Simply because an IT employee leaves your organization doesn’t mean you’ve heard the last from him.

Here’s a recent case in point. According to Bleeping Computer, “An Alaska judge sentenced a 59-year-old woman…at Peninsula Airlines (PenAir), for hacking her former employer and wreaking havoc for two days inside the company's flight reservations system.”

The woman, a former Director of System Support for the airline, was unhappy with the way she was forced out of her job. So she decided to mete out some payback.

According to investigators, here’s what she did. Shortly before departing the company, the woman used her administrator account to create another privileged account in the name of a fake employee. She used this secret admin account to log into PenAir’s ticketing and reservation system. From there she blocked one employee’s access into the system. Then she deleted information associated with 8 of the airline’s airport stations.

These rogue actions “prevented employees in any of those eight airports from being able to book, ticket, modify, or board any flight until the stations were rebuilt in the system."

As incidents like this show, ex-employees – including contractors – can cause serious trouble on their former employers’ networks using the same privileged logins they had while employed. But these unfortunate situations could be prevented – or at least significantly minimized. It starts with securing privileged access.

Control Privileged Access

Privileged accounts, like administrator or root, are sometimes referred to as “god” accounts for a reason. They allow anyone who knows the account passwords to install or remove programs, reconfigure machines and access systems that contain sensitive data. And, when left unsecured, they can be used as a backdoor for later reentry by former IT staff – as we saw in the example above.

It’s astonishingly common in both corporate and government networks to share administrative passwords across multiple systems. It's also common for admin passwords to remain unchanged for extended periods of time, and used without any audit records. Bad policies all.

Here’s a better policy. Get control over privileged accounts. Start by generating unique passwords for each individual account on the network. That eliminates shared passwords. Then, change these passwords frequently. That takes care of the static admin password problem. Also, make sure your privileged passwords are only available to delegated personnel, for a limited time. That ensures there’s no more anonymous and unlimited privileged access – for anyone.

Better still – automate the entire process with our cross-platform privileged identity management (PIM) product. That will go a long way toward ensuring that any employees and contractors intent on mischief cannot access your systems after they leave. Whether it’s for the day or forever.

We recently published our 2018 Privileged Access Threat Report, which outlines the ever-increasing risks associated with privileged access for insiders and third-party vendors. It’s free to download – so take look for some deeper insight into the risks and review the solutions offered to help shore up you organization’s security posture.

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Tal Guest

Principal Product Manager

As principal product manager, Tal is responsible for the strategy and direction of the PAM product. He has more 15 years of experience in information security, ITSM, network and IT operations management experience. He also is a seasoned expert in the areas of cyber-security, cloud services, security frameworks, network security, and ITSM. Tal has a Bachelor of Business Information Systems from Mississippi State University and is certified in Pragmatic Marketing. He resides Mississippi and can be found on twitter @talguest.