Super users

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Having been a 'super user' for most of my career, I do not have the same perspective other people do when it comes to interacting with corporate IT. Because of what I do, I see everything. That's part of my job, so that's what I see. I have to know it is there.

However, how each company handles their elevated privilege accounts varies. Some of it depends on what system you're working in, of course.

Take a Windows environment. I see three big ways to handle the elevated user problem:
  1. One Administrator account, used by all admins. Each admin has a normal user account, and log in as Administrator for their adminly work.
    • Advantages Only one elevated account to keep track of.
    • Disadvantages Complete lack of auditing if there is more than one admin around. Also, unless said admin has two machines, or has a VM for adminly work, they're logged in as Administrator more often than they're logged in as themselves.
  2. One Administrator account, admins user accounts are elevated to Administrator. Each admin's normal account is elevated. Administrator is relegated to a glorified utility account, useful for backups, other automation, or if you need to leave a server logged in for some reason.
    • Advantages Audit trail. Changes are done in the name of the actual admin who performed the change.
    • Disadvantages These users really need to be exempted from any Identity Management system. Since there are only going to be a few of them, this may not matter. Also, these users need to treat these passwords like the Administrator password.
  3. Each admin gets two accounts, normal and elevated As with the above, Administrator is a glorified utility account. But each admin gets two accounts; a normal account for every day use (me.normal) and an elevated account (me.super) for functions that need that kind of access.
    • Advantages Provides audit trail, and allows the admin's normal account to be subject to identity-management safely. Easy availability of 'normal' account allows faster troubleshooting of permissions issues (hard to check when you can see everything)
    • Disadvantages Admin users are juggling two accounts again, with the same problems as option 1.
I personally haven't seen the third option in actual use anywhere, even though that's my favorite one. Unixy environments are a bit different. The ability to 'sudo' seems to be the key determiner of elevated access, with ultimate trust granted to those who learn the root password outright. Sudo is the preferred method of doing elevated functions due to its logging capability.

What other methods have you seen in use?

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Heh, we're using the third one.