AOH :: ISN-3099.HTM

Admin password security 'abysmal'

Admin password security 'abysmal'
Admin password security 'abysmal' 

By John Leyden
4th October 2006

Half of all enterprises have more administrative passwords than those 
attached to ordinary user accounts. Many (42 per cent) of these 
privileged passwords are never changed, according to a survey.

Cyber-Ark Software's Enterprise Privileged Password Survey looked at the 
use of privileged or administrative (super-user) passwords that exist 
within most computer systems or software applications. Examples include 
the root on a Unix server, administrator accounts on a Windows 
workstation, and Cisco Enable on a Cisco networking device. The survey 
of 140 IT pros shows that such passwords are more common in enterprises 
than previously thought and poorly administered, an oversight that 
creates a ready means for malicious hackers to commandeer vulnerable 

Weak admin password security represents a well-understood hacker risk 
but many firms are failing to take the threat into account in their 
operations despite reports of widespread security breaches and concern 
over the issue. Six out of 10 IT pros quizzed in the survey said that 
their organization has been hacked. It's not as if IT admins are unaware 
of the problem either - half of all IT professionals are often or always 
concerned about passing audits.

Cyber-Ark Software markets products that manage, log and update 
privileged passwords so it has a vested interested in highlighting the 
threat perceived by weak password security. Self-interest doesn't 
necessarily invalidate the survey's findings, however.

The survey suggests that changing administrative passwords is still a 
labour-intensive process that is too much of a chore for many firms to 
bother with.

"Manually changing thousands of passwords across hundreds of databases 
is simply impractical," an IT Executive from a Fortune 500-sized company 
told researchers working on the poll.

The survey concludes that privileged passwords are more powerful but 
less likely to be changed, a factor which exposes enterprises to 
heightened risk of hacker attack. Survey respondents reported that 99 
per cent of individual passwords are updated, however for privileged 
passwords the picture is markedly different.

Privileged routers are never changed in 13 per cent of cases. The survey 
found that computer passwords are even less likely to be changed. Local 
workstation privileged passwords are never changed in 21 per cent of 
cases, servers (13 per cent) and enterprise software app admin passwords 
(42 per cent) are also never altered.

"Privileged passwords come pre-loaded onto virtually every piece of 
hardware and software in an enterprise. Simply put, these super-user 
passwords are the keys to your kingdom, and yet they are often left 
unguarded," said Adam Bosnian, vice president of products, strategy and 
sales for Cyber-Ark Software.

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