Enterprises average one root access orphan key on every enterprise server

SSH machine identities are critical to digital transformation strategies, as they authenticate privileged access between machines and are ubiquitous across enterprise networks.

SSH machine identities

While CIOs say they are concerned about the security risks SSH machine identities pose, survey data indicates they seriously underestimate the scope of these risks.

To better understand the scale of this problem, Venafi surveyed over global 550 CIOs and then compared the survey data with aggregate SSH risk assessments conducted over a two-year time period. More than 14 million SSH client keys and 3.3 million SSH host keys were analyzed and serious SSH security risks were found.

SSH machine identities and security risks

  • 80 percent of CIOs say they are concerned about the security risks connected with SSH keys. 68 percent recognize managing SSH will only become more difficult as organizations move to modern, cloud-native environments.
  • Enterprises average 2.5 root access keys per server analyzed. Root access keys provide the highest levels of access to machines; if a threat actor gains access to root privileges, they can access anything on a remote server, or on multiple servers if the server has been cloned.
  • 96 percent of CIOs say their policies require the removal of keys when employees are terminated or transferred, but 40 percent admit they don’t have automated tools to remove unused keys.
  • Enterprises have, on average, more than 7,000 root access orphan keys, or at least one root access orphan per every server analyzed. Root access orphan keys bring great security risks for organizations because they can create persistent back doors into networks that can last for months or years.
  • Enterprises average 2 duplicate private keys and one shared private key per each server analyzed. A large number of duplicate private keys stems from ineffective or nonexistent enforcement of policies governing the duplication of private keys and limitations on where they are stored.

“SSH keys are extremely powerful assets that require careful protection,” said Kevin Jacque, global security architect for Venafi. “It’s not surprising to find so many severe security risks because we know that most organizations do not use any automation to manage them.

“Unfortunately, we should expect these gaps in SSH key management to continue to grow as organizations move more workloads to the cloud where SSH keys are used for nearly everything. The only way to address these risks is to put in place a comprehensive SSH machine identity management solution that provides continuous visibility and leverages automation to enforce policies.”




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