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How a password manager can help organizations pass penetration tests

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  2. How a password manager can help organizations pass penetration tests

Companies entrust sensitive information to their systems, making them a prime target for cyberattacks. Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a defensive strategy to assess an organization’s security posture. It simulates a cyberattack to identify vulnerabilities in a company's systems in a safe, controlled, and well-documented environment. While there are many steps organizations can take to prepare, rolling out an enterprise-wide password manager is a simple yet significant way to enhance a company's chances of passing the pen test portion of a security audit.

The basics of pen testing

Pen testing is a proactive security effort that involves ethical hackers, also known as pen testers, attempting to gain unauthorized access to a company's systems using the same methods real attackers would. This includes exploiting software vulnerabilities, social engineering tactics, and most critically, targeting weak passwords and the habits that create them.

Understanding the different types of pen testing scenarios can shed light on why effective password managers are an essential line of defense. Pen tests can be internal or external, testing from within the organization or from an outsider’s perspective. They can also vary in scope, from black box (limited knowledge of the system) to white box (full knowledge), each offering unique insights into system vulnerabilities. Pen testing can also involve blue teams that focus on defense, and red teams, simulating attackers to uncover weaknesses.

Pen testers employ various techniques to crack passwords. Credential stuffing, a common tactic, involves using stolen passwords from one data breach to attempt to log into accounts on other platforms. Another frequently used method is phishing emails that are designed to trick employees into revealing login credentials. Using weak and reused passwords makes these attacks much more likely to succeed.

Password managers are critical for passing pen tests

Password managers strengthen data security by generating and securely storing strong, unique passwords for every account, mitigating the vulnerabilities that pen testers exploit. They prevent unauthorized access by reducing the reliance on weak or reused passwords. Password managers enable employees to create robust credentials without needing to remember each one, eliminating password fatigue and reducing human error - a frequent finding in pen test audits.

Password managers also help mitigate phishing attacks by ensuring that credentials are only autofilled on trusted websites. Phishing emails often trick users into clicking links that lead to fake login pages. Since password managers store login credentials for legitimate websites, if you land on a phishing site, the password manager won't recognize it and won't autofill your login information. This check functions as a red flag that can both thwart bad actors and alert users to a potential phishing attempt.

Adding multi-factor authentication (MFA) also offers an extra security layer by requiring a second form of verification, like a code, biometric identifier, or security key along with a password. Password managers provide various MFA options to help users and organizations comply with industry regulations and enhance their defense against pen tests. These options range from authenticator apps, to security keys, to the built-in Bitwarden Authenticator. MFA also reduces phishing risks, as unauthorized individuals must complete additional, user-specific authentication steps.

Finally, password managers empower teams to securely share passwords and other sensitive information across devices and accounts within the organization. Users can set permissions to define who can view or edit shared information, reducing the risks associated with sharing sensitive login credentials through email or plain text – another common vulnerability revealed in pen tests. Because many password managers use end-to-end encryption for all shared data, they ensure security through adherence to zero-knowledge principles for storing sensitive data across devices. 

The role of employee training

Organizations should also combine password management with security training to pass pen tests successfully. Strong password policies and multi-factor authentication (MFA) enhance security, while training helps employees detect and mitigate social engineering and phishing attacks. This integration of password management tools and employee awareness ensures an effective cybersecurity strategy for passing pen tests. 

Password managers play a key role in improving overall company security. They promote strong password creation, prevent reuse, flag fake phishing sites, and enable secure information sharing to reduce potential vulnerabilities. When combined with consistent employee training, password managers effectively prepare organizations to pass pen tests. A successful pen test audit demonstrates that a company has robust security measures in place, including strong password hygiene, which is crucial for mitigating a significant portion of cyberattacks.

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