Machine Identity Management Best Practices
Remote work and the adoption of cloud computing surfaced the concept of identity as a perimeter.
In this sense, although it is not new, identity security first gained urgency as malicious attackers began to use machine identity management and access to achieve their goals.
Currently, hackers have been successful in targeting Active Directory and identity infrastructure to move laterally on networks with vulnerabilities.
It is worth mentioning that the use of multifactor authentication (MFA) is growing, but it is still necessary to configure, maintain, and monitor the identity infrastructure properly.
In this article, we will explain everything about this subject. To facilitate your reading, we divided our text into topics. These are:
- What is Machine Identity?
- Importance of Machine Identity Management
- Challenges in Machine Identity Management
- Seven Best Practices in Machine Identity Management
- Other Best Practices
- About senhasegura
Enjoy the read!
What is Machine Identity?
Just as people use usernames and passwords to protect their identities, machines have their unique identifications protected by these credentials, as well as keys and certificates.
Without proper machine identity management, it becomes impossible to guarantee the confidentiality of data obtained by authorized devices and to prevent this information from being transferred to unauthorized machines.
In practice, a machine with a compromised identity can damage the company’s digital security. This is because hackers can use them to gain privileged access to data and resources from the organization’s networks.
Moreover, by stealing or forging a machine identity, an attacker is able to impersonate a legitimate machine and obtain sensitive data.
To account for the volume, variety, and speed of changes in machine identity, one needs to strategically manage a complex and rapidly changing data set.
Through appropriate policies and controls, machine identity management contributes to optimizing a corporation’s cybersecurity, reducing risks, and ensuring compliance with security requirements.
Importance of Machine Identity Management
Proper machine identity management is critical to preventing compromised credentials, keys, and certificates from being used to invade infrastructure, giving access to sensitive data, or being used to create fraudulent tunnels and hide malicious actions.
It also allows one to track the exponential growth in the number of machines to keep their identities secure and track the evolution of cloud services, which can expose machine identities to hacker action.
With the correct machine identity management, it is also possible to protect mobile devices, sensors, and robots, which can communicate and store sensitive information using encryption.
In addition, we live in a context where machines have increasingly intelligent functions, replacing people in activities that require logical reasoning and thinking, and machine identity management allows us to interact securely with this type of equipment.
Challenges in Machine Identity Management
In the previous topic, we showed the importance of machine identity management in data protection. However, we know efficient machine identity management can be quite challenging.
One of the reasons is the increase in IT and OT devices, which also increases the number of credentials, certificates, and keys.
Also, traditional practices are insufficient to meet the demands of machine identity management, which can cause cyberattacks and interruption of activities.
In this sense, the most common challenges are:
With a large number of machine identities, it becomes difficult to keep track of existing credentials and know where they are. With this, hidden certificates can expire without anyone noticing, causing an interruption in activities.
Besides being difficult to locate all certificates on a company’s network, some of them are on devices outside the network perimeter, which can go unnoticed by audit processes.
To ensure compliance with security requirements, it is essential to regulate the issuance, validity, security levels, and access. Thus, the lack of proper machine identity management, which contemplates TLS/SSL certificates and SSH keys, opens gaps for the action of malicious agents.
It is very common for certificates and keys to be stored in spreadsheets and distributed by email, however, as the number of machine identities increases, their control in spreadsheets is susceptible to errors.
Manual machine identity management is also a mistake, as it makes the process slow and error-prone.
In practice, applications and devices do not go online quickly after manually registering and provisioning certificates. In addition, manual renewal, revocation, and auditing may cause interruptions in activities.
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Seven Best Practices in Machine Identity Management
Here are some practices you need to adopt in your organization’s machine identity management:
Identify This Type of Identity in the Infrastructure
Two hundred and sixty-seven thousand: this is the average number of internal certificates that an IT organization has, according to the Ponemon Institute. Many of these certificates are old, with the possibility of being encoded or hidden among other identities.
To get a sense of it, in a survey by Vanson Bourne, 61% of companies admitted they do not have full knowledge of their keys and certificates for devices. Of these, 96% claimed to suffer consequences such as violations, interruption of systems, and financial losses.
To ensure proper machine identity management, you need visibility into the devices your company uses. Therefore, it is essential to verify this type of identity in the infrastructure.
The good news is that you can count on the support of senhasegura for this: we were considered by Gartner as best in class for the discovery and integration of privileged credentials.
Periodically Rotate Machine Identities
Another indispensable measure is to rotate machine identities periodically to prevent their misuse by malicious users.
This is because when keys and certificates remain the same for a long time, they can be targeted by hackers, who use known API calls with a real certificate to gain access to critical resources and data.
To avoid this problem, organizations must have authorization from source machines, cloud connections, portable devices, application servers, and API interactions. Moreover, certificates should be updated frequently.
Implement Privileged Access Management solutions
To perform proper machine identity management, we also recommend the use of Privileged Access Management (PAM) tools. This type of solution prevents cyberattacks as it grants each user only the access necessary to perform their tasks.
We, from senhasegura, are leaders in this market and can help you protect the machine identities of your organization.
Implement Automation in the Environment Through RPA and PTA
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) consists of the use of technological tools to automate operational and transactional tasks, such as sending e-mails, checking financial data, preparing receipts, and managing payrolls.
Privileged Task Automation (PTA) automates an organization’s workflow tasks, ensuring they are completed at any time without stopping operations. These two mechanisms contribute to preventing violations motivated by human errors.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to manage the identities of software robots, starting with the definition of the best policies on how to integrate them.
Reduce Risk with Zero Trust Plans
To provide more security to machine identity management, it is advisable to adopt the concept of zero trust in equipment. That is, it is not enough for corporate users to be frequently authenticated, it is necessary to extend this standard to devices.
The problem is that, despite already adopting this people-focused work model, many companies still consider device authentication a challenge.
Include the Cloud in the Machine Identity Management Plan
With the digital transformation accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies started operating in the remote work model, using cloud solutions.
Therefore, when we talk about machine identity management, it is necessary to think of solutions that contemplate cloud environments.
Ideally, one should apply an approach that centralizes functions and enables them to manage multiple cloud deployments.
Adopt Machine Identity Management Solutions
Companies need to have teams specifically responsible for machine identity management, preventing certificates and keys from remaining unmanaged.
And to optimize this work, it is advisable to adopt automated machine identity management solutions that manage the entire certificate lifecycle.
Automated solutions are very effective and allow scalability in organizations, following the implementation of new technologies. However, machine identities should not be implied but expressly assigned.
Other Best Practices
Here are some other best practices for you, who need to deal with machine identity management.
For no machine to be left unmanaged, it is indispensable to make a scan of all certificates and keys. This search should include devices that are outside the network perimeter. In addition, it is important to know the location, CA, and expiration date of each certificate.
Count on Centralized Management
Centralizing machine identity management is a way to simplify its implementation across environments, devices, and workloads. It is also possible to group certificates, taking into account their type, level of criticality, and expiration date.
Proper machine identity management protects communication and prevents the action of malicious attackers.
It is possible to use self-service for the provision, renewal, and revocation of certificates, making machine identity management more efficient. In this sense, to keep identities well protected and limit the actions of teams, you just need to implement role-based access controls and privileges.
Store Certificates and Keys in Secure Locations
Digital certificates and SSH keys should be stored in centralized and secure locations, preferably on encrypted devices. Moreover, access to these devices should be limited to privileged users with the use of strong passwords and RBAC.
These measures ensure the security of the machine identity, even if the network is compromised.
Many companies are vulnerable to the action of malicious former employees, who have access to old certificates, keys, and encrypted algorithms. To avoid this problem, we strongly recommend changing old keys to new ones.
As we have already suggested, automation is the solution to most cybersecurity issues. In the case of machine identity management, automating this process ensures keys and certificates are always up to date and allows you to avoid problems such as interruption of activities.
Perform Audits Frequently
Performing frequent audits on machine identities is important because this process allows one to detect and eliminate issues such as weak passwords, unauthorized or expiring certificates, and old and unused keys.
For this, you can use an audit solution provided by third parties. Thus, it is possible to avoid interruption of activities, prevent violations, and optimize machine identity management.
We, from senhasegura, are part of the group of information security companies MT4 Tecnologia, founded in 2001, and we aim to provide digital sovereignty to our customers through the control of privileged actions and data.
With this, we prevent data leaks and theft, as we manage privileged permissions before, during, and after access through machine automation. We work to:
- Optimizing the performance of companies, avoiding interruption of operations;
- Performing automatic audits on the use of permissions;
- Auditing privileged changes to detect abuse of privilege automatically;
- Providing advanced solutions with the PAM Security Platform;
- Reducing cyber threats; and
Bringing the organizations that hire us into compliance with audit requirements and standards such as PCI DSS, Sarbanes-Oxley, ISO 27001, and HIPAA.
In this article, you saw that:
- Machines have their unique identities protected by keys and certificates;
- The increase in IT and OT machines generates a significant growth in the number of certificates and keys;
- Without proper machine identity management, it becomes impossible to guarantee the confidentiality of data obtained by authorized machines and to prevent this information from being transferred to unauthorized ones;
- Malicious actors can use compromised machine identities to gain privileged access to data and resources from the organization’s networks;
- Machine identity management contributes to optimizing the cybersecurity of a corporation;
- It also allows one to keep up with the exponential growth in the number of machines and protect mobile devices, sensors, and robots;
- The main challenges in machine identity management are: visibility, compliance, storage, and manual management;
- Some of the best practices for this management are: recognizing machine identities, rotating these identities periodically, implementing Privileged Access Management solutions, implementing automation in the environment, reducing risks through the Zero Trust concept, including cloud solutions in machine identity management, and adopting automated machine identity management solutions;
- It is also essential to ensure the visibility of devices, rely on centralized management, use self-service, store certificates and keys in secure places, and perform audits frequently;
senhasegura was considered by Gartner as best in class for discovery and integration of privileged credentials;
- In addition, the company provides a PAM solution, which avoids cyberattacks through the Principle of Least Privilege.
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