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Admin password security 'abysmal'

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.05 Oct 2006

By John Leyden for The Register.

This story has been reproduced with permission.

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 systems.

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.

© The Register 2006

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