Cyber criminals, such as malicious insiders, often use SSH keys to access systems from remote locations, evade security tools and escalate privileges. Auditing SSH entitlements as part of Privileged Access Management (PAM) policies can help organizations understand how well they control access to sensitive data.
Unfortunately, SSH entitlements are often not included in PAM policies, and thus are rarely audited. Without proper auditing and effective SSH security policies, SSH key weaknesses can go undetected, leaving organizations vulnerable to a wide range of cybersecurity attacks.
Venafi recently conducted a study that evaluated how organizations manage and implement SSH in their environments. Over 400 IT security professionals with in-depth knowledge of SSH participated, however, the study reveals a widespread lack of SSH audits. For example, 55% of the respondents said SSH entitlements are not featured in their PAM policies.
Additional highlights from the study:
- Only a third (33%) of respondents said auditors review SSH key rotation and retirement policies.
- Although SSH grants privileged access in the same ways that passwords do, they are rarely audited.
- Less than half (46%) of respondents said auditors review the control of authorized key files.
- When SSH access is not limited to approved systems, attackers with SSH access can move easily across enterprise networks and remain undetected.
- Just 43% of respondents said auditors review their port forwarding policy.
- If port forwarding is not limited, malicious actors can use it to create encrypted connections that evade most security controls.
- More than one-quarter (27%) of respondents said that none of these critical SSH best practices are audited.
- Without visibility into the efficacy of SSH security practices, organizations cannot accurately measure their security posture.
“Proper oversight from auditors and policy makers would go a long way toward helping organizations understand SSH security risks,” said Steven Armstrong, enterprise information security and risk management consultant and former Federal Reserve Bank Examiner. “Sadly, without detailed insight into the impact of lax SSH policy enforcement, most organizations do not have the information or the catalysts they need to strengthen SSH security.”