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‫ Poorly managed SSH keys pose serious risks for most companies

ID: IRCNE2014022115
Date: 2013-02-26

According to "computerworld", many companies are dangerously exposed to threats like the recently revealed Mask Advanced Persistent Threat because they don't properly manage the Secure Shell (SSH) cryptographic keys used to authenticate access to critical internal systems and services.

A Ponemon Institute survey of more than 2,100 systems administrators at Global 2000 companies discovered that three out of four enterprises are vulnerable to root-level attacks against their systems because of their failure to secure SSH keys.

Even though more than half of the surveyed enterprises had suffered SSH-key related compromises, 53% said they still had no centralized control over the keys and 60% said they had no way to detect new keys introduced in the organizations. About 46% said they never change or rotate SSH keys -- even though the keys never expire.

Those findings reveal a significant gap in enterprise security controls, said Larry Ponemon, founder and CEO of the Ponemon Institute.

SSH keys allow administrators to remotely login to and operate a system via a secure encrypted tunnel. Administrators use such keys to authenticate access to critical database systems, application servers, cloud systems and security systems. SSH keys are also used to authenticate machines running automated processes and services and to protect data in transit.

SSH keys never expire, meaning that once a key is used to authenticate access to a system, the same key can be used in perpetuity unless it is changed. A hacker who acquires an unsecured SSH key can use it to gain access to the server or service to which it is attached and then use that access to try and find more keys for jumping on to other systems in a network.

Because SSH keys provide administrator-level, fully encrypted access to enterprise systems, any compromise of the keys could allow an attacker to gain complete control of a system while they remain hidden from view.

Large enterprises can have tens of thousands of SSH keys on their network -- most of which are poorly managed, said Kevin Bocek, vice president of product marketing and threat research at security vendor Venafi, which commissioned the Ponemon survey.

Companies often have little knowledge about the presence of such keys on their networks and therefore do little to manage them.

To get a handle on the problem, enterprises must figure out where SSH is in use and how many keys might be floating about on their networks. They then need to find a way to correlate the keys back to the appropriate servers, evaluate whether they're needed and put in place a process for automatically changing keys.


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