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Privileged Access

Privileged Access is the process of granting administrator or elevated privileges to information resources. Examples of administrator privileges can include access to systems to perform maintenance functions or to provide access to sensitive data or applications. Privileged Access to information resources should be limited using the "least privilege" concept: granting access to only minimum privileges required by the role to meet business and security requirements and no more.

Administrator or Privileged access to systems or applications should be limited to the least number of roles as possible and limit access to only what's required. Examples include "support" roles that may require broader privileges to maintain the organization's systems and applications (e.g., operations group, patch management team, etc.). Full administrator access to systems should not be provided to business users by default since this could lead to potential unintended errors, download of malware or unauthorized software, which could lead to higher likelihood of unauthorized access or mishandling of sensitive information.

To help achieve least privilege access, roles should first be established to include the support roles, as previously mentioned, but also the business roles that may require certain access to a finite set of systems or applications. For example, a business application developer role should only have access to development systems and only privileges required to perform that role (e.g. check in/out code or test applications). There may also be a business application support role that only requires access to certain application servers and application configurations in production, but should have no access to application data or to change operating system configurations.

Segregation of Duties helps establish separation of roles and oversight for unauthorized changes. Changes to role membership should also be carefully controlled via a formal approval process. For example, new requests to add a new user to a role (or group) should be approved by the business role or system owner before granting access to information resources. Privileged Access to systems should also be granted for a limited time.

To ensure accountability, activities performed by Privileged Access ID's should be logged by the individual security systems. The logging will include evidence of log-on, log-off, identity of data or resource type of access (read, update, create, and delete), action success or failure, privileged system commands used, user ID and name, date and time.

Privileged user access rights should also be reviewed at regular intervals (e.g. every 90 days) using a formal process such as a role or system owner approval of changes to group membership. Application, Service or "System" account Passwords used by applications or services to gain access to other resources (e.g. database servers or data) also need to be controlled. Privileged passwords used by administrators should also be rotated on a frequent basis.  Suggested minimum of at least every 90 days or 30 days for enhanced security.  Other security controls to consider for larger, sensitive, production networks include two-factor tokens and bastion host/gateway that admins would need to logon to prior to gaining access to production systems.

Finally, system accounts (such as "root" or "Administrator") should not be shared, carefully monitored and restricted to prevent interactive logins to sensitive systems. If such accounts need to be used, Password Management (or "Vault") systems should be used to ensure account usage will be limited and authorized by system owners and to provide audit trail for account usage. System accounts can also be restricted to specific host systems to ensure they don't get misused for other malicious means. This will help ensure accountability for system access and ensure authorized access.

Topic Category
Access Control
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