify that they are used appropriately and not abused. Another tool that can be used for this purpose is Balabit’s Shell Control Box.
  4. Enforce strong password policies for end users. As the report stated, “While privileged accounts are the most coveted credentials to provide attackers critical data access, end user passwords are still an essential check mark in a hacker’s attack chain. Enforcing strong password policies on end user credentials helps protect those identities from being compromised during an attack.” One way to do this is to employ a single sign-on tool, which can create strong passwords and enforce corporate and IT policies.

Using password access managers is just the first step toward better security and is only one component of an integrated and holistic security policy. That said, it’s certainly a good one to take, especially if your shop has gotten sloppy about handling server and network infrastructure passwords.

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