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How Just-In-Time Access Enhances Security in the Digital Age

Leaving privileges active for an extended period creates the perfect storm for cyberattacks. By implementing a JIT access policy, elevated access is granted only when necessary for a defined timeframe that will expire.

PAM solutions have focused on vaulting and least privilege for years, but this doesn’t shrink the attack surface. By moving to a JIT model, organizations can reduce the number of accounts that need to be discovered and rotated regularly.

Reduces Risk of Privileged Access Abuse

Privileged access abuse remains one of the leading causes of security breaches as the attack surface for businesses expands. Whether caused by rogue insiders or simple human error, such as misconfigured systems, the misuse of admin and service accounts can lead to data exposure, loss of customer trust, and financial losses from business disruptions. Even with traditional PAM solutions in place, many organizations need help to control these risky standing privileges.

Incorporating just-in-time access into your privileged account management solution reduces this risk by replacing risky standing privileges with short-lived ephemeral accounts. This approach leverages three aspects of privileged access: location, time, and actions. By limiting the user’s location to where they need to be, ensuring their access is required for a pre-approved timeframe, and preventing them from performing unauthorized actions, JIT access limits the attack surface. It enables you to meet your zero-trust principles.

As you implement just-in-time access, you should first address the most critical vulnerabilities. This will help you build a foundation for your cybersecurity strategy and broaden the path for adoption across your network. Once you have addressed the most critical vulnerabilities, you can implement just-in-time access across your entire network and eliminate the threat of standing privileges across your entire attack surface. This approach is much easier to implement and will enable you to achieve a zero-trust environment.

Reduces the Attack Surface

Despite the best security practices in place, attackers will continue to find new ways to compromise your business. From unmanaged BYOD devices connecting to your network to vulnerabilities in the CRM system that could be exploited to employees forgetting their phone at the bar after a team happy hour, it’s impossible to eliminate every possible attack vector.

That’s why it’s essential to reduce your attack surface as much as possible. This is where a Just-in-Time Access approach can be constructive.

Instead of giving users permanent access to resources and systems, JIT lets administrators elevate privileges on a need-to-have basis. These temporary privileges are only available for a specified timeframe or until the user’s task is complete. Once those periods or accounts are over, the privileges are automatically revoked.

For example, an IT pro might need to connect to a database or application for an hour to troubleshoot an issue. This might be an urgent business need outside current RBAC or ABAC policies. With a JIT system, the IT pro can log in to a service account and perform their work. Then, the account and privileges are immediately revoked when the checkout window closes. This approach eliminates the need to use a single, centralized, and compromised account for a short time and dramatically reduces your attack surface.

Minimizes the Need for Privileged Access Management

The principle of least privilege (POLP) and just-in-time access seek to minimize the attack surface by eliminating privileged accounts on your network. However, they differ in their approaches: PoLP focuses on what users can access, while JIT addresses when privilege elevation should occur.

JIT elevates user access for only the duration needed to complete a task. This ephemeral access model creates temporary, on-demand accounts known as “fly accounts.” Once the account’s purpose has been completed, it is automatically revoked, and the fly account is deleted. This approach helps organizations meet compliance requirements for privilege elevation while reducing risk by ensuring access is only granted when necessary.

In addition, temporary access can help reduce the attack surface by removing standing privileges that malicious attackers would otherwise exploit. Admin and service accounts are the most common source of cyberattacks, as they allow users to install software, modify system configurations, and much more.

By implementing a cloud PAM solution with Zero Trust and zero-standing privilege capabilities, you can ensure these accounts do not persist in your IT ecosystem. This will limit the time malicious users have to take advantage of your critical assets and make it impossible for them to move laterally across your IT ecosystem to gain access to other sensitive data and systems.

Enhances Compliance

When paired with a PAM solution, JIT access helps ensure compliance by providing a much-needed granular security perspective and accurate user activity auditing. The principle of least privilege is enforced by removing users’ standing privileges after a specific period and requiring that they use their privileged accounts only to meet business needs.

While the need for a zero-trust model is widely recognized, many organizations must still be ready to abandon their privileged access management strategies completely. A transition to a JIT model can be done gradually. With a PAM solution that offers features like ephemeral account provisioning, privileged session monitoring and recording, and automated password rotation, companies can move closer to Zero Trust by minimizing their attack surface and enabling stricter privileges.

The key to successfully implementing Just-in-Time Access is ensuring that your privileged access management solution can accommodate users’ unique needs in different environments without affecting productivity or security. JIT solutions allow you to implement various security policies for different situations, including location limits, time restrictions, and action limits. In addition to these security-related policies, an excellent privileged access management solution should allow you to record and log all activities on temporary accounts for consistent, detailed reporting. By combining these security-oriented capabilities with a more airtight credential handling model that allows users to only checkout and use a single set of credentials for their work, you can provide your employees with a streamlined experience while maintaining an extremely tight security perimeter.

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