Attacks/Breaches
3/26/2009
03:15 PM
50%
50%

Top-Down Password Protection

New tools can corral administrator-level access, but plan ahead to avoid costly downtime.

Chances are good that many of your servers share administrator passwords that haven't been changed in a long time. Chances also are good that these passwords are well-known to many staff members--including some former ones.

If that doesn't scare you, it should: Anyone who knows the passwords could log in and have complete control over servers and applications, and you'd have no ability to track who made changes or accessed data.

The problems with poor administrative password management extend beyond insiders to external threats as well. Penetration testers have proven that there's a way into nearly every network, and once attackers find it--often in a typical user's desktop--they can reverse-engineer the passwords on the system and discover the local administrator password. If this password is common to other systems, as it often is, attackers can then use it to access other systems and move through the network.

InformationWeek Reports

Just as bad, at many companies there's only one system administrator who knows a critical password. This situation is dangerous, as the case of Terry Childs shows. Childs, you may remember, was a network administrator in San Francisco who last year was accused of locking top administrators out of the city's network. At the time, he was the only person with passwords to many of the city's routers.

Account Ability
The dangers of administrator accounts are well known, but few organizations have a comprehensive way to manage these all-powerful accounts. It's not that organizations want to leave themselves open to vulnerability and accountability issues. The problem is that privileged accounts are difficult to manage because there are so many of them. Every server and workstation has a local administrator account, as do most applications. Even services running on servers, such as a backup agent or a Web server, use privileged accounts to function. All the routers, switches, and firewalls on your network do, too.

DIG DEEPER
An Inside Job?
If your network's been hacked, forensics can help you discover how.
Ideally, passwords for these accounts should all be unique and should be changed frequently. In the real world, that's just not practical. But now is a particularly good time to start figuring out who has access to what: The sad fact is that the threat level from former workers will likely remain high as companies lay off higher-level employees to survive the economic downturn.

Some organizations use a low-tech approach to secure administrator accounts, constructing elaborate systems where privileged account passwords are stored in sealed envelopes in a fireproof safe, with a paper record of when they were accessed. These measures are probably better than nothing, but they don't fully address password access control and user accountability, and can quickly become unworkable for larger installations.

Impact Assessment: Privelaged Account Management Tools

(click image for larger view)

Previous
1 of 3
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2015-4231
Published: 2015-07-03
The Python interpreter in Cisco NX-OS 6.2(8a) on Nexus 7000 devices allows local users to bypass intended access restrictions and delete an arbitrary VDC's files by leveraging administrative privileges in one VDC, aka Bug ID CSCur08416.

CVE-2015-4232
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco NX-OS 6.2(10) on Nexus and MDS 9000 devices allows local users to execute arbitrary OS commands by entering crafted tar parameters in the CLI, aka Bug ID CSCus44856.

CVE-2015-4234
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco NX-OS 6.0(2) and 6.2(2) on Nexus devices has an improper OS configuration, which allows local users to obtain root access via unspecified input to the Python interpreter, aka Bug IDs CSCun02887, CSCur00115, and CSCur00127.

CVE-2015-4237
Published: 2015-07-03
The CLI parser in Cisco NX-OS 4.1(2)E1(1), 6.2(11b), 6.2(12), 7.2(0)ZZ(99.1), 7.2(0)ZZ(99.3), and 9.1(1)SV1(3.1.8) on Nexus devices allows local users to execute arbitrary OS commands via crafted characters in a filename, aka Bug IDs CSCuv08491, CSCuv08443, CSCuv08480, CSCuv08448, CSCuu99291, CSCuv0...

CVE-2015-4239
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) Software 9.3(2.243) and 100.13(0.21) allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (device reload) by sending crafted OSPFv2 packets on the local network, aka Bug ID CSCus84220.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Marc Spitler, co-author of the Verizon DBIR will share some of the lesser-known but most intriguing tidbits from the massive report