Achieving "Zero-Touch" Password Management by Steve Knott (aurionPro SENA)

Traditionally when a user is on-boarded into an organisation they are given a desktop password along with a whole host of other passwords to access the required business applications to enable them to do their job. Inevitably there will be numerous associated company information security policies that dictate that passwords should not be written down or shared with colleagues etc.

Trying to remember numerous passwords can be onerous on the end user at the best of times and can lead to a plethora of password sins committed by the end user. Whilst we can deploy some SSO technologies to relieve password fatigue, the on-boarding provisioning process often means that the user needs to know their passwords at some point – or do they?

I recently worked on a project at a leading engineering company who were in the process of deploying a large new ERP system. The end users were highly skilled engineers focusing on cutting edge technology but password security was not high on their list of priorities. Traditionally within the organisation, credentials for new applications were sent by email and sometimes they were communicated over the phone. Inevitably these were written down in text files and diaries or passwords were changed to be the same “pet’s name” type password for multiple applications.

This was a huge concern for the Chief Architect who wanted to remove end user password management and provide “zero touch” credential provisioning for the new ERP applications. He also wanted to satisfy auditing and compliance requirements by enforcing complex passwords whilst preventing unauthorised credential sharing. All this needed to be achieved without inconveniencing the users.

We discussed the tried and tested approach of using of a full blown identity management solution.  However, his response to this was that although wider identity management was on their long term roadmap, he had a hard deadline to deliver the ERP system within three months and with limited resources. With traditional user provisioning ‘out the window’ we had to come up with another approach.  Everyone would be using the new ERP system for their timesheets on the same day, and with any business impact due to unavailability therefore being potentially very significant, the customer couldn’t afford to have issues related to logging in.

One product that they already had licensed was the Oracle Enterprise Single Sign-on (ESSO) suite. Oracle ESSO is a well- known established product which provides single sign to any application at the desktop. Not so well known are the additional tools provided within the suite. One of these additional tools is Oracle ESSO Provisioning Gateway. Provisioning Gateway is a web based application that complements the other tools in the suite by enabling the provisioning of application credentials directly to the SSO agent without user interaction.

The Provisioning Gateway server exposes a web service interface that allows it to receive instructions submitted by any other provisioning server. Although Provisioning Gateway is more commonly deployed connected to an identity management system it does have command line interface (CLI) utilities supplied with the software. These utilities allow for scripted interactions with the Provision Gateway server including batch operations.

For this customer it was possible to export the user credential data out of the ERP system into a text-file format.  Then, armed only with the tools provided within the Oracle ESSO suite it was possible to script the provisioning of these user credentials in batches of 500-1000 to the Provisioning Gateway server. The server provisioned the credentials to the ESSO repository and the credentials were synchronised to the desktop SSO agent at user logon.

So far, so good.  At this stage, the users were still unaware that anything had happened.  The new ERP system wasn’t live yet, but in anticipation of its general release we now had each individual’s username and password ready to go in their SSO credential store – ready for first login.

For security reasons, the ERP system was configured to require a password change at first logon. Therefore, when the user launched the application for the first time on its launch date an application change password event was triggered. The Oracle ESSO agent was configured to recognise and respond to this change password event, automatically generating and inserting a new password leaving the user logged on with a new complex password. The end user did not know their password at any point of the on-boarding process or for subsequent logons.  Therefore the opportunity of sharing their logon details with colleagues was eliminated.  Furthermore, issues with the distribution of new passwords was avoided altogether.

The aurionPro SENA fast rollout template for Oracle ESSO enabled this customer to hit the implementation deadline of the ERP project and also address the security requirements of the organisation. ESSO Provisioning Gateway also has a management interface and this customer exploited this feature to allow the helpdesk team to apply the zero touch methodology to other applications.

As we discussed in the first blog (Putting the EASY into SSO) - Oracle ESSO provides more than just single sign-on to desktop applications.  Its use for zero-touch provisioning shows its versatility and that it can form a core part of an integrated identity and access management framework.  It’s not just a tactical tool for a single issue.  Stay tuned for next week’s blog in this series where we’ll be investigating the capabilities of Oracle ESSO still further.

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Oracle Identity Management is a complete and integrated next-generation identity management platform that provides breakthrough scalability; enables organizations to achieve rapid compliance with regulatory mandates; secures sensitive applications and data regardless of whether they are hosted on-premise or in a cloud; and reduces operational costs. Oracle Identity Management enables secure user access to resources anytime on any device.

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