Credential Management: What It Is, Best Practices, and Tools
If you're in charge of keeping a high-profile organization or government institution with a sizable user base and workforce secure, you're no stranger to the complexity that comes with balancing accessibility and security. You don't want to inconvenience your staff too much, after all. But you also don't want to let them be sloppy with their practices. Credentials are at the crux of all this. Ensuring that they stay safe and are not exploited will probably comprise half of your security team's responsibilities.
Managing the credentials of a large organization doesn't have to be this hard, however. Since you can abstract most of the complexity behind sophisticated and robust systems and policies that are readily available, all you need to do is stay in the know. And if what you need is documentation and guidance, there's plenty of that too.
So, to help you strengthen your team's skill set and decrease the chance of suffering a security breach due to negligence or oversight, I've prepared this article for you. I'll walk you through the subject of credentials management, what it is, and why it's essential to guarantee a robust level of security. Additionally, I'll offer you some of the industry's best practices regarding credential management implementations and also the top three solutions that you can find on the market.
Let's jump into it.
These credentials serve as the keys to an umbrella of platforms, tools, and services that arn organization’s staff uses to fulfill their roles
What Is Credential Management?
Credential management, or credential management systems, are systems or mechanisms that allow the administration of the life cycle of user credentials (issuance, modification, or revocation) that an organization operates with. These credentials serve as the keys to an umbrella of platforms, tools, and services that an organization's staff uses to fulfill their roles. In essence, it's a centralized gatekeeper of credentials, privileges, and policies to an organization's resources and means of production.
The credentials the organization uses are handled by this established form of software known as the credential management system. This system is part of what is known as the public key infrastructure (PKI), which is a set of roles, policies, hardware, software, and procedures to create, manage, distribute, use, store and revoke digital certificates and manage public-key encryption. Simply put, the PKI is an agreement that binds public keys with the respective identities of entities (like people and organizations), which is then enforced by the gatekeeper (credential management system) to enforce security policies and privileges.
One of the most common implementations of security policies in the organization's infrastructure of credentials is the zero-trust model, where all entities are given only the absolutely necessary credentials and privileges their roles require.
Why Is Managing Credentials Important?
As you know, organizations require user credentials to control access to sensitive data and services. However, those credentials hold significant potential for abuse if not appropriately managed.
Why is that? Much like an entity or individual goes through different roles and responsibilities during their tenure in an organization, so must the credentials they hold. Moreover, granting privileges to credentials without considering the scope of the user's role is one of the most common ways of security exploitation in the industry as bad actors misappropriate credentials at the lowest levels of the organization with significant privileges assigned to them.
Finally, credentials that are not quickly purged when the user leaves the organization pose a significant risk. And since the legal grounds for protection and enforcement usually end with the user contract, there's little you can do.
Some of the most notorious challenges that credential management aims to tackle are the following:
- Multi-platform access management
- Credential life cycle management (issuance, modification, or revocation)
- Organizational security complexity
- Security policy enforcement
Credential Management Best Practices
Though secure credential issuance is essential, security best practices don't stop there. As stated above, ensuring that a credential is used securely throughout its course, including any modifications or adjustments, is vital.
Here are some of the best practices regarding credential management:
- Make use of a robust and trusted credential management solution.
- Enforce a complex and robust set of password policies.
- Build your credential infrastructure using the zero-trust model.
- Introduce a form of hardware security modules (hardware keys).
- Require two-factor authentication across the organization.
- Implement an internal certificate sign authority when possible.
- Restrict session length and privileges.
- Perform penetration tests and drills.
- Have a reliable credential revocation protocol in place.
- Log all user activity.
There are, of course, plenty more steps that you can take to strengthen your organization's security. And these go beyond the scope of credential management. However, these recommendations will ensure that you focus your resources on the right areas for the best results.
Top 3 Solutions for Credentials Management
One of the most essential components of a robust credential management mechanism is the system that's built on it.
As a captain of a big vessel, your decisions significantly impact the crew's security. Likewise, choosing which solution to implement can dramatically impact your security and your crew's experience. And this, in turn, can affect the enforcement of the policies required to keep the vessel safe.
So here are some of the recommendations I have for the best credential management system solutions available on the market.
As a cloud-based credential management system, Passportal consolidates identity management and access management controls in a straightforward console
As a cloud-based credential management system, Passportal consolidates identity management and access management controls in a straightforward console. Its system can manage access privileges to numerous sites, making it an excellent tool for centralized IT units.
- LDAP and active directory integration
- On-site and cloud-based system access
- Temporary accounts
- Robust password generator
Another credential manager based in the cloud, Dashlane Business, offers many of the excellent services that its popular end-user solution already provides. With a robust password manager, you can be confident that all user account information is safe in a secure, encrypted vault on the Dashlane cloud server. This makes it easy for your users to access it from any device in any location.
- Cloud-based system access
- Credential encryption
- Password vault
- Robust password generator
Much like the previous contender, LastPass is another well-known solution for end users and enterprise users. This comes as a paid package for businesses called LastPass Enterprise. It's a cloud-based credential management service that can conform to other access management systems on-site and in the cloud.
- Single-sign-on environment
- Credential encryption
- Integrated multi-factor authentication
- Password distribution system
In this ever-evolving world of technology, keeping tabs on all the potential threads and vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit is a daunting task, to say the least
In this ever-evolving world of technology, keeping tabs on all the potential threats and vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit is a daunting task, to say the least.
Securing your system so it can weather the onslaught of security threats is difficult enough. A big part of this is the inherent trust that we put in the many actors that need to interact with the platform itself. This is why credential management solutions are so important to prevent breaches and exploitation from bad actors or disgruntled former employees.
If you don't yet have a credential management system in place, if your organization is larger than fifty people, or if the nature of the system you manage is very sensitive, I advise you to consider investing. Beyond this, much of your security team's work would be pointless as it doesn't matter if you have the tallest walls when you don't check who goes through the gates and keep tabs on where they go.
Before you go...To stay updated with our latest content, please subscribe to our email updates or follow us on Twitter at @runmedev! Also, check out Runme, a VS Code Extension that lets you run commands in READMEs with a click instead of tedious copy&pasting into a terminal.
Let us know what you think. Bye for now! 👋
This post was written by Juan Reyes. Juan is an engineer by profession and a dreamer by heart who crossed the seas to reach Japan following the promise of opportunity and challenge. While trying to find himself and build a meaningful life in the east, Juan borrows wisdom from his experiences as an entrepreneur, artist, hustler, father figure, husband, and friend to start writing about passion, meaning, self-development, leadership, relationships, and mental health. His many years of struggle and self-discovery have inspired him and drive to embark on a journey for wisdom.