What is Privileged Access Management? A Clear PAM Overview

What is privileged access management

What Is Privileged Access Management?

Wondering what is privileged access management? PAM comprises cybersecurity protocols and the technology used to control user access and permissions, business processes, accounts, and systems across an IT network.

Implementing select access controls helps businesses or organizations optimize their attack surface to prevent or mitigate external attacks and insider negligence damages.

Organizations can leverage privileged access to secure business infrastructure and applications. Businesses run more efficiently and enhance the confidentiality of sensitive data and infrastructure.

How is Privileged Access Created?

In an information technology context, a privilege is an authority that a given account or process can express within a computing system or network. Access rights provide the capacity to override or bypass specific security constraints and may include permissions such as shutting down systems, network configuration, and provisioning of accounts and cloud instances.

Privileges enhance business operations by enabling users, applications, and system processes to access specific resources using elevated rights and complete work-related tasks.

Privileges for different user accounts and processes get built into operating systems, applications, databases, hypervisors, and cloud management platforms. User privileges get assigned to certain types of users, including the system or network administrators. Depending on your system, the assignment of rights may be on role-based attributes, such as business units and other parameters like seniority, operating hours, or any exceptional circumstance.

However, there is great potential for misuse of privileges, presenting some formidable security risks for the organization.

Privileged access is associated with both human users and non-human, including applications and machine identities. Privileged access refers to special permits or abilities beyond that of a standard user.

What is Privileged Access Management Used by Humans:

  • Secure Socket Shell Key (SSH Keys): These access control protocols provide users direct root access to sensitive systems. The root is the username or account with default access to all operating system commands and files.
  • Superuser Account: An account used by IT system administrators with special rights to configure a network, system, or application, delete data, including adding and removing users.
  • Local Administrative Account: You find this on an endpoint workstation. This account uses a username and password to enable people to access and make changes to local devices or machines.
  • Domain Administrative Account: This includes privileged administrative access across all connected workstations and servers within a network. Typically, accounts like these are few, but they provide pervasive and robust access throughout the network domain.
  • Privileged Business User: This account is given to people outside of IT but still requires access to sensitive systems. This may include users who need to access marketing systems, finance, or human resources.
  • Emergency Account: This account gives administrative users access to secure systems in case of any emergency. You may know it as a break glass account or firecall.

Non-Human Privileged Access Management:

  • SSH key: SSH keys help to manage process automation.
  • Application Account: This type of privileged account is typically used to administer specific application software and configure or manage access to the application.
  • Secret: Typically used by DevOps teams, encompassing application program interface (API) keys, SSH keys, and other DevOps credentials used to grant access rights.
  • Service Account: Applications or services use this account to interact with your operating system. The services use this type of account to access and manage the operating system, including configuration.

The Benefits of Privileged Access Management

The more privileged access given to a user, an account, or a business process, the higher the probability of getting abused or exploited. Privileged access management minimizes the likelihood of a security breach happening and helps limit a breach.

A critical difference between PAM and other methods of securing technology access is the enhanced capacity of privileged access management to break down a cyberattack chain from multiple points. It improves security against both external and internal attacks on networks.

The Advantages of Privileged Access Management include:

  • Easier to Achieve and Prove compliance: Privileged access management helps reduce complexity by building a more audit-friendly network environment.
  • Reduced Malware Infection and Propagation: Different types of malware, including SQL injections, rely on lack of least privilege, and require enhanced rights to execute. Eliminating excessive rights across the enterprise network can prevent malware from penetrating the system, including reducing the current coverage.
  • PAM Contracts the network attack surface and reduces the probability of internal and external threats: Limit user privileges, processes, and applications significantly streamline the entry points for exploitation.
  • Operational Performance Improvement: PAM can help reduce the risks of unwarranted downtime with access restrictions.

The Best Practices: Privileged Access Management

Let’s consider some crucial steps to help your business establish precise privileged access management controls and a framework to strengthen security and structure.

  • Cloud and On-Premise DevOps Security: Ensure all Public Cloud privileged accounts, keys, and API applications have tight security. Place all credentials and secrets used by cloud infrastructure and cloud development tools in a secure vault. But let them remain automatically managed, rotated, and retrievable on the go.
  • Secure SaaS Admins and Privileged Business Users: All access to shared identities must have multi-factor authentication before granting users access.
  • Invest Regular Security Testing Exercises: You must consistently validate and improve your system’s security against real-world network attacks.
  • Removing Irreversible Network Takeovers: You can isolate privileged accessibility to domain controllers and other primary Tier assets. You can also implement multi-factor authentication.
  • SSH Key Management: All SSH key-pairs on Linux and Unix production servers should be vaulted. You must also regularly conduct routine rotations.
  • Limit Lateral Movement: Prevent credential theft. The simplest way to achieve this is simply removing all endpoint users from the local admin groups on your workstations.
  • Infrastructure Accounts’ Control and Security: You can manage all critical infrastructure accounts using a centralized digital vault. It’s crucial also to rotate passwords regularly and automatically.
  • Third-Party Credential Protection: Ensure vaulted security for all privileged accounts used connected using third-party applications. You can remove the hardcoded credentials set for commercial applications.

Leveraging the given steps can cause more significant risk reduction, protect business reputation, and fulfill security and regulatory objectives using minimal resources: