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StrongDM Alternatives to Secure Infrastructure Access

Posted 31st Jul 2023 by Kenny DuMez

Having some issues with StrongDM or just want to see what else is out there? Today we’ll walk you through what StrongDM is good at, what it’s not so good at and some alternatives that match different use cases. While there’s a lot of good software out there, not all of it might be right for you. Let’s dive in!

What is StrongDM?

StrongDM is an access tool that helps businesses manage and secure access to their databases, servers and cloud services. Using StrongDM, companies can centralize some of their infrastructure access to a single control plane. StrongDM works by integrating with secret stores like AWS Secrets Manager, CyberArk Conjur, Hashicorp Vault and Google Secrets Manager. Then when a user wants to access a resource, StrongDM fetches the credential from the store based on the user’s RBAC role permissions. The StrongDM platform also provides a proxy layer and centralized hosted console where administrators can manage user access, set permissions and monitor activity. Using the proxy, StrongDM provides audit logs for some user activity across your organization easing compliance burdens.

StrongDM is good for companies looking to centralize various secret stores and password vaults. This works well for companies currently relying on a lot of long-lived credentials that they don’t want to migrate away from. Like a lot of other Privileged Access Management tools, companies typically start to look to tools like StrongDM when they are scaling. It’s easy to manage access for a handful of engineers for a few different pieces of infrastructure, but once those engineers start to multiply, and now you are managing access for dozens or even hundreds of engineers, across multiple clouds and databases, secure access control becomes paramount.

Downsides to using StrongDM


While StrongDM is much better than managing access manually, there are a few drawbacks that you should consider before committing to the tool:

  • Limited multi-factor authentication support
    • StrongDM only supports Duo and time-based one-time passwords
    • Lacks support for true passwordless access using biometric authentication or physical hardware authentication devices like YubiKeys
  • No session moderation or session locking
    • Currently StrongDM lacks support for moderated sessions meaning that if, for example, a junior engineer needed to access a sensitive resource with some oversight from a security engineer or a more senior developer, they would be limited to looking over the engineer’s shoulder as they type rather than have an audited, moderated session with two authenticated users. Moderated sessions can be key for highly sensitive environments and are extremely helpful for hitting compliance standards.
  • No per-session MFA
    • While StrongDM supports limited MFA for accessing the general tool, it lacks support for enforcing per-session multi-factor-authentication for specific resources. Per-session MFA is necessary for a true zero-trust model where users are authenticated every step of their access journey instead of just at initial login.
  • No device verification
    • Proof-of-presence device-authentication is another extremely important requirement of a zero-trust model especially in a remote-first environment where engineers can be accessing sensitive infrastructure from anywhere in the world. Unlike other tools, StrongDM doesn’t currently have the functionality  to verify that users are accessing resources from company-approved devices. For example, using StrongDM there would be no way to stop an authorized engineer from accessing a sensitive database from a shared computer at a local public library.
  • Use of long-lived credentials and secrets
    • Using StrongDM’s secret-store integration adds another layer of security to centralized secret stores. However, using long-lived credentials is still dangerous and provides the opportunity for leaks and breaches that can quickly magnify once they happen. Almost all security breaches today involve a malicious actor gaining access to a secure credential that they then use to pivot to other systems and multiply the attack’s blast radius.

With these drawbacks in mind, StrongDM is best suited for organizations that do not have requirements for keeping their access layer within their own data center or cloud VPC.

Alternative solutions to StrongDM for privileged access management (PAM)

Teleport

Teleport is a secure infrastructure access platform, for all of your various resources. It improves security, lowers operational overhead of managing access, and helps achieve compliance. No matter what kind of infrastructure resources you have — databases, SSH servers, Kubernetes clusters, web applications, even Windows servers and desktops. Teleport makes it easy to securely access everything, all without using any long-lived credentials.


Teleport sets up a reverse proxy tunnel between your resources, the end-user and the Teleport cluster. It forces identity-based authentication and encryption on all connections. It also acts as its own certificate authority and central audit log. It’s also extremely lightweight. Teleport is a single executable which you can run as a Linux daemon or in a Kubernetes pod.

Teleport is also open-source, allowing you to try it out yourself for free or peruse through the core of our code. Exposing the core of Teleport’s code to the open-source community enhances trust and allows insight from the community on feature requests, and open issues.

Businesses choose to use Teleport because it is simpler to manage and more secure than other access management tools.

Simpler to manage

  • Single source of truth for all permissions. Use the same central RBAC (Role Based Access) roles across all of your different resources. This makes it easy to onboard and offboard engineers, or change their permissions.
  • It doesn’t get in the way: The most secure thing has to be the simplest thing; otherwise, people will find workarounds. Teleport is lightweight. It works in a command line or in your browser, allowing you to access all of your resources in a single place.
  • Cloud Agnostic: Teleport can connect to multiple different resources across different clouds and regions all with a single RBAC role. It doesn’t matter if they’re locally hosted, in GCP, AWS, Azure, or that rack in the basement. .

More secure

  • Teleport is immune to phishing attacks. It does not use static credentials such as private keys or API keys. It uses auto-expiring certificates for everything. Nothing to leak or steal, unlike password vaults and secret-stores.
  • Visibility into access and behavior: You can see all real-time sessions and security events across your entire infrastructure. All sessions are recorded and stored in replayable lightweight text-based session files. Every shell command, database query and kubectl command are all centrally logged and tied back to the user identity in a central audit log. This helps achieve compliance standards like SOC2, HIPAA and FedRAMP. 
  • Zero Trust architecture: You can access infrastructure running behind NAT, behind firewalls, on public networks or anywhere. Every user is authenticated per-session providing a true zero-trust network access model.

“For a lot of the stuff in Instana now, you just go through Teleport, you're done. No more VPNs, no more certificates, no more having things break. Just take the tool that you want to run and protect it, so that way I know that it's safe and secure.” - Hunter Madison, Cloud Architect @ IBM Instana

For more user feedback on Teleport, check out our G2 page.

BeyondTrust

Benefits of BeyondTrust:

  • Comprehensive privileged access management (PAM): BeyondTrust offers a wide range of features to manage privileged access, including password management, session recording, MFA and policy enforcement. This comprehensive approach helps organizations strengthen their security posture.
  • Audit and compliance support: The tool offers detailed audit trails, session recordings and activity monitoring, helping organizations comply with various regulatory requirements and maintain a robust security audit trail.
  • Integration with IT ecosystems: BeyondTrust integrates well with existing IT infrastructures, making it easier for organizations to adopt and incorporate the tool seamlessly into their workflows.

Drawbacks:

  • Relies on long-lived credentials: BeyondTrust doesn’t fully eliminate long-lived credentials in your organization and instead works to manage passwords and credentials securely. This, however, still leaves the potential for breaches.
  • Limited Kubernetes support: Relies on injecting secrets into service accounts rather than a more comprehensive certificate-based authentication approach.

Read what customers are saying about BeyondTrust here.

Auth0

Benefits:

  • Developer-centric approach: Auth0 is known for its developer-friendly integration and ease of implementation. It provides extensive documentation, SDKs and pre-built integrations, allowing developers to quickly add authentication and authorization capabilities to their applications.
  • Social identity integration: Auth0 supports seamless integration with various social identity providers (e.g., Google, Facebook, Microsoft), enabling users to sign in using their existing social accounts. This feature enhances user convenience and encourages higher adoption rates.

Drawbacks:

  • Focus on authentication, not PAM: While Auth0 is excellent for authentication and identity management, it doesn’t provide the same level of comprehensive privileged access management (PAM) features as specialized PAM tools. It is more geared towards user authentication and single sign-on use cases.
  • Limited data residency control: Depending on an organization's data residency requirements and compliance considerations, the storage and processing of user identity data in Auth0's servers might raise concerns. As a cloud-based service, the organization may have limited control over the exact physical location of the data, which could be a regulatory or policy limitation for some businesses. Organizations with strict data residency requirements might find it challenging to align with Auth0's data storage policies as they don’t offer a self-hosted version.

JumpCloud

Benefits:

  • Unified identity management: JumpCloud offers a unified platform for both identity management and privileged access management. It provides features like directory services, SSO, MFA and device management, streamlining the management of users and their access to various resources.
  • Cross-platform support: JumpCloud's capabilities extend beyond traditional systems to include Mac, Linux and Windows environments, making it suitable for organizations with diverse IT ecosystems and mixed operating systems.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited privileged access management (PAM) features: While JumpCloud provides some PAM functionalities, its focus is more on identity management. Organizations seeking advanced PAM features like session recording, just-in-time access, or comprehensive audit capabilities might find it lacking in comparison to specialized PAM tools.

PAM Buyer’s Guide

For a more comprehensive guide on procuring a privileged access management tool, check out our PAM Buyer’s Guide for a deep dive on the shortcomings of traditional PAM solutions for modern, cloud-native apps, requirements for a modern PAM solution and even specific questions to ask your vendors as you make your decision!

Download a free PDF version of the PAM Buyer’s Guide today.