Admin passwords are the achilles heel of security

IT admins are good at establishing and enforcing password security policies, but not so great at following those policies

Passwords are the predominant means of securing sensitive data, and that is why there are established best practices defining password policies. Sadly, though -- the most critical data is often less secure because Admin passwords function outside of those policies and are rarely changed or updated.

Everyone knows that passwords need to be hard to guess or crack, and should never be shared with others. Granted, not many people follow that guidance -- which explains the results from a recent Webroot survey that found four in ten respondents have shared a password with another person in the past year, almost half don't use special characters to create more complex passwords, and 20 percent use easily guessed information like birth dates or a pet's name.

That is where IT admins and information security professionals come in to establish and enforce security policies. Password policies can ensure that users choose more complex passwords, don't reuse the same passwords over and over, and that passwords are changed on a regular basis to minimize the potential for exposure or compromise. The problem is that nobody is establishing and enforcing those same policies on the IT admins that made them.

The administrative passwords that restrict access to servers, protect the most sensitive company data, and guard critical processes and database transactions are often virtually carved in stone. The password are hard-coded into scripts and macros, making any change a potential nightmare that might require manually modifying the same password information across multiple systems, and possibly bring business to a grinding halt if not executed properly.

Be that as it may, the passwords have to be changed. Any password left static long enough is increasingly prone to inadvertent exposure, guessing, or cracking. IT staff with privileged access come and go, taking that sensitive knowledge with them as well.

There are free tools available that can help IT admins tackle the daunting task. Bulk Password Reset from Netwrix, Reset Local Password Pro, and a host of other freeware and shareware tools exist that can change the admin password en masse on remote systems.

It admins should exercise extreme caution, though, when using such tools. Again, those passwords may be tangled in a complex Web of scripts and custom applications, and if the update is not reflected in those various locations it could have catastrophic results.

The admin password should be updated regularly, but make sure you make the change off-hours -- like late at night, or over a weekend or holiday break. Once the password change(s) are implemented, thoroughly test any dependent business processes to make sure everything is still functioning properly.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags network securityfirewallsapplicationssecuritysoftwaredata protection

More about Webroot

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tony Bradley

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place