Addressing the Challenges of Least Privilege Access

Excessive permissions have been the starting point of a breach in many instances wherein permissions are provisioned by the administrators to users beyond the requirement without comprehending the context of user privileges based on granular access, location, nature, or frequency of access.

This has a cascading effect on cloud workloads as these permissions are likely to be misused in several ways – cross-account takeovers, escalation, etc. More importantly, with the level of automation seen in cloud workloads and cross application interactions, these permissions tend to take a much larger shape potentially spiraling into a potential security risk.

Least Privilege Access

Now, in their effort to address the challenges around excessive permissions, organizations turn towards the least privilege access principle. Least privilege access is a technique employed where all the local administrative credentials are removed at once, including hard-coded and hidden users. This method employs allowing only enough access to perform the required task, not more or less.

In a cloud environment, adhering to the principle of least privilege significantly reduces the risk of threat vectors getting access to sensitive assets or data by taking advantage of a vulnerable user account or application. Implementing the least privilege access helps reduce potential breaches, stopping them in their tracks from spreading to a bigger segment of the environment.

[You may also like: Using Best Practices to Secure Apps in Multi-Cloud Environments]

The Challenges

However, the policy of least privileges brings its own set of challenges. Issues like running all applications under one roof such as single account, highlights the complexity for large enterprises that run several applications in different cloud ecosystems. Patch management and upgrades become bigger challenges for user accounts needing elevated privileges to perform these activities.  

Enterprise and SMB organizations run several applications, sometimes thousands at a time, including some custom or privileged applications that may be developed internally. These applications need elevated or administrative privileges and wouldn’t necessarily run under a standard account with common privileges. Some of these may be one-off projects that may not need maintenance.

Such kinds of applications may require lowering down the permissions, thereby risking potential vulnerabilities thereafter. On the flip side, a similar problem is encountered with the least privilege method for applications that aren’t distributed centrally. These applications require administrative privileges and the standard user credentials would not suffice. This not only becomes a security risk but also a larger issue with application and user efficiency.

This brings to the fore, the need for a holistic solution that can solve an ever-increasing problem of excessive permissions especially with distributed cloud environments. A comprehensive cloud workload solution that can provide the requisite granular visibility and observability is the need of the hour.

[You may also like: Clouds and Edges Lead to New Security Challenges in 2021]

This helps address the burgeoning problem of excessive permissions through AI-based detection and triggers that can handle downstream use cases of excessive permissions. For example, Data Exfiltration challenges such as an AWS S3 bucket replication to an unknown account which is a common method leveraged to easily exfiltrate data out of S3 buckets by continuously replicating the data into their buckets.

New age workloads carry enormous context around the behavioral patterns of the usage. Static permissions present significant harm in risking unwanted access. Enforcing the right privilege policies across the environment with the right visibility and observability, will ensure that the policy mandates hold tight against any changes in the behaviors.

Download The State of Web Application and API Protection to learn more.

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Raghu Thummisi

Raghu Thummisi is a Security veteran with more than two decades of experience and evangelizing security products and solutions across the industry spectrum with specific focus on cloud security and applications. His interest areas include threat intelligence, cloud native applications and secure IOT ecosystems.

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