The Keys to the Password Vault by Matthew Scott (aurionPro SENA)
By Greg Jensen on Jun 18, 2013
Super user accounts are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. It’s just a fact of life in the IT industry that someone, somewhere, has to have the ability to make fundamental (and therefore potentially catastrophic!) changes to key systems.
One of my least favourite experiences as a consultant was gaining access to an account though a process that was reminiscent of a spy thriller – the password was typed onto a card, which was cut in two, with each half stored in a separate safe and each key entrusted to a meticulous security officer. Navigating the procedures to get the halves together in time to be useful was a trial of persuasion and scheduling – I can see why Tom Cruise prefers to abseil in through the roof instead of filling in yet another form!
Compliance officers are increasingly scrutinising privileged accounts and the processes that control access to them – not surprisingly, since surveys have shown that up to a quarter of IT professionals have experienced misuse of such accounts, and almost half of all companies fail to manage these accounts in accordance with the law (http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240111956/One-in-four-IT-security-staff-abuse-admin-rights-survey-shows). The results can be spectacular and sobering – the UBS trader Kweku Adoboli cost his company $2.3 billion after making disastrous trades using a privileged account which he was not authorised to use.
Thankfully, there is now a better way. As we’ve seen in this series, with the ESSO suite the technology exists to manage user passwords without the user having to actually ‘know’ that password. It is possible to extend this functionality to include those previously hard to manage privileged accounts by introducing Oracle Privileged Accounts Manager (OPAM). OPAM acts as a secure password vault for privileged accounts, but unlike other password vaults it can be connected directly to the ESSO Logon Manager agent so that passwords can be requested, obtained and used, all from the user’s desktop.
OPAM is particularly useful for companies with large, decentralised UNIX environments. We are currently engaged with a large financial organisation which has several hundred servers, with various distributions of Linux and UNIX that are managed by different teams. With OPAM, all those precious root accounts have for the first time been corralled together in one location, where they can be released as needed to any authorised user. OPAM is equally adept at managing identities stored in directories, including Windows service accounts within Active Directory.
To calm the fears of any compliance officers who may be reading these words nervously, it is possible to implement workflows to control the request process. This may include approvals from a higher authority, complete with email or mobile notifications to the approver. And of course ESSO and OPAM feature end-to-end audit trails – from request, to check out, to each use of the privileged account, through to check in. Tracking who has being doing what with each account has never been easier.
In addition to managing privileged accounts, the ESSO suite also allows users to distribute their personal accounts in a similar manner. Many of us have experienced the frustration of needing access to a system, a record or an email only to discover that the person with access is on holiday or otherwise unavailable. In extreme cases, this may require that the absent user’s Windows account be reset to allow another user to log on and gain access. ESSO’s Account Delegation allows these key users to pro-actively devolve their account credentials to another user for a set period – no passwords required!