TechDogs-"Privileged Access Management (PAM): A Comprehensive Guide"

Cyber Security

What is Privileged Access Management?

By TechDogs

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How wonderful were the days when we would share movies and games through pen drives and external hard disks! Remember the excitement of handing over a blank drive and receiving one filled with the latest content? However, there was also a tinge of hesitation before handing it over, wasn't there?

We mean, everyone's drives often contained personal files and documents, too. If only we could have there was a way to restrict people from seeing those personal files.

Even businesses have the same need. They too are concerned about access permissions. They can't just give everyone complete rights to view and edit everything – that would be chaos!

Imagine the complications if every employee could access confidential data or employee contracts. That's where Privileged Access Management (PAM) comes into play.

PAM is simply about controlling and securing highly privileged accounts that hold the keys to an organization's most sensitive systems and data. It's like having a gatekeeper who ensures that authorized personnel can exclusively access critical resources - and that too when truly necessary.

While we may no longer share movies on pen drives (thanks to streaming!), the principle of controlled access remains as relevant as ever in the digital age. In this article, we will discuss everything about Privileged Access Management. Read on!
TechDogs-"PagesWhat is Privileged Access Management?"
In today's digital landscape, organizations of all sizes are grappling with the challenge of securing their critical systems and sensitive data. With an ever-increasing number of accounts with various types of access, the risk of unauthorized access is higher than ever. This is where Privileged Access Management (PAM) emerges as a crucial solution, enabling organizations to take control of identity and access management to mitigate the risks.

According to a recent Centrify survey, over 74% of data breaches involve privileged credential abuse. This underscores the imperative need for organizations to prioritize PAM as a critical component of their cybersecurity strategy.

Implementing PAM not only safeguards organizations against potential breaches and insider threats but also ensures compliance with industry regulations and standards. However, you might ask – what is PAM in the first place?

Let’s understand the basics!

Understanding Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a security practice that limits the risks posed by having access to an organization's network, data and systems. As certain accounts in the organization possess widespread access to sensitive data, it is crucial to secure them to prevent any compromise. By applying additional security controls to such accounts, organizations can manage the risks associated with them.

PAM solutions enable security and IT teams to securely manage access for all privileged identities within an enterprise environment. With PAM, consistent, policy-based security controls can be employed to manage privileged user actions and behavior. Moreover, PAM policies determine which systems authenticated identities are authorized to access and what actions they can perform with that access. Pretty impressive, right?

With that, let’s move to the next question. Why is it so essential to implement Privileged Access Management? Let’s find out!

Why Is Privileged Access Management (PAM) Important For Your Organization?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a crucial security practice that helps organizations manage and secure accounts with high-level access or permissions. Here are three key reasons why PAM is essential for cybersecurity:
  • People Are The Weakest Link

    Both internal users with privileged access and external cyber attackers who target and steal privileges can misuse high-level access. PAM ensures that people have only the necessary access to do their jobs and enables security teams to identify and mitigate malicious activities related to privilege abuse.

  • Privileges Are Widespread

    As organizations adopt cloud computing, DevOps, robotic process automation, IoT and more, the number of machines and applications requiring privileged access has increased, expanding the potential attack surface. A robust PAM strategy accounts for privileges across on-premises, cloud and hybrid environments and detects unusual activities.

  • Workstations Are Vulnerable

    Every endpoint, such as laptops, smartphones and servers, contains default administrative accounts that attackers can exploit. A proactive PAM program involves removing local administrative rights on workstations to reduce that risk and prevent attackers from moving laterally within the network.

Implementing PAM as part of a comprehensive security and risk management strategy enables organizations to monitor and log activities related to critical infrastructure and sensitive information, simplifying audit and compliance requirements.

All these discussions make one thing clear: there must be different kinds of access for different accounts. Let’s understand them in the next segment!

Types Of Privileged User Accounts

Privileged Access Management (PAM) deals with various types of accounts that have elevated permissions or access within an organization's systems and applications. Let’s go through some common examples:
  • Application Administrator Accounts

    These accounts have full administrative access to enterprise applications and their data. They are used for tasks like automated updates, database management, networking changes and configuration updates. Without these privileged accounts, applications wouldn't be able to access the necessary resources or make required changes.

  • Domain Administrator Accounts

    These accounts hold the highest level of access within a system. They can access every workstation, control system configurations, manage administrative accounts and modify group memberships. Domain admins have complete control over the entire domain, making them highly privileged and sensitive.

  • Emergency Accounts

    Also known as "break the glass" accounts, these privileged accounts are meant for unprivileged users to access during critical incidents when elevated access is needed to restore systems and services. They provide temporary, limited privileges for emergencies.

  • SSH Keys

    Secure Shell (SSH) keys are credentials that provide direct root access to Unix-like operating systems, often remotely. Administrators use them like usernames and passwords to implement sign-on to manage systems.

  • Superuser Accounts

    These accounts, assigned to administrators, provide unrestricted access to files, directories and resources necessary for their jobs. These accounts often perform activities such as installing software, changing configurations and adding/deleting users.

Managing and securing these diverse types of privileged accounts is crucial to prevent unauthorized access, misuse or breaches that could compromise an organization's systems and data. Even then, the cyber-attacks won’t stop, will they?

Well, PAM can prevent them. How? With these best practices – hope you are noting them down!

What Are The Best Practices For Privileged Access Management?

A PAM is only effective if it is appropriately implemented. Well, for that, we need to know the best practices to follow. So, let’s check them out:
  • Enforce Least Privilege

    The core idea is that users, applications and systems should only have the bare minimum permissions required for their specific roles or tasks. This minimizes the number of highly privileged accounts an organization has to manage and secure, reducing the risk of access abuse.

  • Centralized Account Management

    When privileged accounts are scattered across various devices and systems, it becomes challenging to maintain visibility and control over them. A centralized solution, like single sign-on (SSO), enables organizations to have a centralized view and management of all corporate accounts, including privileged ones.

  • Use Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

    Relying solely on passwords for authentication is insecure, as attackers can easily steal or guess them. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of authentication, such as a password and a one-time code sent to a user's smartphone, making it more secure than ever.

  • Implement Zero Trust Network Access

    This approach treats every access request as untrusted and potentially malicious, regardless of the source. Each request for access to corporate data or resources is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, providing visibility into how privileged accounts are being used and enabling organizations to monitor for misuse or compromised accounts.

  • Secure Authentication Credentials

    Privileged accounts often require access to sensitive authentication credentials like SSH keys, API tokens or third-party application passwords. These credentials should be securely stored, minimizing the risk of them being compromised and exploited by attackers.

The common idea behind these best practices is to minimize privileged access while maintaining visibility and control over privileged accounts to prevent unauthorized access. On that note, let’s conclude this article!

To Conclude

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance."
- Alan Watts

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a crucial step in embracing and adapting to the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape. While it requires diligence and caution, PAM empowers organizations to take control of their privileged accounts, reducing the risk of breaches and fostering a secure environment. With the right PAM strategy in place, businesses can confidently navigate the digital world and stay a step ahead of any challenges. So, are you PAMpering your IT and security teams with Privileged Access Management yet?

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Privileged Access Management?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a security practice aimed at limiting the risks associated with accounts that have high-level access to an organization's network and systems. These accounts, often referred to as privileged accounts, hold significant control over sensitive resources, making them potential targets for cyber threats.

What Is The Importance Of Privileged Access Management?

PAM plays a crucial role in cybersecurity for several reasons. Firstly, it addresses the vulnerability posed by human error or malicious intent, which is often the weakest link in security. By controlling and monitoring access, PAM reduces the risk of privilege abuse. Secondly, as organizations adopt various technologies, the proliferation of privileged accounts increases, necessitating a robust PAM strategy to secure them effectively. Lastly, PAM helps protect endpoints such as workstations from exploitation by removing default administrative rights, thus enhancing the overall security posture.

How To Prevent Cyberattacks With Privileged Access Management?

Preventing cyberattacks with PAM involves implementing best practices. These include enforcing the principle of least privilege, centralizing account management for better visibility and control, utilizing multi-factor authentication (MFA) for enhanced security, adopting a zero-trust network access approach and securely managing authentication credentials. By adhering to these practices, organizations can minimize the risk of unauthorized access and mitigate potential threats effectively.

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