There are many cybersecurity threats privileged accounts face including phishing, insider threats, malware and brute force attacks. When privileged accounts aren’t managed or secured properly, all of an organization’s sensitive data is vulnerable to being successfully targeted by threat actors.
Continue reading to learn how and why cybercriminals target privileged accounts and how organizations can keep their most critical accounts safe.
What Are Privileged Accounts?
Privileged accounts are accounts that have more privileges than standard users within an organization. Privileged accounts often have access to highly sensitive information, systems or networks that privileged users need to perform their job functions. For example, finance employees are considered privileged users, because they need access to privileged accounts like payroll systems that contain the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of employees.
Because of the sensitive data and elevated privileges these types of accounts have, they are often a threat actor’s first target when launching a cyberattack.
Top 4 Most Common Threats Privileged Accounts Face
Here are some of the most common threats privileged accounts face in an organization.
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack in which a cybercriminal aims to convince their target to disclose sensitive information. The threat actor will target privileged users in an attempt to gain access to an organization’s privileged accounts. For example, the threat actor may send out a phishing email that tells a privileged user to immediately change their password because it’s been compromised and to click on a link to change it.
Clicking on the link could put the privileged user and the entire organization at risk. For example, it could cause a malware infection which will give the threat actor access to sensitive data on the victim’s device. Clicking could also redirect the user to a spoofed website that looks legitimate. If the user were to enter their privileged credentials onto the spoofed site, their account would become compromised – placing the entire organization at risk.
Insider threats are attacks that occur because of actions by internal employees. It’s important to note that insider threats aren’t only caused by disgruntled employees. User errors without malicious intent are also considered insider threats.
When privileged accounts aren’t managed properly, privileged users may misuse their privileges which presents a serious risk to any organization. If a privileged user accidentally causes an error that exposes user credentials, like falling for a phishing email, that error places privileged data at risk of being compromised. The higher the number of privileged users, the more likely it is that one will make a harmful error.
Malware is a type of malicious software that can be installed onto a user’s device by a threat actor. This can happen because of a user going to a spoofed website, clicking on a malicious link or clicking on a harmful attachment. When malware is installed onto a privileged user’s device, every privileged account that user has access to, and the data within those accounts, are now at risk of being compromised.
Brute force is a type of cyberattack that uses trial and error methods in an attempt to guess login credentials. This is a common attack used by threat actors to gain access to privileged accounts. These attacks are most successful in organizations that don’t have password management. A password manager is a cybersecurity tool that helps IT administrators enforce strong passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Without a password management solution in place, IT administrators have no way of managing employee passwords, which can lead to the reuse of passwords across multiple privileged accounts, or the use of weak passwords that are easy to crack.
Why Might Attackers Target Privileged Accounts?
Here are two reasons why attackers target privileged accounts.
They contain an organization’s crown jewels
Privileged accounts are a threat actor’s door into the most important sytems and data at an organization. Let’s say a threat actor gains access to a payroll system because they were able to successfully obtain an HR employee’s login credentials. A payroll system is considered a privileged account because it contains sensitive employee information including social security numbers, home addresses, full names and more. If a cybercriminal gained access to this information, they could steal and sell this data on the dark web – placing current and previous employee’s identities at risk of being stolen.
Elevated privileges allow them to move throughout the network
Privileged accounts, such as IT administrator accounts, give threat actors access to almost anything in an organization’s network and the ability to create or modify user accounts. With access to just one IT account, a threat actor can make their way through a network and compromise any account or data they come in contact with because of the elevated privileges associated with that account. These elevated privileges are why threat actors often target privileged accounts in an organization.
How to Protect Privileged Accounts From Threats
Protecting privileged accounts from threats starts with Privileged Access Management (PAM). PAM refers to how organizations manage and secure access to privileged accounts and systems. With a PAM solution like KeeperPAM™, IT administrators gain visibility into all networks, applications, servers and devices to prevent misuse and compromise of privileged credentials. A PAM solution also provides IT administrators with Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) capabilities. With RBAC, users are limited to accessing only the bare minimum systems and data they need to do their jobs and no more. This means if an organization is breached, the cybercriminal would only be able to move laterally within a network and not vertically, such as access to even more privileged data and systems.
KeeperPAM unifies Keeper Connection Manager (KCM), Keeper Secrets Manager (KSM) and Keeper Enterprise Password Manager (EPM). Together, these solutions provide a next-generation, quick-to-deploy PAM solution that helps organizations secure remote connections, secrets and credentials.
Without a PAM solution, organizations provide users with too many privileges without proper oversight. Administrators don’t know who has access to which privileged accounts or when or where users are accessing these accounts. This makes organizations vulnerable to all kinds of threats. However, with a PAM solution, these threats are minimized.
To learn more about how a PAM solution like KeeperPAM can help protect your organization’s privileged accounts from threats, request a demo.