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Requirements for Next-Generation Privileged Identity Management

Hybrid cloud brings new benefits of speed and flexibility, but these characteristics strain first-generation privileged identity

The importance of privileged identity management as a means of managing risk has long been understood. After all, it's reported 43% of security breaches involve trusted insiders, according to research group Forrester. And the most recent Verizon Data Breach report revealed some 13% of breaches result from privilege misuse or abuse, and 76% involved weak or stolen credentials (of all types).

However, the widespread adoption of cloud computing has significantly increased the consequences of these risks. As was pointed out recently by Gartner Research Director Nick Nikols, "Administrators of private cloud and IaaS environments gain more concentrated power-and the risk that goes with it-than administrators for more traditional data center deployments." The reason for this is the highly dynamic and scaleable nature of the cloud. Administrators can do much more, much faster than in traditional environments-and attacks scale up just as quickly.

Inevitably, advancements in technology and infrastructure bring new requirements for management solutions. Our research and work with customers reveals five capabilities essential to "next-generation" privileged identity management.

Establish a Single Point of Control
The hybrid cloud is flexible. IT managers can select the optimal combination of cost, speed, and control and rapidly deploy applications and systems. But that flexibility can work against the goal of consistent controls since there are now multiple individual platforms, and points where policy can be defined. Inconsistent policies lead to uneven protection, and greater chances for compliance failures-plus extra administrative overhead.

An essential requirement for establishing a single point of control is the ability to protect all platforms, across the entire hybrid cloud. A solution that doesn't protect all platforms-or which doesn't offer a single definition of policy - leads to the gaps in coverage, risks, and administrative overhead mentioned. An ideal solution allows an organization to define privileged identity management policies once, and then enforce them across the organization's entire computing fabric from traditional on-premise network equipment and servers to virtual and public cloud based infrastructure.

Another important requirement is the ability to deliver a comprehensive set of controls, such as managing credentials, authentication, user monitoring and logging, and more. Many organizations try to use point products to satisfy these requirements, resulting in patchwork protection-and gaps in coverage and extra costs.

Run Anywhere/Manage Anywhere
The flexibility of the hybrid cloud leads to the need for flexibility in privileged identity management architecture. Administratively and operationally, it's important a solution support native installations across the cloud. Native installations-either traditional rack-mounted hardware or virtual appliances (OVF- or AMI-compliant)-make installations faster, with fewer opportunities for failure. It also puts the onus on the solution vendor to update, support, and manage the full software stack.

And architecturally, it's critical a solution be able to manage resources across the cloud-regardless of where the managed system itself is physically located. Resources to be protected exist everywhere. If a management system must be installed in a specific environment-or worse, in multiple environments-then flexibility is unacceptably constrained.

Keep Pace with Dynamic, Highly-Scalable Hybrid Cloud Environments
A key advantage of cloud computing is the ability to rapidly respond to changing operational demands and business conditions. A next-generation privileged identity management system must be able to keep pace with these changes to avoid becoming a drag on the business. So next-generation PIM solutions must support automated discovery of resources and policy provisioning to immediately provide baseline protections.

It's also important to avoid solutions requiring agents on target systems to enable basic functionality, which adds to operational burdens. The time lag between when a resource is deployed and when it is protected is time it's open to abuse or exploit. Managers should consider a new metric-mean time to protection, or MTTP. A next-generation PIM is specifically designed to reduce MTTP even in highly dynamic environments.

Reliability is also important. The hybrid cloud is routinely used for mission critical workloads. Next-generation solutions must provide scalability and availability capabilities such as clustering and failover. Ideally, these will be built-in since their absence will require organizations to invest additional money and resources to implement third-party solutions, adding costs, complexity and delays.

Enable Identity as the Perimeter
Traditional approaches to privileged identity management emphasize perimeter-based security controls. By controlling access to systems, a basic level of control could be exerted. Arguably, this approach didn't work well since it fundamentally equates authentication and access to authorization. But it comes up short in the cloud. In response, identity is emerging as a de facto new perimeter. Basing access to resources on an individual's identity allows granular access control, flexibility, auditability and ease-of-use.

But identity introduces its own challenges-primarily the number of identities an individual possesses. Identity is defined in multiple locations-frequently in enterprise directories and in other locations. First-generation PIM solutions can make this situation worse by adding yet another "island" of identity. A superior approach is to bridge or federate identity.

It's also important to include strong authentication technologies, and multi-factor and composite authentication. The US Federal government, for example, provides a robust example with a mandate for PIV/CAC smartcards for authentication.

Protect the Extended Management Plane
The hybrid cloud strains first generation PIM solutions by adding new resources to protect, such as the management consoles used to control the Amazon Web Services and vSphere environments. They introduce significant new attack surfaces to protect. Next-generation PIM solutions must offer tight integration with these consoles, in order to deliver an adequate level of control and appropriate separation of duties.

That task is complicated since these consoles expose much of their functionality via APIs. In some organizations, most administration and management tasks are performed via scripts calling on these APIs. So these APIs have emerged as another critical resource to protect.

Bottom Line - The Need for Next-Generation PIM
The hybrid cloud brings new benefits of speed and flexibility, but these characteristics strain first-generation privileged identity management. By ensuring PIM solutions address these core next-generation requirements, managers can be assured their privileged identity management system will keep pace with and fully protect this dynamic new environment.

More Stories By Dale R. Gardner

Dale R. Gardner is Director of Product Marketing at Xceedium. He's developed and launched multiple network, systems, and security management products for the enterprise market. A former META Group analyst, he started his career as a programmer and networking specialist.

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