Cybersecurity Essentials: Exploring Credential Management

December 13, 2023

Cybersecurity Essentials: Exploring Credential Management


In the not-so-distant past, it was typical for organizations to use and share common passwords. Keyboard walks and "named" passwords were known by heart and API keys were hard coded into applications for simplicity. As data breaches and cyber-attacks increase in complexity, the importance of robust credential management has never been more dire. Based on what we've learned through our own journey, this article will explore the significance of credential management in IT operations, the rationale for its implementation, and best practices that should be considered.    


What is Credential Management?

The repercussions of unauthorized access can be severe, ranging from financial losses to reputation damage. Credential management is important for organizations of all sizes because it acts as the gatekeeper for secrets that are critical for the smooth operation of your systems and applications. The following key reasons underscore the importance of implementing credential management: 


  • Security Enhancement: Credential management strengthens the overall security posture of an organization by preventing unauthorized access to secrets. It ensures that only individuals with the requisite credentials can access sensitive systems and data, minimizing the risk of data breaches and insider threats.

  • Secret Rotation: Routinely rotating secrets and credentials is a simple and effective way to protect against a range of attacks. While it can be difficult to rotate secrets when you aren't sure where they are used or who needs them, credential management can resolve this and greatly simplify secret rotation. If secret rotation is not a hassle, it will be easier to justify rotation on a more frequent basis.

  • Compliance Requirements: Many industries and regulatory bodies mandate strict data protection and access control measures. Implementing credential management not only helps organizations meet these compliance requirements but also demonstrates a commitment to data security and privacy.

  • Business Continuity: Knowing what secrets exist for various systems and who/what has access to them is an important part of disaster recovery planning.

  • Risk Mitigation: Credential management plays a crucial role in risk mitigation by reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access and data exposure. In the event of a security incident, proper credential management enables organizations to trace and contain the breach efficiently.


Best Practice Implementations

Although implementing credential management may sound like a no-brainer when it comes to improving the security of your organization, it is important to remember that this system will be used as the centralized storage for a range of credentials that are vital for your organization. For this reason, care should be taken to ensure the system is implemented in a secure and reliable way.


While this article will not focus on specific recommendations for types of credential management systems, we do want to highlight the following best practices that should be considered when selecting and implementing credential management:  


  • Enforce Complex Password Requirements: Implement password length and complexity requirements that will ensure strong passwords are used. NIST recommends using the longest password or passphrase permissible when possible.

  • Enforce Password Storage Requirements: Many of the benefits provided by credential management can be undone if users are storing and using passwords outside of the approved system. Using a non-approved password manager or saving passwords in a browser, for example, can lead to secret fragmentation and potential credential leaks. Ensure that password storage requirements are defined and enforced.

  • Regular Credential Audits: Conducting regular audits of user credentials and secrets helps to ensure users only have access to secrets they need. Additionally, this is a great way to identify and revoke access for inactive or terminated accounts, further reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Just as MFA adds an extra layer of security to all applications, MFA should be required for accessing the credential management system.

  • Implement Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP): User and system accounts should only have the privileges and access that are necessary for their intended function. This helps minimize the "blast radius" in the event of a breach.

  • Encryption of Stored Credentials: Storing credentials in an encrypted format makes deciphering data challenging in the event of unauthorized access.

  • Restrict Session Length / Timeout: A session length (or timeout) refers to how long an authenticated session will remain valid. For systems that support it, limiting session length by implementing a reasonable session timeout can help protect against session hijacking.

  • Rotate Secrets Regularly: Secrets should be rotated on a regular cadence. This is especially true for system accounts that can easily go unnoticed. The rotation of secrets can even be automated for some systems.

  • Employee Training and Awareness: Educating employees about the importance of strong passwords, secure password practices, and the risks associated with credential sharing contributes significantly to a robust security culture.


Regardless of whether your organization is a vast enterprise with thousands of employees or a small startup of just a few rockstars, credential management is an important player in the defense against cybersecurity threats. By implementing effective credential management strategies, organizations can improve the security posture of their digital infrastructure, control access to sensitive information, and mitigate the risks of unauthorized access and data breaches. At Kitu, we have invested in our credential management so our employees and customers can rest easy knowing they are working with a resilient and secure IT ecosystem.   


Author: George Cagle, Kitu's Director of Platform Engineering


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