The concept of Just-in-Time Access has been around for decades but it is only recently that it has become popular in the cybersecurity realm. One reason for this popularity is the increase in cyberattacks and data breaches. With more attacks on privileged accounts, there are more opportunities for hackers to steal data and information from organizations; therefore, there is a need for increased security measures to protect against these attacks.

In this article, I will explain the concept of just-in-time access, along with types, benefits, best practices surrounding this topic as well as how you can implement it by using our Privileged Access Management solution.

What Is Just-In-Time Access? Definition

Just-in-time access, also known as JIT, is an essential cybersecurity process where users, applications, or systems are granted privileged access, only for a limited period of time on an as-needed basis.

As cybersecurity expert Joseph Shenouda beautifully describes

Just-in-time access opens up shop/ports and ties them down to your specific access. Then, after you’re done, you close up the shop before you leave, just like in the real world.

Types of Just-In-Time Access

There are three types of just-in-time access through which I will go briefly:

#1 The broker and remove access approach

This JIT type is also referred to as the justification-based type, facilitating the creation of policies that require users to explain their need for privileged access, so basically to input a justification upon requesting privileged permissions. The password for these accounts is kept in a secured and central vault.

#2 Ephemeral accounts

Unlike the first described type of JIT permission, this second type, as its name says, is linked to temporary accounts based on the zero-standing privilege principle. These accounts are created and made functional in relation to certain needs being described as one-time accounts. This means that when the task is done, the access to them is retrieved or the accounts are disabled or deleted.

#3 Temporary elevation

Privileges are raised temporarily following a by-request basis rule. Users can have privileged access under two conditions: when they require it and only for a limited amount of time. When the time ends, the access is no longer granted.

How Does Just-in-Time Access Work?

Just-in-Time Access works by addressing three different aspects: location, time, and actions. Location refers to where a user needs access, time refers to how long they need this access and if they are entitled to it during that specific timeframe, and the last, action, points out to what a user wants to do with that privileged access.

A normal just-in-time access workflow would look like this: a user requires access to a certain instance, a network device, a server, or maybe a virtual machine. Then the request will be analyzed under two scenarios: either it is compared against some existing policies or the administrators decide its status: approved or denied. If the required access is granted, the user will perform his/her task in the short-lived timeframe, and then he/she will log off. After this, the privileged access previously enabled is revoked until further future need.

Benefits of Just-in-Time Access. Why Is JIT Important?

It Eliminates the Risk of Standing Privileges Reducing the Attack Surface

Standing privileges, also called always-on (24×7), are privileges that give unlimited access to essential resources in the system. By letting special system permissions be always in a privilege-active mode the network remains exposed both to insider and external threats. Taking advantage of standing privileges means that malicious attackers can steal credentials, exploit those rights, perform data encryption, or even disrupt business systems.

Just-in-time privileged access solves the problem of standing privileges because elevated access is granted only when needed and for a specific timeframe that will eventually expire, thus facilitating less network exposure to potential cyber threats.

Having standing privileges in your organization can also lead to privilege escalation attempts, giving thus the right opportunity to hackers to move laterally across the network and further extend their malicious actions. JIT also eliminates the risk posed by lateral movement.

It supports the implementation of POLP and Zero-Trust

JIT facilitates the implementation of the principle of least privilege, and also the zero-trust model, where nothing is trusted and everything is checked before granting it privileged access.

It enhances the organization’s security posture

Just in time enables a well-defined security posture as this practice supports the dynamic privilege elevation. Thus, access will be granted only over usual working hours, users would achieve privileged permission to critical assets in codependency with certain tasks, instead of elevating the entire user session, only application privileges will be elevated and remote access will be provided in a secure way either for employees or external providers.

Remote employees’ productivity and the operability of service accounts are maintained with JIT

JIT access implemented in the PAM solution means that a privileged session has a beginning and a start and between there is a certain amount of time. Users come and request access, and an automated solution makes the flow smooth as it can be approved from anywhere in the world, and this does not impact the productivity level.

Privileged accounts related to non-human entities like service accounts will continue to be operational in an efficient way if JIT is implemented for them: thus, specific end dates are built for them and their governance remains ongoing.

Just-in-Time Access supports compliance

Implementing just-in-time access lets your business meets compliance requirements providing an accurate audit perspective and a granular view. Most compliance regulations require the enforcement of the principle of least privilege and the removal of standing privileges for effective management of privileged accounts. Both things can be achieved with just-in-time access.

Privileged account management becomes easy with JIT

With this cybersecurity practice put in place, admins can benefit from fast access to the desired resources, privileged account management becoming a less burdensome task since no standing accounts means no frequent password modification.

It promotes effortless collaboration

Setting up user devices in relation to role-based context on a whitelist means that, users will only be granted access to those apps they specifically need to complete their tasks. There might be a need to share application access in times of collaboration between different teams. In this case, JIT can provide access to all apps related to these user devices, supporting this way effective cooperation for a limited timeframe.

Best Practices on Enforcing Just-in-Time Access

Start with vulnerabilities identification

Before putting in place this cybersecurity practice, a better approach would be to first make an asset inventory and identify the high-risk assets and the existent vulnerabilities within your network. This is the starting point of a proper subsequent JIT implementation.

Combine Just-in-Time Access with RBAC and ABAC policies

Companies may successfully address practically all of their access demands when JIT access is paired with RBAC (role-based access control) and ABAC policies, giving them significantly greater control and information over every user’s system access at any given time.

Implement granular policies that require user justification

Granular policies that demand a reason when a user needs privileged access for a specific period of time to a certain resource should be implemented for the efficient delivery of this cybersecurity concept.

Record and log JIT privileged access

For a clear and comprehensive reporting and audit, you’ll need to record and log JIT privileged access in a central location.

Do not create JIT accounts, but rather use a PAM with JIT already implemented

It’s more efficient to use an automated PAM solution that relies on the JIT concept as it gives users access for a certain amount of time only if they need it and require it during a privileged session. Managing privileges by creating JIT accounts would be challenging in the long run, that’s why a PAM solution with just-in-time access implementation solves this problem in a more effective way.

Do not rely just on a single solution, but extend your cybersecurity suite

Maintaining the security of a business involves more than just relying on one solution because today’s threats exceed what can a basic antivirus cover. Unified threat management covers all aspects of a threat landscape and here lies the unicity of our suite.

I will give you some practical examples. You can use just-in-time with our PAM that enables temporary elevation, or you can use the PAM product together with our Next-Gen Antivirus. This way the Privileged Access Management solution will automatically deescalate rights when the antivirus detects a threat making for the single PAM product that automatically revokes permissions on threat detection. How cool is that?

Remember I’ve said it’s better to first assess what’s critical in your organization, and only after implementing the just-in-time privileged access practice? You can use our Patch & Asset Management to pull out accurate and comprehensive reports on IT asset inventory and existent vulnerabilities, then use it to keep your software updated on time. The possibilities are endless! Just think about that: the best solutions brought together, working in synergy, and covering multiple needs just reduce greatly your overall risk exposure in a unified dashboard.

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How to Implement Just in Time Access with Heimdal Privileged and Access Management

I’ve mentioned earlier that using an automated PAM solution that has already implemented the JIT model is way more effective than creating separate just-in-time access accounts in the long run.

Our Privileged and Access Management supports temporary elevation of privileged sessions (up to 2 hours), thus already implementing the just-in-time access model, automates the approval/denial flow by making it smooth and efficient, supports zero-trust and it is the only solution that deescalates rights on threat detection, letting you have full control on what happens during an elevated session. Paired with our Application Control, which lets you create a whitelisting/blacklisting process of running applications, what you can achieve is mitigating the risk of privilege abuse and its consequences over your business-critical assets.

You can also read our freshly released Heimdal CyberSecurity & Threat Intelligence Report 2021 which gives you more insight on PAM data and how it works in terms of all-time elevations and other relevant information.

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