In recent years, we’ve witnessed a series of devastating data breaches affecting some of the world’s most renowned businesses. Each breach inflicts staggering costs in terms of financial and reputational damage.

But what you may not know is that many of these breaches began when a cyberattack exploited a single, unsecured privileged account. Large organizations typically have thousands of privileged accounts. And they’re often left unmanaged. Rogue insiders, former employees, criminal hackers and state-sponsored attackers can exploit these unmanaged privileged accounts. They can then anonymously access and extract your organization’s most critical data.

You need to ensure that your organization’s privileged accounts are secure and all credentials for these powerful accounts are continuously updated. And that starts by knowing how privileged accounts are attacked.

Here are six of the most common privileged account attack vectors:

  • Shared accounts – Looking to cut corners and make things simpler, IT admins often re-use the same password across multiple systems and among multiple administrators. This is convenient for the IT staff. However, if a hacker or malicious insider can get hold of this common, shared password, he’s just gained access to systems throughout the network.
  • Don’t touch it and it won’t break – Large organizations have many specialized privileged accounts called service or process accountsThese types of accounts are difficult to find and track, so their passwords often remain unchanged. But even if the IT staff does try to update them, the change can potentially result in system crashes and downtime. So, a common attitude is why bother? That can be a regrettable position if one of these old, static passwords falls into the wrong hands.
  • Social exploits – A seemingly innocuous email might actually be the finely crafted work of a dangerous hacker. A privileged user inside a corporate network who clicks the wrong link might unknowingly be giving an attacker elevated rights into the network. Similarly, a clever hacker might be able to convince an unsuspecting user into revealing his password.
  • Brute force – This old school model of hacking involves tools commonly available on the Internet (like “rainbow tables”) that let hackers break weak passwords and gain access to the network.
  • Former IT admins and contractors – Former employers and contractors often leave their jobs with their privileged account passwords remaining active. And that’s even long after the termination of their employment. So just because someone is no longer employed doesn’t mean he can’t still access his former systems and cause trouble.
  • Default passwords – Many hardware devices and applications come pre-configured with default passwords that are publicly known. If these default passwords aren’t changed, they’re an easy access point for a hacker.

Once Privileged Access is Obtained

Once a hacker accesses a privileged credential through one of these internal or external attack vectors, he can use that credential to leapfrog from system to system. He can then map the IT infrastructure and extract valuable information at will.

Securing Privileged Accounts

With an automated privileged access management solution you can locate privileged accounts throughout the enterprise, provide them with unique, complex and regularly updated credentials, and audit access to them.

This means that even if one privileged password is stolen by a hacker, his access is time-limited and can’t spread beyond that single account. Thus ensuring that your critical IT assets remain locked down.

Want to learn more? Start by downloading the free Bomgar Discovery Tool to get a report about unsecured service accounts, Active Directory domain accounts, and local administrator accounts on your network.