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IT security teams have always been tasked with securing the on-premises infrastructure or configuring firewalls and endpoint protection, as well as doing a lot of work in order to secure their organization’s sensitive data. In recent years, however, the vast majority of IT budgets shifted focus towards cloud solutions. Companies choose the cloud for its scalability as well as operational efficiency in reducing maintenance time and cost, and Privileged Access Management (PAM) makes no exception, as more and more organizations have turned to a cloud-based strategy.

What Is Privileged Access Management – Brief Recap

When it comes to cybersecurity, managing the access to privileged accounts is a critical component for every organization. Privileged Access Management (PAM) can be easily described as a mechanism serving the purpose of tracking, handling, and controlling privileged accounts, aimed at supporting organizations in the effort to protect access to sensitive data.

PAM takes many shapes and forms, from basic password setups to complex multi-factor authentication with multiple levels of authorization. It tends to become more intricate as data requires higher levels of protection, and there are certain best practices to be kept in mind when implementing a PAM solution, in order to make the most of it.

In a previous article we talked about PAM-as-a-Service and briefly mentioned the distinction between PAM in the cloud versus PAM for the cloud. PAM in the cloud is a component of PAMaaS, with service providers using a hybrid cloud or multi-cloud service replacing on-premises PAM infrastructure altogether, while PAM for the cloud doesn’t refer to a cloud-based Privileged Access Management solution, but rather it means the solution is used for cloud-based applications.

This time, let`s dig a little deeper into the two and see how your company can benefit from PAM in the cloud.

What Is PAM in the Cloud

The majority of today’s companies are using cloud-based applications yet establishing a cloud privileged access management solution is not as common. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, when we talk about “Privileged Access Management in the cloud,” we are inevitably referring to PAM-as-a-Service. This means that, instead of hosting your PAM software on-premises and managing all of the installation work, maintenance, and updates yourself, the provider of the PAM solution takes care of all that for you.

Cloud-Based PAM Benefits

When it comes to migrating your Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution to the cloud, the main reasons would have to be the benefits it brings over on-premises solutions, such as:

  • Improved overall security posture by reducing the risk of human error, as well as the chances of an accidental data breach by ensuring that only authorized users have the ability to perform sensitive tasks.
  • Reduced costs and less resources. PAM in the cloud provides expert maintenance for patches, upgrades, and new feature rollouts. Additionally, because privileged access management is delivered as a service, it’s much easier and more cost-effective to implement than traditional on-premises solutions.
  • Increased flexibility and high availability, in the sense that it offers geo-redundancy, autoscaling, uptime SLA, and 24/7 monitoring. This solution can easily scale to thousands of users and applications without slowing down or losing control.
  • Reduced risk. PAM in the cloud offers secure architecture, data encryption, and advanced threat management, while providing greater visibility into and control over privileged access activity, helping to identify and prevent potential risks.
  • Automated updates: Cloud PAM providers handle the updates, patches and upgrades, reducing the effort required by the organization to maintain hardware and software.

PAM for the Cloud

PAM for the cloud, on the other hand, refers to the use of a PAM solution when managing and securing the access to systems that reside in the cloud. These could include cloud-stored critical applications or databases, cloud platforms for application development, or SaaS tools used by your organization or technical teams.

Given the estimation that more than half of enterprise IT spending for key market segments will shift to the cloud by 2025, it is safe to say that the best way to manage and secure cloud-based privileged accounts is with a cloud-based PAM solution, or to put it simply, PAM in the cloud is best solution for PAM for the cloud.

Key Elements of Cloud-Based PAM

Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at some terms that PAM in the cloud implementation requires an understanding of:

  1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)Software that is provided by third-party applications is known as SaaS. PAM in the cloud uses components of SaaS to deploy third-party credentials management.
  2. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)Infrastructure can be defined as on-premises devices or cloud-based services, like servers and storage. IaaS is an effective way to store credentials and information for cloud-based PAM, and to manage credentials with scalability.
  3. PAM-as-a-Service (PAMaaS): With PAMaaS, all the benefits of SaaS and IaaS are encompassed into your PAM solution, as it uses components of SaaS to deploy third-party credentials management, while IaaS is used to store and manage credentials and other data.

Cloud Security Best Practices

With an effective understanding of best practices, PAM in the cloud allows organizations to increase both security and efficiency, while saving money in the process.

  1. PAM should be founded on the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP), which ensures that authenticated users should only be authorized to access what is absolutely necessary.
  2.  Other than security, efficiency matters just as much when it comes to implementing a cloud privileged access management solution. Automated PAM allows you to quickly assess risks and implement relevant security measures based on real-time data.
  3. Integrating PAM with data encryption technology is another great way to improve usability and improve security protections in the process. By combining a cloud-based enterprise key management (EKM) system with cloud-based PAM, you can manage encryption keys, authenticate, and authorize users with a unified Zero Trust solution.

Cloud Challenges and Risks

PAM migration to the cloud can require a more sophisticated strategy and can present itself with a few vulnerabilities worth noting, such as:

  • Shared cloud accounts: In public cloud environments, a single cloud account is often shared by multiple employees within an organization. This makes access requests and activity more difficult to track on a per-user basis.
  • Risk of standing privilegesStanding privileges are easier to manage because admins have to configure them only one time. They are also easier to reproduce because the same configurations can be copied from one environment to another. Nonetheless, standing privileges pose a risk in the sense that they give users unlimited access, even in cases when that isn`t necessary.
  • Configuring multiple cloud services: Cloud environments are typically composed of multiple types of cloud services, such as virtual machines, storage and containers. PAM needs to be configured independently for each type of service, which may take months to set up the solution when migrating to the cloud, especially when relying on legacy PAM solutions that can’t be configured for cloud environments.
  • Administrative burden. From manually setting up new users to rotating credentials when new users are offboarded, PAM solutions can create a mass of administrative tasks for sysadmins and database admins. Manual management can result in inefficiencies, including account credentials stored in spreadsheets, idle provisioned accounts, and a multi-step onboarding process.

However, many organizations aren’t properly implementing and enforcing the policies around privileged access. The vast majority of cloud misconfigurations and inconsistent controls are the customer’s fault, not the cloud providers. As Gartner warns:

The challenge exists not in the security of the cloud itself, but in the policies and technologies for security and control of the technology.

When businesses are migrating to the cloud, outdated security policies pose a major challenge. Security policies aren’t designed to fit an environment with many remote users so, in order to adjust access credentials to a cloud environment, new policies will have to be established.

How to Implement PAM in the Cloud

PAM can seem like a complex topic but getting started in the cloud is relatively simple. By taking the time to plan and implementing a solution that fits your needs, you can make sure that your organization’s data is safe and secure.

When considering a PAM solution, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, think about what level of control and visibility you need over your PAM deployment. This will help you determine whether a fully managed solution or something more hands-on is right for your organization. Security must be a top priority, so make sure to consider all potential threats and vulnerabilities when designing your PAM solution.

Ultimately, keep in mind that PAM is an evolving area of security. As such, make sure to stay up to date on the latest best practices and trends. This way you will ensure that your PAM solution continues to meet your organization’s needs over time.

How Can Heimdal® Help?

Our Privileged Access Management solution brings forward a series of characteristics that stand out:

  • A very smooth approval/denial flow, as well as flexibility when it comes to escalating or deescalating user rights.
  • Helpful features such as AD group rights, escalation period customization, local admin rights removal, session tracking, system files elevation blocking, to name a few.
  • Stunning interface that grants you complete control over the user’s elevated session. Approve or deny from the dashboard or on the go right from your mobile device.
  • Used alongside our Application Control module, it will enable you to perform application execution approval or denial or live session customization to further ensure business safety.
  • Furthermore, if you add our Nex-Gen Antivirus into the mix, it becomes the only software that automatically de-escalates user rights, in the event threats are detected on the machine.
  • Advanced data analytics that will help investigate incidents and perform regular security checkups. Obtain graphic-rich reports on hostname details, average escalation duration, users or files escalated, files or processes ran during escalation, and more.
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Heimdal® Privileged Access Management

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  • Approve or reject escalations with one click;
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  • Automatically de-escalate on infection;
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Wrapping Up…

Security is always a top concern for IT professionals, and with good reason. The recent wave of high-profile data breaches has shown that traditional security methods are no longer enough to protect sensitive information. When PAM is moved to the cloud, it becomes a dynamic security solution and will contribute to filling the gaps in your security posture by providing an additional layer of protection. Read more about why is PAM one of the most important defense pillars in the Privileged Access Management Guide.

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Mihaela Popa


Mihaela is a digital content creator for Heimdal® and the proud owner of an old soul and a curious mind. Passionate to learn and discover more about cybersecurity, she will gladly share her latest finds with you.

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