Our cyber security products span from our next gen SIEM used in the most secure government and critical infrastructure environments, to automated cyber risk reporting applications for commercial and government organisations of all sizes.
This blog post “CMMC – Restrict Admin Privileges” is the tenth in a series on Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) – a US Department of Defense (DoD) initiative that imposes requirements on contractors and subcontractors to help safeguard information within the US defense supply chain.
In this article, we look at how the ‘principle of least privilege’ (need to know) should be applied to your enterprise ICT systems to reduce the harm compromised accounts can cause and reduce the overall risks to information and business continuity.
The CMMC clearly explains how system administrators have the most privileged accounts on computer systems, so a malware infection or an account hijacking of that user could be catastrophic. For this reason, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has included ‘Restrict administrative privileges’ in the Essential Eight security controls; it is a critical step in achieving cyber resilience.
Anyone with an administrative account, whether for operating system activities or business application management, can directly access its configuration, the information within its datastores, and circumvent security controls.
Attackers use malware and brute force attacks to compromise administrative accounts since these accounts are the most powerful in your organisation. Once in the hands of an adversary, administrative accounts give the attacker the ability to do whatever they want. If you restrict the distribution of administrative privileges to those who need it and ensure they get only those privileges required to undertake the responsibilities of their job, you limit the harm these attacks can inflict. Furthermore, by restricting the rights associated with the account, malware has less opportunity to spread through the network, inhibited by the same constraints the account has.
ACSC has identified a number of approaches that, while they may appear to restrict administrative privileges, do not meet the intent of the strategy, and may even increase risk. First, simply reducing the number of administrative accounts. While this certainly removes the number of accounts that an adversary can target, it is not a solution in itself.
The ACSC’s second point relates to shared non-attributable privileged accounts, meaning accounts that are used by more than one administrator. With shared accounts, there is no way of knowing or finding out which logged in user did which action. If you use shared accounts, you lose your audit trail, and digital evidence in logs is no longer of value.
Two further approaches that ACSC suggests are not effective in restricting administrative privileges are temporarily allocating administrative rights to user accounts and placing standard user accounts in user groups with administrative privileges. The first of these has limited the time the account is exposed, but not the specific capabilities of the account, so a compromised user who is elevated to an administrator may still become infected, and the elevation will give the attacker those additional privileges too. Finally, putting users into groups with admin privileges creates the same problem as users being administrators, they are just getting the privileges from a different group. Instead, ACSC recommends you take a task-based approach to identify what activities administrators do and assigning only those privileges needed to do the job.
Furthermore, you should frequently check that the administrative accounts you created are correct and assigned to the most appropriate individuals. Accounts should be attributable only to the staff members to which they are assigned, and accounts should never be shared. If you want more information on secure administration, ACSC has created an excellent guide that you can access here.
Taking the security control, restrict admin privileges to the next level, you can adopt a practical security architecture approach, known as the principle of least privilege. What this means is it provides system and user accounts only those privileges needed to perform their roles. A standard user account does not need to install applications so you can remove this privilege from that archetype’s capability. An account used for an application to log into a database does not require the ability to reset passwords or take backups, so remove those privileges. By doing this, you reduce the level of freedom attackers have when they compromise an account, thus minimising the harm they can inflict.
A secondary, not so security-related benefit is it improves your ICT systems’ stability by reducing the frequency by which users and administrators can make mistakes. If an administrator cannot accidentally delete a backup or a user cannot unwittingly delete a shared folder, your information availability is improved.
As we mentioned earlier, you must maintain individual accountability for all accounts, especially those with administrative privileges. You can boost your security posture further by implementing a solution for protective monitoring and alerting on the use and potential misuse of system privileges.
It’s possible to have your operating system report the use of privileges to event logs and record privilege changes so you can alert if more privileges are allocated, be that by mistake or as the result of an attack. Feeding events into a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system can afford the security team the ability to correlate events with user activities, so more in-depth investigations can take place, and root cause analysis can expose why certain things happened.
Compliance is an issue for many organisations, so ensuring you remain in control of the distribution of privileges across your enterprise is vitally important. Huntsman Security has solutions that suit every business security need for managing system privileges. Our Next Generation SIEM with inbuilt Threat Intelligence and user entity and behavioural analytics can collect and alert on changes within your enterprise that could be indicative of an attack and immediately alert your security team.
Huntsman Security’s Essential 8 Scorecard and Essential 8 Auditor products monitor each of the eight controls recommended by ACSC. These platforms will alert you to issues with implementation, deviations from the compliance baseline and provide a current management level review of your security posture, suitable for an auditor to review as part of an external assessment.
Don’t wait for an attacker to expose and exploit your over-privileged accounts; take action today to reduce your attack surface and improve your security posture.
A recent KPMG Report suggests that protecting against and dealing with cyber risks will be the major challenge for senior executives in 2024. It is clear that despite high levels of security investment, organisations continue to suffer from cyber attacks.Read more
The Australian Signals Directorate’s (ASD) recent publication of their Cyber Threat Report 2022-2023 unearthed a range of areas for concern for government departments and critical infrastructure entities at local, State and Federal level.Read more
As cyber risks increase, organisations are encountering the longer life cycle of insurance renewals and the need to demonstrate better management of security controls and their effectiveness.Read more
Highlights and insights from the recent Managed Services Summit in London & the ISACA Central Chapter Conference on Digital Trust, in Birmingham, UK. With two recent conferences in the space of three days, some interesting challenges were very evident in the topics discussed. Being very different events, the challenges were quite different, but interestingly they […]Read more
In early August 2023, the latest joint advisory on persistent vulnerabilities was issued by the intelligence and security agencies of the “Five-eyes” community. These joint advisories are becoming more common. Perhaps recognising the growing importance of shared security information and the common nature of many of the threats faced – the weight they carry makes […]Read more
The quality of your risk assessment and the security information it provides is important; if you plan to use it to actively manage your operational and cyber resilience activities. Organisations are constantly exposed to a rapidly changing threat environment, so you really need a similarly rapid evidence-based feedback system that informs you of the ongoing […]Read more
The UK market has its own regulators, security standards and challenges. And while rulings from SEC in the US or the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) in Australia don’t apply to UK companies, for the most part, the observations are undoubtedly relevant and the resulting advice instructive. It would be wrong to think UK financial […]Read more
<<< Part 2a: Australia’s Essential Eight: Beyond Endpoint Control <<< Part 2b: Activating UK NCSC & US NIST Guidelines: Beyond Endpoint Control Part 4: Systematic Measurement of Cyber Controls >>> As much as we invest into cyber security controls, external threats are inevitable. In a recent Notifiable Data Breaches Report from the Office of the […]Read more
Keen campers, scouts and even the Swiss Army know – that a good penknife is indispensable. This simple device has mitigated many a disaster at one point in time or another. Whether it’s to cut through a bit of string, tighten a screw or simply to solve the problem of no bottle opener in the […]Read more
Supply chain risk is an area of cyber security that demands the ongoing attention of every enterprise; because it can make the difference between being resilient or not. It’s no surprise that insurers warn that the vulnerability of supply chains is potentially a systemic risk that can quickly propagate across supply chain dominated industries. Organisations […]Read more
Read by directors, executives, and security professionals globally, operating in the most complex of security environments.