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Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity that focuses on securing and managing an organisation’s privileged accounts. Privileged accounts have elevated access rights and permissions, allowing users to perform critical tasks and access sensitive information.
PAM is a security solution focusing on the authorisation, monitoring, and management of privileged accounts with elevated permissions to critical systems, data, and resources. By utilising PAM, organisations can ensure that only authorised individuals can access privileged accounts and effectively enforce controls and policies.
Deploying and managing privileged access within an organisation requires meticulous planning, adherence to best practices, and constant vigilance. While the concept may seem simple, the dynamics of privileged access management call for a more in-depth understanding of how it works, why it’s important, and how organisations can effectively utilise PAM security.
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How Does PAM Work?
PAM is a cybersecurity strategy to control, monitor, secure, and audit all human and non-human privileged identities and activities across an enterprise IT environment. It’s a combination of people, processes, and technology that helps organisations protect against the threats posed by credential theft and privilege misuse.
PAM identifies which accounts have privileged access and then applies policies to these accounts. PAM solutions provide granular visibility, control, and auditing over privileged identities and sessions. For instance, PAM software gathers the credentials of privileged accounts into a secure repository to isolate their use and log their activity. This enables organisations to control and monitor privileged user activity.
Privileged accounts rely on confidential information (passwords, keys, and certificates) to control access. By creating, storing, and managing this information in a secure vault, PAM solutions help organisations reduce the risk of cyber-attacks. However, it’s worth noting that PAM is just one component of a broader Identity and Access Management (IAM) solution. IAM solutions cover cybersecurity matters like password management, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), user lifecycle management, and Single Sign-On (SSO) for all accounts, not just those with privileged access.
Privileged accounts form the backbone of an organisation’s IT administration and security infrastructure. But because they come with inherent risks and are prime targets for cyber threats, the fundamentals of PAM are employed to enforce strict controls, monitor activities, and authenticate users and machines accessing privileged accounts.
Types of Privileged Accounts
Privileged accounts, often called administrative accounts, come in many forms and offer varying levels of vested power. Some of the most common types of privileged accounts include:
- Domain Admin Accounts: These accounts possess administrative privileges over an entire domain or network, granting extensive control over multiple systems and resources within the organisation.
- Privileged User Accounts: Named credentials with administrative privileges on one or more specific systems. These accounts often have unique and complex passwords to enhance security and prevent unauthorised access.
- Local Administrator Accounts: Accounts with administrative privileges on a specific device or system. These accounts enable users to manage and configure the local machine without requiring domain-wide access.
- Non-human Automation Accounts: Accounts associated with machines, applications, or services that require privileged access to execute automated processes. These accounts are typically used to perform specific tasks without direct human intervention.
- Service Accounts: Applications or services use these privileged accounts to interact with the operating system or other applications. Depending on the application’s requirements, these accounts may have domain administrative privileges for seamless integration with various systems.
- Root Accounts: Accounts with the highest level of privileges in Unix and Linux systems, providing complete control over the system. Root accounts are critical for system administration and configuration tasks but require careful management due to their extensive authority.
- Network Equipment Accounts: Accounts used to access and manage network equipment, such as routers and switches. These accounts enable network administrators to configure, monitor, and troubleshoot network devices.
- Firewall Accounts: Accounts used to manage and configure firewalls, critical components for network security. Firewall accounts allow authorised personnel to control traffic flow and enforce security policies.
- Database Administrator (DBA) Accounts: Privileged accounts assigned to database administrators responsible for managing and maintaining databases. DBA accounts allow access to critical data and database configurations.
- Cloud Service Provider (CSP) Accounts: Accounts associated with cloud service providers allow organisations to manage their cloud resources and configurations. These accounts have extensive control over cloud-based infrastructure.
- Application Administrator Accounts: Accounts with administrative privileges specific to managing and configuring software applications. These accounts facilitate application-level configurations and access controls.
The diversity and significance of privileged accounts underscore their crucial role in maintaining an organisation’s IT landscape. Organisations must prioritise PAM strategies encompassing robust security measures, monitoring mechanisms, and authentication protocols to protect these valuable accounts from exploitation.
It’s important to note that no single one-size-fits-all technical solution will fully mitigate privileged access risk. Organisations must combine multiple technologies and strategic PAM practices into a holistic solution that protects against numerous attacker entry points.
Overall, PAM protects an organisation’s critical information and resources from unauthorised access and data breaches.
What’s the Difference Between PIM vs. PAM?
Privileged Access Management (PAM) and Privileged Identity Management (PIM) are both essential components of an organisation’s security strategy, but their focus and functionality differ.
PAM is a toolkit that enables organisations to safeguard, limit, and track access to sensitive data and resources. PAM solutions manage credentials, authenticate user identities, and provide just-in-time access to identities that typically can’t access specific resources. PAM solutions also provide session monitoring and access logs to give organisations insight into usage patterns while meeting compliance standards.
PIM addresses what access a user is already granted and focuses on managing and securing privileged identities. PIM solutions manage and secure privileged accounts, enforce multi-factor authentication, control authentication into privileged accounts, and schedule and trigger password changes. PIM solutions also capture event and session logs and record access to privileged accounts.
In summary, PAM focuses on managing and controlling access to sensitive data and resources, while PIM focuses on managing and securing privileged identities. PAM and PIM are essential components of an organisation’s security strategy, and combining both provides comprehensive protection against privileged access risks.
How to Implement PAM Solutions?
Implementing a Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution involves several steps to do it right, including:
- Understand the PAM landscape: Before implementing a PAM solution, understand the organisation’s privileged accounts and the access requirements for each account.
- Define access control policies: Outline access control policies to employ the principle of least privilege and limit access to sensitive data and resources.
- Configure user access rights: Configure user access rights and enforce access control policies to ensure users are restricted to the minimum required access to perform their job functions.
- Implement just-in-time access: Some situations call for an escalation in privileges for a user just to complete a task or project. In this case, grant the user access for a restricted period and then remove it and ensure the user no longer has access.
- Establish effective life cycle processes: Establish effective life cycle processes to ensure that all privileged access account changes are known and properly track every privileged account and what it can access.
- Audit the PAM system: Regularly audit the PAM system to ensure that the system is functioning correctly and enforce access control policies.
- Communicate and control quality: Communication is key to the success of a PAM solution. Organisations should communicate with stakeholders about the importance and benefits of PAM. Additionally, organisations should control the quality of the PAM system and ensure that IT general controls are executed with precision.
- Evaluate compliance: Organisations should evaluate compliance with the company’s security policies and ensure the PAM solution meets regulatory requirements.
Note that implementing a PAM solution is not a one-time event but a continuous process that requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance.
By leveraging the strengths of both Proofpoint and CyberArk, organisations can benefit from a comprehensive and robust PAM solution that helps protect privileged accounts, prevent attacks, and ensure the security of critical assets. To learn more, contact Proofpoint.