What is a Privileged Account?

A privileged account is a user account at an organisation that has elevated privileges, meaning it has permissions and access rights to an organisation’s systems, databases, applications and network infrastructure that a majority of other users do not. It’s important to note that not all privileged accounts are used by humans. For example, service accounts are privileged accounts used by applications.

Due to the elevated privileges on these accounts, privileged users are often able to perform administrative and sensitive tasks, such as deprovisioning users. If the wrong person were to gain access to a privileged account, or if the account was misused, it could negatively impact an organisation’s security.

Read on to learn more about privileged accounts and the importance of securing them.

Privileged Account vs. Non-Privileged Account

Unlike privileged accounts, non-privileged accounts don’t have elevated privileges meaning they don’t have access to privileged systems and data. Privileged accounts are allowed to do more things than non-privileged accounts because of these elevated privileges and access rights. For example, non-privileged accounts don’t have access to information such as the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of employees and customers. PII includes confidential details like home addresses, social security numbers, credit card details and more.

Some accounts that are considered non-privileged include standard user accounts and guest accounts since they are given limited access to systems and data.

What Accounts Are Considered Privileged Accounts?

Some accounts that are considered privileged accounts within an organisation include the following:

  • IT administrator accounts
  • Operating systems
  • Payroll systems
  • Service accounts
  • Code repositories
  • Database administrator accounts
  • System accounts
  • Application accounts

Why Privileged Accounts Are Important

Privileged accounts are the accounts most targeted by threat actors, which is why it’s important organisations take the necessary steps to secure them from cyber attacks. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 74% of breaches involved access to a privileged account.

If a threat actor were to successfully target an organisation’s privileged accounts that are left unsecured, it would lead to the following:

  • Financial losses: When an organisation experiences a cyber attack, the result of the attack is significant. According to Keeper Security’s 2022 US Cybersecurity Census Report, the average amount of money that organisations lost as a result of a cyber attack was more than $75,000. 37% of organisations lost $100,000 or more.
  • Loss of sensitive data: All privileged accounts contain sensitive information that can be used to carry out targeted attacks like ransomware or phishing. Not taking preventive measures to secure privileged accounts means the data in those accounts is more vulnerable to being stolen. The loss of sensitive data can be even more damaging if organisations aren’t following cybersecurity best practices such as creating backups, because they will lose the data and have no way to access it again.
  • Reputational damage: When the data of customers is stolen, the reputation of an organisation will suffer since current and potential customers may no longer trust them. According to Keeper’s report, more than one-quarter of respondents suffered reputational damage as a result of a successful cyber attack.

The aftermath of a cyber attack is especially devastating for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs) and often results in them going out of business. Keeper’s report revealed only half of SMBs survive at least five years after experiencing a cyber attack.

It’s important that organisations implement cybersecurity solutions, especially when it comes to protecting privileged information and accounts, since they are the most targeted and contain an organisation’s most valuable assets.

How to Manage and Secure Access to Privileged Accounts

The best way for organisations to manage and secure access to privileged accounts is with a Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution. Privileged access management refers to how organisations manage and secure accounts that have access to highly sensitive systems and data. Without a PAM solution, organisations have no visibility into who has access to privileged accounts, meaning some users may have access to accounts they don’t need to do their jobs. This poses a major security risk that can lead to data breaches.

PAM solution aids IT administrators in enforcing the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) which is a cybersecurity concept where users are only given access to the information and systems they need to do their jobs and no more. With a PAM solution, organisations are able to enforce the PoLP through the use of Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC), which reduces an organisation’s attack surface, minimises insider threats and improves compliance. In the long run, PAM solutions save organisations millions of dollars since they minimise the impact of successful cyber attacks and reduce overall risk.

PAM solutions also aid organisations in securing privileged accounts through the use of Enterprise Password Management (EPM). EPM aids IT administrators in enforcing the use of strong passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on privileged accounts. Even in the event of a breach, strong passwords and MFA would prevent threat actors from being able to access a privileged account successfully.

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