Privileged Identity Management (PIM)

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) is a critical aspect of cybersecurity that focuses on monitoring and protecting access to sensitive accounts within an organisation. These accounts, known as privileged accounts, often have elevated permissions beyond those of standard user accounts.

In practice, Privileged Identity Management often involves creating approval processes for requesting access rights or setting up alerts for unusual activity on privileged accounts. This helps ensure that only the right eyes are seeing your most confidential data and that you can quickly identify when something suspicious happens.

By carefully managing these powerful privileges, organisations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to attacks, such as insider threats or external breaches where attackers seek out privileged credentials to escalate their access within a network.

While cybersecurity strategies like PIM are powerful tools in any organisation’s security toolkit, they’re not bulletproof on their own. Regular cybersecurity awareness training coupled with solid policies should go hand-in-hand with any tech implementation. Let’s explore what makes privileged identity management an integral component of enterprise IT environments.

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What Is Privileged Identity Management (PIM)?

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) is a security solution that empowers organisations to oversee, control, and monitor the elevated access granted to users within their IT environment. These users can access a range of crucial resources within an organisation, such as critical files, administrative user accounts, sensitive documentation, application code, databases, and security systems.

The primary purpose of Privileged Identity Management is twofold:

  • Control access: PIM allows for precise regulation over who has privileged access rights.
  • Monitor activity: PIM keeps detailed records of how an individual uses these privileges.

 

With this in place, organisations can ensure that only authorised individuals have high-level permissions at any given time while tracking every action using those permissions. In turn, PIM is fundamental in mitigating risks and ensuring compliance with industry standards.

  • Risk mitigation: By strictly managing who has what level of access and when they can use it, PIM reduces the likelihood of privilege misuse or abuse.
  • Compliance assurance: Most industries are governed by standards requiring strict oversight of data handling. PIM simplifies compliance because it provides clear logs of all privileged account activity.

 

When employees need special rights for a specific task, grant them access with appropriate restrictions through PIM. If there’s unusual activity from a privileged account outside regular hours, immediate alerts can prompt a timely investigation to identify potential threats quickly.

With Privileged Identity Management, organisations not only protect themselves against internal and external cybersecurity threats but also demonstrate regulatory compliance efficiently by maintaining comprehensive audit trails through effective privilege management.

Key Features of Privileged Identity Management

Privileged Identity Management is indispensable to fortifying an organisation’s cybersecurity landscape. Its integration offers a robust set of features that reinforces security and ensures compliance with evolving regulations, among other key features:

  • Comprehensive discovery and centralisation: PIM identifies all privileged accounts across various platforms, systems, devices, and applications. It centralises the provisioning and storage of these accounts, creating a unified management point.
  • Role-based, granular authorisation: By enforcing role-based, granular authorisation policies, PIM ensures that users have access to only what they need, adhering to the principle of least privilege. This approach minimises potential vulnerabilities.
  • Dynamic privilege allocation: The system allows for just-in-time privileged access, enabling temporary assignment of privileges and revoking them when no longer needed. This feature is particularly beneficial for tasks requiring one-time access, enhancing security without hindering productivity.
  • Strong password policies: PIM enforces stringent password protection policies, including automatic and periodic rotation of passwords, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorised access.
  • Comprehensive tracking and monitoring: All activities associated with privileged accounts are meticulously tracked and monitored. These activities include logging access details such as who accessed the account, when, and the actions performed during the session.
  • Audit and reporting: PIM provides detailed reporting and auditing capabilities for security-critical events like login/logout activities, access requests, and changes to permissions. These reports are vital for internal and external audit procedures and help meet regulatory compliance.
  • Enhanced access reviews and governance: The system facilitates periodic access reviews to verify the necessity of existing roles and supports access governance restrictions, ensuring continuous alignment with organisational policies.
  • Notification and time-bound access: PIM sends notifications when privileged roles are activated. It also enables time-bound access to resources, defining start and end dates for specific privileges.
  • Protection for diverse environments: It extends its protective measures to cloud and containerised systems, ensuring a secure environment across all technological infrastructures.
  • Regulatory compliance: By continuously adapting to changing regulatory requirements, PIM ensures that an organisation remains compliant, avoiding potential legal and financial repercussions.

Privileged Identity Management is a multifaceted tool that strengthens an organisation’s cybersecurity defences and ensures efficient and compliant management of privileged identities. Its vast array of features makes it a critical investment for any organisation looking to safeguard its digital assets and maintain operational integrity in an ever-evolving ecosystem of potential cyber threats.

Importance and Benefits of Privileged Identity Management

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) plays a critical role in larger organisations’ security and operational integrity, as it governs the access rights and permissions for users with elevated privileges that allow significant changes within IT environments. More specifically, PIM is beneficial for:

  • Securing sensitive data: Large enterprises often manage vast amounts of sensitive data that could be catastrophic if mishandled. By controlling privileged access, PIM helps safeguard this information from unauthorised use or external threats.
  • Minimised insider threats: Even trusted employees can become risks without proper oversight. By carefully managing privileged accounts, companies can mitigate insider threats – intentional or accidental – ensuring greater system stability and data integrity.
  • Audit trails for forensics: In case of a security breach, the PIM detailed logs allow an organisation to track actions back to specific user IDs, making it easier to identify where things went wrong.
  • Enhanced security posture: PIM provides tightened control over privileged credentials, directly reducing potential attack vectors. Multi-factor authentication and just-in-time privilege elevation add layers to these defence mechanisms.
  • Streamlined operations: Automated workflows reduce manual processes associated with managing account lifecycles. Organisations can also realise improved efficiency as staff spend less time on administrative tasks related to password management.
  • Reduced risk profile: Limiting unnecessary access rights minimises chances for error or misuse, and regularly rotating passwords diminishes lingering vulnerabilities from static credentials.
  • Increased visibility and control: Real-time monitoring capabilities let administrators detect unusual activities quickly, and granular permission settings give precise control over what each user can see and do within systems.
  • Cost savings and productivity gains: Centralised management tools cut down on redundant solutions across different departments, leading to cost savings. Swift responses enabled by effective monitoring also help to boost overall productivity.
  • Business continuity assurance: Rapid response features enable quick revocation of compromised credentials, reducing downtime during incidents.

By integrating robust Privileged Identity Management practices into a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, large enterprises can not only protect themselves against numerous digital threats but also enhance their operational effectiveness—a win-win scenario in today’s fast-paced environment where agility is critical alongside resilient security measures.

Types of Privileged Identity Management Roles

Privileged Identity Management roles can be categorised by the duration and scope of the access privileges they grant. Here are some of the primary types:

  • Permanent privileged roles: These roles give users ongoing, unrestricted access to systems or data. They’re typically assigned to individuals who need constant access due to their job functions.
  • Time-restricted privileged roles: Access is granted for a limited period, often used in situations requiring temporary elevation of rights. These roles are ideal for tasks like system updates or maintenance where enhanced permissions are only needed temporarily.
  • Superuser accounts: Also known as “root accounts”, these have complete control over systems with no restrictions. Because of their power, organisations should limit, closely monitor, and properly control superuser account activity.
  • Administrative accounts: Provide broad permissions within an application or service but don’t include full system-wide control as superuser accounts do.
  • Service accounts: Used by applications or services rather than individuals, allowing them to interact with other parts of the IT environment.
  • Emergency accounts: Created for use during critical situations where immediate admin-level access is necessary.
  • Local administrative accounts: These are specific to individual devices or servers and provide administrative rights solely within that context.
  • System-specific admins: Limited administrative rights designed around managing specific systems such as databases, networking, equipment, etc.
  • Just-in-time (JIT) privileges: The organisation grants users elevated privileges only when required and revokes them after task completion.

Assigning appropriate PIM roles is vital because it helps organisations apply the principle of least privilege—ensuring users have just enough access to perform their duties without excess permissions that could lead to security vulnerabilities. The careful assignment, monitoring, and revocation of these privileged identities helps maintain tight security while enabling productivity and scalability in large-scale enterprise environments.

PIM vs PAM vs IAM

Privileged Identity Management (PIM), Privileged Access Management (PAM), and Identity and Access Management (IAM) all play a distinct role in safeguarding privileged access and overall access management within an organisation, but they serve different purposes. Here’s a breakdown explaining the differences between PIM, PAM, and IAM.

 

Feature PIM (Privileged Identity Management) PAM (Privileged Access Management) IAM (Identity and Access Management)
Focus Managing identities with elevated access rights Managing access to privileged accounts Overall management of user identities and their access
Scope Limited to privileged users and accounts Focused on privileged accounts, not necessarily the identities Broad, includes all users (privileged and non-privileged)
Key Objective Control and monitor privileged accounts and access Secure, control, and audit privileged access Ensure the right users have the right access to resources
User Types IT admins, Executives, Application accounts System administrators, Service accounts Employees, Contractors, Business partners
Access Management Granular access control for high-level accounts Temporary or time-bound privileged access Wide-ranging, from basic to administrative rights
Security Approach Highly secure, focuses on critical assets Emphasises privileged access, session monitoring Balances security with user convenience
Usage Scenario When managing sensitive data or systems, e.g., servers, databases Critical for accessing secure systems, e.g., financial records General use, applicable across all IT environments

Risks of Unmanaged PIMs

Unmanaged Privileged Identity Management systems can expose organisations to significant risks, including the theft of highly confidential information. Without proper management, privileged accounts become prime targets for attackers. Specific risks include:

  • Data breaches: If a privileged account is compromised due to a lack of oversight, unauthorised parties could access and steal sensitive data.
  • Insider threats: Disgruntled employees or those with malicious intent might exploit unmonitored access to leak or sabotage company information.
  • Regulatory non-compliance penalties: Undetected misuse of privileges can lead an organisation to inadvertently violate compliance regulations, resulting in fines or legal actions.
  • Malware infection spread: Attackers gaining control over a privileged account may use it to install malware across the network, leading to widespread damage.
  • Credential reuse attacks: Cyber criminals often target less secure accounts and leverage those credentials to attempt higher-level system access.
  • Operational disruptions: Unauthorised changes made through unmanaged PIM roles could disrupt business operations, causing downtime and lost revenue.
  • Intellectual property loss and reputational damage: The theft of trade secrets and intellectual property leads to direct financial losses, erodes customer trust, and damages reputation.
  • Audit failures and lack of accountability: Without clear logs of who did what and when, there’s no way to accurately trace activities and hold individuals accountable during audits and investigations.
  • Increased attack surface and risk exposure: Each unsecured privileged account represents another potential entry point for cyber-attacks. As the number of such accounts increases, risk exposure grows exponentially.

Effective PIM strategies are crucial to prevent unauthorised users from gaining elevated permissions. By ensuring that all privilege usage is properly managed and logged, organisations can significantly reduce their chances of experiencing these types of catastrophic events.

How Proofpoint Can Help

Proofpoint’s Identity Threat Detection and Response (ITDR) solution is the common denominator of an organisation’s Privileged Identity Management (PIM) system. ITDR provides a comprehensive approach to identity risk management by equipping teams with preventative controls to continuously discover and remediate threats, as well as detective controls that employ techniques to accurately detect account takeover and lateral movement activities by threat actors as they occur.

Proofpoint’s ITDR solution also includes features like automated remediation, privilege escalation and lateral movement detection, and modern deception technology to stop attackers before they know it. By leveraging these capabilities, organisations can enhance their PIM strategy by effectively managing and mitigating the risks associated with privileged identities. To learn more, contact Proofpoint.