Home Security Hackers' use of privileged passwords 'widespread', claims security firm

Hackers' use of privileged passwords 'widespread', claims security firm

Cyber security company Centrify claims that the privileged password practice which allowed the “comprehensive hack” of an Australian defence contractor is “disturbingly widespread”.

According to Centrify, the hacked defence subcontractor had all IT-related functions managed by just one person, who had been in the role for only nine months and, while initial access came from exploiting a 12-month-old vulnerability in the company’s IT Helpdesk Portal, the hacker used a common Local Administrator account password with access to all servers for lateral movement within the network.

“This provided access to email and other sensitive data,” Centrify senior director APAC Sales Niall King said.

Centrify was commenting on the report that the unnamed defence contractor was using default usernames and passwords like "admin" and "guest" when its systems were breached and data stolen last year.

As reported by iTWire, the breach occurred in July 2016 and the Australian Signals Directorate found out about it from "a partner org company”.

Noting that the practice of allowing privileged administrator accounts to have extensive network access was ”disturbingly widespread",  King said Verizon recently reported that 80% of breaches are due to “compromised credentials”.

“The lesson is that users and administrators should never run their computer with administrative privileges unless they are required to do a specific task. This is where the ‘Least Privilege’ model advocated and implemented by Centrify is important: It assigns users and administrators with privileges on a temporary basis to perform specific tasks on specific machines.

“Least Privilege Access ensures that if an exploit or attack occurs, it will not have the privileged access necessary to cause sustained damage. Security can be improved further by mandating multi-factor authentication (MFA) approval by the user before a privileged task executes,” King said.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).