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6 SSH Machine Identity Processes Better Secured with Automation

6 SSH Machine Identity Processes Better Secured with Automation

December 20, 2021 | Scott Carter

Many operational processes are optimized by automating SSH user key setups, removals, approval, documentation, monitoring and audit processes. Embracing automation for the management of SSH machine identities significantly improves security, efficiency, and availability in these 6 areas:

Still Manually Tracking Your Machine Identities? Switch to Automation Now!

1. Inventory

Manual discovery and inventory of all SSH identity and authorized keys (along with corresponding restrictions) and mapping of all resulting trust relationships is practically impossible. Automation is essential if you want to accurately complete and continuously monitor an inventory of SSH machine identities across your organization.

2. Provisioning

Your administrators may be spending too much time configuring and managing their SSH user keys. When you automate the provisioning of interactive or automated access, approved requests can be automatically picked up by a key management system and implemented on all affected hosts. Automating provisioning in this way does the following:

  • Removes manual steps for setting up keys
  • Eliminates the need for manual root access for installing the keys
  • Reduces the amount of privileged administrative access that you need to audit and review
  • Eliminates configuration errors due to incorrectly implemented requests
  • Ensures that the approval template remains available for future reference and for use in continuous monitoring and audits

3. Lifecycle Automation

Using manual processes to manage SSH machine identity lifecycles—such as monitoring, rotating, and replacing SSH keys—is inherently error-prone and resource intensive. You’re probably already finding it difficult to manually track the progress of complex, multi-step processes across multiple systems. Another shortcoming of manual management is that it gives your administrators direct access to private keys, which increases the possibility of private key compromise.

Automating the lifecycle of SSH keys to support a machine identity management strategy streamlines your SSH machine identity lifecycles and the critical connections they enable. Plus, it helps you reduce operational cost of managing the SSH keys (and key pairs) used for trusted connectivity. But the bottom line is that automating SSH key (and key pair) lifecycles helps you respond quickly to imminent threats that may impact your organization’s critical assets.

4. Policy Enforcement

Policies and procedures play a critical role in SSH security by establishing consistent baseline requirements across the diverse systems and environments where SSH machine identities are deployed, including rapidly evolving cloud environments. The definition of policies should clearly spell out roles and responsibilities to prevent misunderstandings that result in security lapses and to ensure accountability.

Automation is a critical capability that makes it possible to consistently enforce SSH machine identity policies and applicable regulatory requirements. When you leave compliance in the hands of the various administrators who manage SSH keys for the systems they control, you’ll see inconsistent results for policy enforcement. That’s why it’s critical that you educate all SSH stakeholders on SSH security policies and processes—and have automation.

For the best results, automated policy enforcement should drive every aspect of your SSH machine identities, including ownership, usage, configuration and storage. With these capabilities, you can automatically revoke and replace any SSH machine identities that don’t conform to appropriate policies. Plus, you have the flexibility to enforce SSH machine identity policies in a variety of ways: globally, by logical group, or by individual identity.

5. Remediation

After you identify risks, you must make sure they’re fixed quickly to prevent ongoing exposure to a potential breach. By automating responses to SSH issues, you can quickly remove unauthorized keys, rotate, or replace weak and old keys, and remove SSH root access and duplicate private keys. Ultimately, your goal is to enforce security controls that limit the accessibility and use of SSH keys outside of their original purpose.

Automation also gives you the agility to rapidly respond to critical security events, such as a breach or other compromise. For example, if a large-scale security event occurs, automation is the only way you can quickly make bulk changes to all affected private keys. Automation is also the fastest way to remediate SSH key risks, such as replacing an orphaned, duplicated or shared private key that’s used across multiple machines.

6. Continuous Monitoring

Automating your intelligence gathering (continuous monitoring) is the only way to continually monitor the security and health of your SSH machine identities. Plus, when your intelligence is automatically updated, you can generate alerts when anomalies or vulnerabilities are detected.

Automation is also a virtual necessity for any continuous monitoring process. To meet ongoing security and compliance requirements, you need continuous, automated monitoring and tracking of SSH keys. You should also implement SSH audit practices that regularly review SSH entitlements, assess risk, avoid compliance violations and increase accountability for identity and access management.

When you’ve set up your SSH machine identity protection program to continually capture the information you need, you can rely on that intelligence to drive automated actions. The more management and security processes that can be reliably automated, the more benefits you see—from fewer errors to a reduction in management resources and better security.

Automation Is Key to Protecting SSH Machine Identities

Successfully integrating automation in your extended network of machine identities involves several best practices in multiple important areas, all of which require an SSH machine identity management solution that provides full visibility and the ability to manage and enforce policies. That’s where Venafi comes in!

Venafi SSH Protect safeguards your SSH machine identities through discovery, centralized management, and properly implemented automation!

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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott is Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Venafi. With over 20 years in cybersecurity marketing, his expertise leads him to help large organizations understand the risk to machine identities and why they should protect them

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