The Risks of Excessive Admin Privileges

In any business, especially SMEs, admin privileges are crucial for managing IT systems. However, when too many people have these privileges or they’re not managed well, it can spell trouble. Let’s examine the potential consequences of excessive admin privileges and ways to mitigate the impact of compromised admin accounts.

Why Excessive Admin Privileges Are Risky

  1. Bigger Target for Attacks – With more admin accounts, there are more potential entry points for attackers. Each admin account is a high-value target because it typically has extensive access across systems. Attackers can exploit the wider range of privileges and permissions, making it easier to escalate their attacks once inside the network.
  2. Lateral Movement
    • Privilege Escalation: If an attacker compromises a non-admin account, they can use privilege escalation techniques to gain administrator privileges. This allows them to execute commands or access data that would otherwise be restricted on standard user accounts.
    • Lateral Movement: Once the attacker has acquired an elevated permission set, they can move laterally across the network, accessing more systems and increasing the damage they can inflict.
  3. Data Breaches
    • Access to Sensitive Information: Admin accounts often have access to critical and sensitive data. If these accounts are compromised, the attacker can exfiltrate this data, leading to full-scale data breaches.
    • Exposure Risks: This can lead to loss of customer trust, legal repercussions, and financial penalties, especially if personally identifiable information (PII) is involved.
  4. Operational Disruption
    • System Manipulation: Attackers can manipulate, delete, or encrypt data, disrupting business operations. This includes the deploying of ransomware.
    • Downtime Costs: The cost of downtime can be substantial, affecting productivity, revenue, and the reputation of your business.
  5. Non-Compliance
    • Regulatory Violations: Many industries have strict regulations regarding data access and security (e.g., GDPR, HIPAA). Failing to manage admin privileges properly can result in non-compliance, leading to fines and legal action.
    • Audit Failures: Poor privilege management can lead to failed audits, which can be costly and damage your business reputation.

How to Mitigate Risk

  1. Limit Admin Privileges
    • Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP): Only give admin rights to those who absolutely need them. Heavily scrutinise the extent and reach of the permissions such that the administrator only has the requisite privileges necessary to perform their duties. This minimises the potential damage of a compromised account. Regularly review and adjust permissions as roles and responsibilities change.
    • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Define roles within your organisation and assign permissions based on job functions. This ensures users only have access to what they need to perform their duties, reducing unnecessary exposure.
  2. Use Strong Authentication
    • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implement MFA for administrator accounts (although you should have MFA enforced on ALL accounts in the organisation). MFA reduces the risk of administrator account compromise due to phishing and data breaches from other organisations.
    • Strong Passwords: Enforce strong password policies, including requirements for complexity (e.g., a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols) and regular changes. Avoid using common or easily guessable passwords. Recommend that your users switch to passphrases rather than passwords.
  3. Monitor Admin Activities
    • Activity Logging: Log all admin activities, such as login attempts, changes to user permissions, and access to sensitive data. Regularly review these logs for any suspicious or unauthorised actions.
    • Real-time Monitoring: Use real-time monitoring tools to detect unusual activities as they happen. Set up alerts for actions that deviate from normal behaviour.
  4. Segment and Isolate Networks
    • Network Segregation: Keep sensitive systems and data separate from the rest of your network. This limits the lateral movement capabilities of an attacker if they gain access to an admin account or compromise a machine.
    • Virtual LANs (VLANs): VLANs are a great first line of defence for lateral movement. They create separate virtual networks for different departments or functions. This enhances security by isolating traffic and limiting access between VLANs.
  5. Train and Educate Employees
    • Security Training: Regularly train your employees on security best practices, focusing on protecting admin credentials. Educate them about the risks and how to recognise phishing attempts and other threats. Work to build a positive and group-minded cybersecurity culture within the workplace.
    • Simulated Attacks: Run phishing simulations and other security drills to keep everyone alert and prepared. This helps employees practise their detection and response to potential threats in a controlled and safe environment.
  6. Have an Incident Response Plan
    • Response Plan: Cybersecurity incidents are an inevitability. It’s only a question of when. Develop a clear plan for dealing with compromised accounts. This should include steps for containment, eradication, recovery, and communication.
    • Regular Drills: Conduct drills to ensure your team is ready and knows how to respond quickly. Practicing the response plan helps identify weaknesses and improve overall readiness.
By adopting these practices, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with excessive admin privileges and be better prepared to handle compromised accounts. Staying proactive and continuously improving your security measures is key to keeping your business safe.

Why Frame?

Addressing cybersecurity non-compliance is paramount in safeguarding your organisation’s assets and reputation. Frame offers tailored solutions to mitigate this risk effectively.

Firstly, our team of cybersecurity experts specialises in modernising legacy systems and integrating them with innovative security solutions. By leveraging our expertise, your organisation can ensure seamless integration with modern security frameworks, thereby bolstering your defences against cyber threats.

Secondly, through Frame Secure, we provide comprehensive assessments to evaluate your cybersecurity compliance, aligning with industry standards and regulations. Our accredited experts, certified by leading vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, and VMware, deliver fast and reliable assessments to ensure that the highest standards of cybersecurity are met.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take proactive steps to enhance your cybersecurity posture with Frame’s tailored solutions and expertise. Secure your organisation’s future today.