It is accepted within the cyber security industry that good training / awareness of staff, good anti-virus / anti-malware and good patching practices are all effective means of tackling a large percentage of potential breaches in our systems today. Do the simple things well and the risk is decreased substantially.
However, I think there’s an important area that gets missed when looking at the simple things, because it seems or feels difficult. In my role I get to speak to a lot of different people in all sorts of different industries. I also read a lot of reports and posts on news channels, social media (including LinkedIn) etc, and one area that seems to be consistently overlooked is that relating to privileged accounts - root, admin, whatever you choose to call them.
In this piece I’ll mostly refer to admin, but I really mean all of these accounts with the highest level of access within a system. I also won’t differentiate between those accounts used to control an Operating System or those used to control software eg Database Admin accounts. I’m also including routers, switches, firewalls, and any other device which has some form of access control.
I’ve seen numerous occasions where default admin passwords are not changed, even though the industry has been telling us we should have been doing that for years. In the business world, I have seen routers with a username of admin and a password of admin because “it’s too difficult to maintain a record of all the passwords”.
A simple search online will bring up the default admin passwords for home routers provided by many of the big service providers, yet how many of you don’t change the default admin password immediately? I’m not talking about the WiFi code, but the actual password for the admin account on the hub / router.
The recent revelations about Talk Talk and the Post Office attacks show this is one of the methods used to gain access, along with other simple to use tools.
Once the bad guys get access to a system, my understanding from ethical hacking courses I’ve attended, from discussions with pen testers and from my own background reading, is that one of the first things the bad guys do is try to escalate their privileges so that they can get access as admin, root, or whatever name you use for your highest level accounts.
Every year, for many years, security reports have come out talking about how users abuse their privileges to get access to data which they are not entitled to. For example, in the 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon, they devote an entire section to the Insider Threat and Privilege Misuse. In that report 152 incidents out of 172 (over 88%) with confirmed data breach were due to privilege escalation. (Note that there were 10 489 incidents in total, but only 172 confirmed a data breach - but that’s another story.)
88% is a huge figure, and in my experience is not particularly surprising. Yet a lot of businesses ignore privileged account management completely, or pay lip service to the process. My advice is to use one of the privileged account management tools out there, and reduce the risk to your business massively.
It may be a daunting challenge, but there are tools out there (eg the free DNA Discovery and Audit tool from CyberArk) which can help you find all the privileged accounts on your systems (including databases, cloud providers and custom code).
Once you’ve found out where they are, take a risk based approach to addressing them, and make sure you implement good password hygiene while you’re at it ie ensure passwords are changed regularly to something complex and greater than 15 characters: if you’re using a good tool that password change could be every 3 - 6 months, or every time the device is accessed, whatever is appropriate for your business.
Use the results from your toolset to track progress, to review your risk profile and to react accordingly.
In my opinion, the prevalence of privileged accounts in a business is something that is easy to check (with the right tools checking may only take a matter of minutes) so why wouldn’t you do it on a regular basis?
PGI believes that cyber security doesn’t need to be overly complicated, incomprehensible or vastly expensive. We specialise in delivering cyber security services and protection, and offer a range of training courses to upskill your staff to tackle cyber threats in-house.
Want to know how secure your business is, or methods in which you can improve? We offer FREE cyber consultancy for all businesses, large or small. Please register here and a member of the team will be in touch.
Your free global geopolitical
PGI’s Risk Portal tool provides daily intelligence feeds, country threat assessments and analytical insights, enabling clients to track, understand and navigate geopolitical threats.
The Risk Portal gives users up-to-date information and analysis on global affairs.
The Risk Portal allows users to visualise information in a unique and instantly understandable way. Mapping filters enable the visualisation of incidents by threat category, time period, perpetrator and target type.
Risk Portal users can upgrade their accounts to include the Report Builder and Country Profile Generator features. The Report Builder allows users to select information, data and images from the Risk Portal and create bespoke reports and emails.
Subscribers to PGI’s Bespoke services receive tailored analysis on specific sectors and geographies of interest, delivered at a frequency they determine.
Making ongoing compliance easier for you and your business
GDPR is now in force – make sure your business meets the necessary requirements and assurance for all your customers and employees
A full audit of your business to assess the level of your compliance against GDPR requirements
Become GDPR compliant with minimal work – we’ll conduct an analysis, review, report and implementation of necessary changes to your business
We’ll carry out simple assessments of security to help you understand and mitigate the potential risks to your business
Get your business ready to face the cyber challenge
We provide a full range of accredited, certified and bespoke services that assess the resilience of your cyber security posture
PGI’s Qualified Security Assessors (QSA) will help you meet Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS)
Find out more on PCI DSS
Demonstrate your commitment to cyber security by achieving and maintaining accreditation for the globally-recognised information security standard
Find out more on ISO 27001
Understand the threats of phishing and malware to avoid being targeted
Undertake our phishing capability assessment to reduce your organisation’s risk of of attack, by measuring the cyber awareness of your workforce.
PGI will conduct a tailored phishing campaign, using multiple methods, to identify realism and train employees where necessary to mitigate future attacks
PGI monitor multiple metrics to identify the types of phishing, generate in-depth analysis reports and provide an informed decision to help improve your organisation’s level of security and awareness
Prevent attacks, respond to breaches and protect your business
Our bespoke range of cyber security services not only protect your critical assets but provide the education you need to keep your operations and data safe.
implement the cost-effective cyber security measure launched by the government to prevent cyber-attacks, demonstrate commitment to your clients, and attract new business by being recognised as a secure organisation
Find out more on Cyber Essentials Accreditation
The most effective way to identify how attackers target your organisation’s weaknesses by evaluating your system and network security and reporting on any vulnerabilities that could lead to a business impact
Find out more on Penetration Testing
If your business has experienced breaches, network compromises or operational disruption, our team of cyber security specialists can deploy quickly, and efficiently begin the process of detecting and eliminating the threat
Find out more on Data Breach Response & Recovery
Data Breach Response & Recovery
We prevent attacks, respond to security breaches, and protect your business
Our team of specialists can deploy quickly and efficiently to begin the process of detecting, eliminating and prevention of future threats of a breach.
A vital part of the response process is making a copy of your data for safe forensic analysis. We will work with you to preserve and use this evidence to discover the extent of an intrusion
Find out more on Digital Forensics
We will identify and minimise the risks, as well as the possibility of future risks to your business
Consistent interaction with your management team and recommendations on how to approach all outcomes that need attention
Subscribe to our Cyber Bytes Newsletter
Keep yourself in the loop with PGI by signing up to our Monthly Cyber Bytes email. You will receive updates, tips and narrative around what has been happening in the world of information security.