What is Privileged Access Management (PAM) ?

What is PAM?

Privileged Access Management (PAM): A category of security products that are built and designed to mitigate the risk of an adversary that compromises credentials of privileged user accounts. Such scenario enables an adversary to abuse all the elevated access privileges these accounts have to sensitive information and systems, and hence introduces a critical risk. A PAM solution addresses this risk by employing a set of monitoring and preventative controls that make it hard for attackers to A) accomplish the compromise itself, B) utilize a compromised privileged credentials for malicious access, and C) monitor privileged access sessions. The common PAM implementations are as an on-prem appliance but it’s also available as a SaaS offering.

In the context of identity security, PAM is focused on managing and controlling access to systems and applications that require elevated privileges. This includes access to sensitive information and systems that require elevated permissions, such as databases, servers, and network infrastructure.

The goal of PAM is to reduce the risk of security incidents caused by privileged access abuse or misuse, by ensuring that only authorized users have access to the systems and information they need to perform their job duties, while also providing visibility and control over privileged access activities.

The Drawbacks of PAM

PAM solutions are based on placing additional protection on your privileged accounts. The caveat is that there is an implicit assumption that you already know who these accounts are. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case, and the reality is often the opposite.

While Active Directory can filter all accounts that are part of a privileged group, it doesn’t have the ability to show which of these are service accounts. This creates a critical gap because these accounts cannot be vaulted and subject to password rotation without an accurate mapping of their dependencies, interacted systems, and supported apps. Placing them in the vault and rotating their password without having this knowledge would likely result in breaking the systems and apps that are using them. The only way in which service accounts can gain PAM protection is by acquiring this knowledge manually. As any member of the identity team will tell you, this task ranges from extremely complex and resource-consuming to downright impossible in most environments.The result of this issue is an extremely long process – months or years long – of onboarding all privileged accounts to the PAM, or even halting the deployment altogether.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is privileged access management?

    A set of processes and technologies designed to secure, manage, and monitor privileged access to systems and applications in an organization. PAM is a critical component of identity security, as it helps to ensure that only authorized users have access to sensitive information and systems.

  • What is considered privileged access?

    Privileged access refers to access to systems, applications, and information that requires elevated privileges, such as administrative or root access. Privileged access typically provides a user with the ability to perform actions that can have a significant impact on the security and stability of an organization’s systems and information.

    Examples of privileged access include:

    • Administrative access to servers, databases, and network infrastructure
    • Access to sensitive information, such as financial or personal data
    • Access to critical systems, such as payment systems or patient health records
    • The ability to install software or make changes to system configurations
    • The ability to perform actions that affect the security of an organization’s systems, such as resetting passwords or creating new users

    Privileged access is often granted to IT personnel, system administrators, and other users who require elevated permissions to perform their job duties. However, it is also important to limit and carefully manage privileged access, as it can be a target for attackers looking to gain unauthorized access to sensitive systems and information.

  • How do you identify privileged users?

    Identifying privileged users is an important step in managing and securing privileged access. Some methods to identify privileged users include:

    1. Role-based identification: Privileged users can be identified based on their role in the organization, such as system administrators, IT personnel, database administrators, and others who require elevated privileges to perform their job duties.
    2. Permission-based identification: Users who have access to systems, applications, or information that require elevated privileges can be considered privileged users. This information can be obtained from access control lists (ACLs) or other access management systems.
    3. Activity-based identification: User activity can be monitored and analyzed to identify users who regularly perform actions that require elevated privileges. For example, if a user frequently accesses sensitive information or makes changes to system configurations, they may be considered a privileged user.
    4. Risk-based identification: Users who pose a high risk to an organization’s systems and information can be identified through a risk assessment. For example, users who have access to critical systems or sensitive information, or those who have a history of security incidents, may be considered privileged users.

    In summary, identifying privileged users is an important step in securing privileged access, and can be accomplished through a combination of role-based, permission-based, activity-based, and risk-based identification methods.