The Dual Account model has long been best practice amongst SysAdmins and DevOps. Our blog explores what the model entails, how it helps protect organisations from external threats, and how Osirium’s PxM Platform can strengthen the approach.
How does the Dual Account model work?
A Dual Account model refers to when a user has two accounts; one for daily use on their endpoints and the other for privileged operations on remote devices, systems and applications. As most malware needs access to a privileged account to embed itself or perform key-logging, the Dual Account model provides added security. The Dual Account model also works at the system audit level by allowing you to see who accessed what and when.
Drawbacks of the Dual Account model
A key weakness of the Dual Account model is that the number of privileged accounts increases, in turn increasing the attack surface and making businesses only one weak password away from a breach. This approach also increases the cognitive load on SysAdmin and DevOps staff, giving them an extra password to remember, record and change.
How Osirium’s PxM Platform works with the Dual Account model
Osirium has a dual stage approach to integrating Dual Accounts into Privileged Access Management. The first stage is called mapped accounts. Mapped accounts work by automatically mapping an identity like ‘John Smith’ onto an account, for example ‘john.smith_admin’. The PxM Platform changes the password on the ‘john.smith_admin’ account to be long, complex and regularly refreshed. It also checks the inbound identity of John Smith coming from an endpoint. The result is full traceability in systems logs, meaning that all privileged accounts are fully protected.
In general, the privileges of these ‘*-admin’ accounts can be managed in active directory. If there is a lot of them, it can be hard to keep track of individual changes, and this is how over-privileging happens. However, there is a different way that we think is better.
Our approach is to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of privileged accounts in the first place by using generic accounts; one for each role that you need. Organisations should ensure that access to these accounts is solely through the PxM Platform. Profiles then match your existing identities onto roles, and access is then controlled along with other conditions such as time windows and change tickets.
As far as the remote systems see, only the generic accounts are being used, so that’s what will be sys logged to your SIEMS. The PxM Platform will be simultaneously logging which identities are using those privileged accounts. In any security audit, this gives a much lower set of accounts to track, and you never have to worry about who has access or not. If an identity is removed from the PxM Platform, it can no longer use any privileged role.
Remember that both the mapped account and the generic account are never used or have credentials anywhere near the endpoint. They are immune from malware by separation.
8 steps to improving Dual Account implementation:
- Use the PXM Platform to map %usernname% to %username%_admin accounts.
- Add the %username% accounts to the PxM Platform.
- Add the relevant devices to Profiles, set these to use the %username%_admin mapped accounts.
- Add the %username% Users to the Profiles contain the Devices.
- Change the mode of all the %username%_admin accounts to be ‘Password Managed’. You could stop here, but to make further improvements…
- Create role-based accounts that have exactly the right privileges and application access rights to fulfill the role.
- Change the Device from the %username%_admin account to the newly created role accounts.
- Delete the redundant %username%_admin accounts – thus reducing the attack surface.
By implementing these recommendations, good practice account policy improves the level of control it provides, creating a complete reduction of any attack surface through a reduction in privileged accounts. The audit trail is augmented with full identity along with only other profile metadata such as change ticket references.
If you use the Dual Account model and would like to further improve your good practice, visit the PxM Platform page to find out more.
Osirium Implementation with Dual Account models