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DevOps / Microservices / Security

Britive: Just-in-Time Access across Multiple Clouds

The startup is taking on the challenge of automating cross-cloud ephemeral access not only for humans, but also for machine processes.
Sep 7th, 2023 3:00am by
Featued image for: Britive: Just-in-Time Access across Multiple Clouds
Image from Britive.

Traditionally when a user was granted access to an app or service, they kept that access until they left the company. Unfortunately, too often it wasn’t revoked even then. This perpetual 24/7 access left companies open to a multitude of security exploits.

More recently the idea of just-in-time (JIT) access has come into vogue, addressing companies’ growing attack surface that comes with the proliferation of privileges granted for every device, tool and process. Rather than ongoing access, the idea is to grant it only for a specific time period.

But managing access manually for the myriad technologies workers use on a daily basis, especially for companies with thousands of employees would be onerous. And with many companies adopting a hybrid cloud strategy, each of which with its own identity and access management (IAM) protocols, the burden grows. With zero standing privileges considered a pillar of a zero trust architecture, JIT access paves the way to achieve it.

Glendale, California-based Britive is taking on the challenge of automating JIT access across multiple clouds not only for humans but also for machine processes.

“We recognize that in the cloud, access is typically not required to be permanent or perpetual,” pointed out Britive CEO and co-founder Art Poghosyan. “Most of access is so frequently changing and dynamic, it really doesn’t have to be perpetual standing access … if you’re able to provision with an identity at a time when [users] need it. With proper security, guardrails in place and authorization in place, you really don’t need to keep that access there forever. … And that’s what we do, we call it just-in-time ephemeral privilege management or access management,”

‘Best Left to Automation’

Exploited user privileges have led to some massive breaches in recent years, like Solarwinds, MGM Resorts, Uber and Capital One. Even IAM vendor Okta fell victim.

In the Cloud Security Alliance report “Top Threats to Cloud Computing,” more than 700 industry experts named identity issues as the top threat overall.

And in “2022 Trends in Securing Digital Identities,” of more than 500 people surveyed, 98% said the number of identities is increasing, primarily driven by cloud adoption, third-party relationships and machine identities.

Pointing in particular to cloud identity misconfigurations, a problem occurring all too often, Matthew Chiodi, then Palo Alto Networks’ public cloud chief security officer cited a lack of IAM governance and standards multiplied by “the sheer volume of user and machine roles combined with permissions and services that are created in each cloud account.”

Chiodi added, “Humans are good at many things, but understanding effective permissions and identifying risky policies across hundreds of roles and different cloud service providers are tasks best left to algorithms and automation.”

JIT systems take into account whether a user is authorized to have access, the user’s location and the context of their current task. Access is granted only if the given situation justifies it, and then revokes it when the task is done.

Addressing Need for Speed

Founded in 2018, Britive automates JIT access privileges, including tokens and keys, for people and software accessing cloud services and apps across multiple clouds.

Aside from the different identity management processes involved with cloud platforms like Azure, Oracle, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google, developers in particular require access to a range of tools, Poghosyan pointed out.

“Considering the fact that a lot of what they do requires immediate access … speed is the topmost priority for users, right?” he said.

“And so they use a lot of automation, tools and things like HashiCorp Terraform or GitHub or GitLab and so on. All these things also require access and keys and tokens. And that reality doesn’t work well with the traditional IAM tools where it’s very much driven from a sort of corporate centralized, heavy workflow and approval process.

“So we built technology that really, first and foremost, addresses this high velocity and highly automated process that cloud environments users need, especially development teams,” he said, adding that other teams, like data analysts who need access to things like Snowflake or Google Big Query and whose needs change quickly, would find value in it as well.

“That, again, requires a tool or a system that can dynamically adapt to the needs of the users and to the tools that they use in their day-to-day job,” he said.

Beyond Role-Based Access

Acting as an abstraction layer between the user and the cloud platform or application, Britive uses an API-first approach to grant access with the level of privileges authorized for the user. A temporary service account sits inside containers for developer access rather than using hard-coded credentials.

While users normally work with the least privileges required for their day-to-day jobs, just-in-time access grants elevated privileges for a specific period and revoke those permissions when the time is up. Going beyond role-based access (RBAC), the system is flexible enough to allow companies to alternatively base access on attributes of the resource in question (attribute-based access) or policy (policy-based access), Poghosyan said.

The patented platform integrates with most cloud providers and with CI/CD automation tools like Jenkins and Terraform.

Its cross-cloud visibility provides a single view into issues such as misconfigurations, high-risk permissions and unusual activity across your cloud infrastructure, platform and data tools. Data analytics offers risk scores and right-sizing access recommendations based on historical use patterns. The access map provides a visual representation of the relationships between policies, roles, groups and resources, letting you know who has access to what and how it is used.

The company added cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) in 2021 to understand privileges across multicloud environments and to identify and mitigate risks when the level of access is higher than it should be.

The company launched Cloud Secrets Manager in March 2022, a cloud vault for static secrets and keys when ephemeral access is not feasible. It applies the JIT concept of ephemeral creation of human and machine IDs like a username or password, database credential, API token, TLS certificate, SSH key, etc. It addresses the problems of hard-coded secrets management in a single platform, replacing embedded API keys in code by retrieving keys on demand and providing visibility into who has access to which secrets and how and when they are used.

In August it released Access Builder, which provides self-service access requests to critical cloud infrastructure, applications and data. Users set up a profile that can be used as the basis of access and can track the approval process. Meanwhile, administrators can track requested permissions, gaining insights into which identities are requesting access to specific applications and infrastructure.

Range of Integrations

Poghosyan previously co-founded Advancive, an IAM consulting company acquired by Optiv in 2016. Poghosyan and Alex Gudanis founded Britive in 2018. It has raised $35.9 million, most recently $20.5 million in a Series B funding round announced in March. Its customers include Gap, Toyota, Forbes and others.

Identity and security analysts KuppingerCole named Britive among the innovation leaders in its 2022 Leadership Compass report along with the likes of CyberArk, EmpowerID, Palo Alto Networks, Senhasegura, SSH and StrongDM that it cited for embracing “the new worlds of CIEM and DREAM (dynamic resource entitlement and access management) capability.”

“Britive has one of the widest compatibilities for JIT machine and non-machine access cloud services [including infrastructure, platform, data and other ‘as a service’ solutions] including less obvious provisioning for cloud services such as Snowflake, Workday, Okta Identity Cloud, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Google Workspace and others – some following specific requests from customers. This extends its reach into the cloud beyond many rivals, out of the box,” the report states.

It adds that it is “quite eye-opening in the way it supports multicloud access, especially in high-risk develop environments.”

Poghosyan pointed to two areas of focus for the company going forward: one is building support for non-public cloud environments because that’s still an enterprise reality, and the other is going broader into the non-infrastructure technologies. It’s building a framework to enable any cloud application or cloud technology vendor to integrate with Britive’s model, he said.

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