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How to Combat the Biggest Security Risks Posed by Machine Identities


The rise of DevOps culture in enterprises has accelerated product delivery timelines. Automation undoubtedly has its advantages. However, containerization and the rise of cloud software development are exposing organizations to a sprawling new attack surface.

Machine identities vastly outnumber human ones in enterprises these days. Indeed, the rise of machine identities is creating cybersecurity debt, and increasing security risks.

Let’s take a look at three of the top security risks which machine identities create – and how you can combat them.

Certificate renewal issues

Machine identities are secured differently from human ones. While human IDs can be verified with login and password credentials, machine IDs use certificates and keys. A huge issue with these types of credentials is they have expiration dates.

Generally, certificates remain valid for two years, but the rapid pace of technological improvement has reduced some lifespans to 13 months. Given that there are often thousands of machine identities present in a given DevOps cycle, all with different certificate expiration dates, manual renewal, and auditing processes are close to impossible.

Teams that rely on manual processes to verify certificates will likely face unplanned outages, something DevOps pipelines cannot afford. Companies with public-facing services will likely suffer a negative brand impact from such outages. A good example of a certificate-related outage occurred in February 2021, when expired TLS certificates crashed Google Voice, leaving it unusable for 24 hours.

Automated certificate management is the best solution to this issue. Akeyless’s solution can automatically audit and renew expiring certificates. Aside from fitting into the broader DevOps theme of automation, tools like Akeyless also simplify the management of secrets. For instance, the tool allows enterprises to employ just-in-time access by creating single-use, short-lived certificates when a machine accesses sensitive information. These certificates remove the need for static keys and certificates, reducing the potential attack surface within a company.

Machine ID verification depends on private keys too. As tool usage in enterprises increases, shadow IT has become a major concern. Even when employees experiment with trial versions of SaaS software and then stop using these products, the software’s security certificate often remains on the network, leading to a vulnerability that an attacker can exploit.

Secret management tools integrate with every aspect of your network and monitor shadow certificates and keys. As a result, removing excess keys and securing valid ones becomes simple.

Lagging incident response

One of the problems security teams face from a compromised or expired machine identity is the cascading issues it causes. For instance, if a single machine ID is compromised, security teams must replace its key and certificate quickly. Fail to do this, and the range of automated CI/CD tools such as Jenkins will throw errors compromising release schedules.

Tools like Jenkins connect every portion of the DevOps pipeline and will create downstream issues as well. Then there’s the issue of third-party tool integration. What if a cloud container decides to revoke all your machine IDs because it detects a compromise in a single ID?

All these issues will hit your security team at once, causing a deluge of issues that can make attributing it all to one root cause extremely challenging. The good news is that automation and electronic key management simplify this process. With these tools, your security team will have full visibility into digital key and certificate locations, along with the steps needed to renew or issue new ones.

Surprisingly, most organizations lack visibility into key locations due to the containerized approach in DevOps. Most product teams work in silos and come together before production to integrate their various pieces of code. The result is a lack of security transparency into the different moving parts.

Security cannot remain static or centralized in a machine ID-dominant world. You must create agile security postures to match an agile development environment. This posture will help you react quickly to cascading issues and identify root causes.

Lack of audit insight

The rise of machine IDs hasn’t gone unnoticed. Increasingly, governments mandate cryptographic key requirements to monitor digital identities, especially when it comes to regulating sensitive business sectors. Add to this the web of data privacy laws that enterprises must comply with, and you have nightmare fuel for any manual machine ID management program.

Failing security audits lead to dire consequences these days. Aside from the loss of public trust, organizations paint a target on their backs for malicious hackers, often increasing the chances of security breaches. The average enterprise can have hundreds of thousands of machine identities under its purview, each with different configurations and expiry dates.

A team of humans cannot hope to keep pace with these identities. Yet, many organizations task their security teams in this manner, opening them to major security risks. Even if a manual process handles key renewal, human error can create issues. Furthermore, expecting a few admins to understand every certificate’s trust requirements is unrealistic.

An automated solution like Hashicorp solves these issues seamlessly, as it offers easy audit and compliance data that your security teams can use.

Automation is the key

DevOps prioritizes automation throughout the pipeline. To include security, you must automate and integrate those applications throughout your organization to create an agile security posture. Fail to do so, and the rising number of machine identities will leave your security team overburdened and unable to respond to threats.





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