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U.S. Takes Identity-centric Security Approach For Cyber Defense

According to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), identity is critical and has become a key pin in many areas and services. The exploitation of verified credentials should be cause for alarm and give rise to tighter identity controls in the federal government; so they need to start readdressing existing infrastructure to better protect it.

No identities are more important to secure than those with privileged access to systems, data, applications and other resources. With the power to install and remove software, upgrade operating systems and modify and configure applications, privileged credentials and access can fast-track access to sensitive assets for an attacker or give malware the foothold it needs to spread and escalate an attack.

This year started with a succession of spectacular cyberattacks on government agencies and enterprises with implications that will ripple for years through the industry. The extent of the damage in the SolarWinds, Verkada and other attacks, in many cases, perpetrated by nation-state actors, may not be fully grasped for years. Inadequate identity and access controls have continuously surfaced as a key theme of these breaches, just as they have in most breaches in the last decade.

An identity-centric security approach encompasses both human and machine (application, software bots, etc.) identities and focuses on enabling the five aspects: authentication, authorisation, access to data, auditing and accountability. However, data security, application security and network security all remain important pieces and overlap each other. This approach recognises identity security as the keystone of IT security in the modern computing environment.

Identity governance spans everything – from onboarding and offboarding employees and contractors to manage privileged account credentials and derived cryptographic credentials, automated processes and multifactor authentication. It is also one of the main focus areas in the government’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program and ICAM architecture.

Although privileged-access management (PAM) is arguably the most important technology area of this domain, protecting privileged credentials granularly enforces least privilege and monitors and manages every session involving privileged access — whether human, machine, employee or vendor. After all, almost every attack today requires privilege for the initial exploit or to laterally move within a network.

PAM solutions can protect agencies by:

  • Implementing credential management best practices to prevent credentials from being stolen or misused.
  • Enforcing least privilege across users, applications, systems, etc. to drastically reduce the attack surface and minimise potential lateral access pathways.
  • Ensuring elevated access is only given when contextual parameters are met and is immediately revoked after the activity is performed or the context has changed.
  • Securing remote access for employees or contractors — without a VPN — and enabling agencies to lock down access to cloud, virtual and DevOps control planes and other consoles.
  • Monitoring and managing every privileged session, providing an unimpeachable audit trail and the ability to pause or terminate suspicious sessions.

Identity-centric security with a PAM platform applies a unified and automated approach to identity, securing privileged sessions, users and assets. This reduces the attack surface and limits lateral movement from user- and device-impersonation attacks. It protects against any type of threat actor: nation-state, inside, external, human, machine and malware.

Managing the digital identity lifecycle of devices, human and machine identities and automated technologies is critical for mitigating risk because it helps ensure all digital identities are distinguishable, auditable and consistently managed across the agency.

While threat actors have always taken the path of least resistance, that strategy has been shifting in the wake of digital transformation and the massive increase in remote work that have multiplied the number of privileges agencies need to manage. Therefore an identity-centric approach, leaning heavily on PAM, is the best way to address these risks. Agencies that have closed the paths of least resistance will find threat actors choosing an easier target.

Accordingly, The Defense Information Systems Agency delivers the initial Department of Defense Zero Trust Reference Architecture (Dod ZT) as a strategy and framework for cybersecurity, as reported by OpenGov Asia. Zero Trust is a cybersecurity strategy and framework that embeds security throughout the architecture to prevent malicious actors from accessing the most critical assets.

The document states the foundational tenet of the Zero Trust Model is that no actor, system, network, or service operating outside or within the security perimeter is trusted. Instead, they must verify anything and everything attempting to establish access.

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