If you work in I.T, it is part of the role to be given a higher level of access to sensitive data and added privilege to perform the tasks required like installing software. Users with this level of privileged access to an organization’s systems and networks pose a special threat. External threat actors often target privileged accounts using phishing schemes and social engineering techniques, since gaining control over these credentials helps them move more freely inside the network. Privileged Access Management (PAM) helps ensure business safety and protects your organization from breaches that use existing privileged admin accounts. PAM comprises a collection of practices, policies, processes, and tools that are used to control and manage privileged account access, users, and credentials to reduce the risk of accidental or deliberate misuse of these powerful accounts.
What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?
Privileged access management (PAM) is a comprehensive security strategy for managing accounts with elevated permissions to critical corporate resources and controlling the use of those accounts. Managing these users with a higher level of privilege is essential to preventing identity-based and other types of malware attacks because the elevated privileges granted to these accounts can give adversaries access to most or all of the environment.
Some examples of privileged accounts and access include the following:
- IT admin accounts
- Domain administrative account
- Service accounts
- Application accounts
- Business privileged user accounts
- Emergency accounts
- User website logins
- User accounts with heightened login or group privileges
- User administrative accounts
- Emergency accounts used by IT and sysadmin personnel
- Root accounts
Privileged Access Management Core Components
Below is a list of core areas related to supporting privileged access management:
- Privileged credential management — Handles the process of storing and retrieving passwords for privileged user accounts to reduce the risk of credential theft. Admins can create and revoke credentials as needed from a central location.
- Just-in-time (JIT) PAM methods — Helps ensure that accounts only receive privileged accesses when needed, and only for the time needed to complete a business task. This keeps user accounts from maintaining heightened access privileges for longer than necessary to avoid exploitation by internal users or outside threats.
- Privileged account discovery and onboarding — Helps discover where privileged accounts exist within an organization so that organizations can ensure they are brought under the umbrella of PAM.
- Privileged user activity tracking — Helps track how users utilize their privileged access credentials, so companies can more quickly identify unauthorized use of a privileged account.
- Logging and reporting — Enables organizations to record and create reports on the use of privileged accounts.
- Multi-factor authentication — Forces users to confirm their identity in more than one way before allowing them access to company applications and systems.
- Privileged session management — Gives security admins control over the work sessions of users with privileged access. For example, they can block access to critical resources when they spot suspicious activity by a privileged user account.
- Privilege elevation and delegation — This allows admins to execute more granular control over the rights granted to privileged user accounts versus an all-or-nothing approach.
- Privileged task automation — Allows admins to set up automated flows that handle repetitive PAM tasks.?
How do PAM solutions work?
- A user who needs to perform a task that requires elevated permissions can request access to a privileged user account. The user must provide a business justification for why they need privileged access.
- The PAM solution approves or denies the request and logs the decision. Most PAM solutions can be set up to request manager approval for certain requests.
- If approval is granted, the user is temporarily given the privileged access required to complete the specified task. Typically, they receive access via the PAM instead of learning the password for the privileged account.
Privileged Access Management Best Practices
The basic idea of PAM is easy to understand: Restrict privileged access only to privileged users. It seems simple enough. Indeed, some companies still use spreadsheets and common sense to manage privileged accounts. This is no longer a viable approach though, operationalizing PAM will take focus and effort, along with the right tools.
Virtually all organizations that take PAM seriously have acquired dedicated PAM solutions. In some cases, it’s a good practice to integrate PAM with your Identity and Access Management (IAM) system. This approach creates a single source of user data. From this master data set, you can then elevate access privileges while tracking all user identities in the same place
- Inventory all your privileged accounts and make a list of all privileged accounts
- Create a written privileged account password policy and set up formal policies to control access to privilege.
- Conduct a risk assessment to understand the most serious threats to your privileged accounts.
- Employ the principles of Zero Trust and least privilege. Implement a Zero Standing Privilege model to remove privileged accounts when not in use.
- Use as few privileged accounts as possible
- Limit the number of systems in scope for each person’s privileged accounts
- Track the use of privileged accounts so you can quickly flag suspicious behaviour.
- Leverage tools that enable on-demand privilege for day-to-day activities.
- Clean up inactive or unused accounts in Active Directory before they can be misused.
- Protect the PAM Solution – Understand that the PAM solution itself is a major target for hackers.
- Map your privileged accounts – It’s wise to know where your privileged accounts are and who has access to them.
- Establish Privileged Account Governance
- Get organization-wide buy-in Everyone has to be aware of your PAM program and how it works.
- Monitor, Record and Audit assignment of privileges versus usage
Benifits to PAM
- Visibility – Visibility is the true heart of cybersecurity and having visibility of all your privileged accounts can speed investigation times and remediation efforts. Every second you save can help mitigate the damage of an attack. With PAM, you can gain complete visibility into the many activities that take place in your privileged accounts.
- Discovering Orphaned Accounts – improper offboarding can lead to accounts that have privileges remaining active. If your team cannot fully remove a privileged account after the user leaves the business, it leaves a hole in your digital perimeter. One of the benefits of privileged access management is finding and removing orphaned accounts.
- Strengthen your IT compliance – Using PAM, organizations can supervise and audit all activities of “Privileged accounts” seamlessly. Nearly every business in every industry and of every size has compliance mandates, both governmental and industrial. Highly regulated industries like banking and healthcare are required to maintain a comprehensive audit trail of privileged user activity. PAM helps to meet these compliance standards.
- Limiting the Attack Surface – Privileged users represent one of the most prominent attack surfaces in your IT environment. Hackers and malicious actors target privileged accounts above almost. Privileged access management protects the most powerful users, limiting the attack surface directly. Privileged access management helps stop hackers from using privileged accounts to spread their malware to the most remote parts of the IT environment
- Provides Ease of Accessibility – PAM streamlines how access privileges are granted and used. It also makes it simpler for legitimately privileged users to regain access if they forgot their credentials.
Privileged access management is crucial to all organisations to prevent unauthorized access and prevent data breaches. Cybercriminals are continuing to find new ways to exploit vulnerable systems. Network administrators and security professionals need to focus their IT security strategy to include the best solutions for PAM that they can deploy and be proactive in defending the oranisations critical assets.