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
"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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