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As defined by Jericho Systems, privilege management also referred to as Privileged Account Management (PAM) is “the practice of controlling and administering digital user identities and the rights of those identities to perform actions on specified resources.”

For cybercriminals, privileged user accounts are nothing more than profitable targets. Why? Because they have elevated permissions in systems, allowing them to access highly confidential information and make administrative-level changes to applications and systems.

According to Forrester,

By 2022, 70% of organizations will have PAM practices for all use cases in the enterprise, reducing the overall risk surface.

Why is Privilege Management important?

First, we need to discuss privileged accounts. As the name suggests, privileged account management is related to privileged access management: privileged access management tools monitor privileged accounts in order to ensure business safety. My colleague wrote more about what is privileged access management in this article.

Besides being omnipresent, privileged accounts distinguish themselves from others in that they present elevated levels of permissions – the ability to change settings for large groups of users, access to sensitive data, and so on. There are various types of privileged accounts and they can exist both on-premises and in the cloud. What’s more, a certain privileged account can be accessed by multiple users, at least on a temporary basis.

For instance, the root account on a Mac is a type of privileged account. An account owner for Microsoft Azure is another. A corporate account for the official Heimdal™ LinkedIn profile is yet another form.

Privileged accounts are subject to vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals are more interested in stealing credentials for privileged accounts than any other type of account as they are basically the key to a company’s data and systems. In fact, it should come as no surprise that major cyberattacks such as the security breaches of JPMorgan Chase and Home Depot involved the abuse of privileged accounts.

Unfortunately, despite the high risk of damage if such accounts are breached, access has not been well managed. As we all know, in many cases many people using the same account with the same static passwords, and no clear history of accountability.

This is where Privilege Management steps in to address these risks.

How does Privilege Management work?

How does Privilege Management work?
Source

Think about this scenario – passwords of privileged accounts are stored in a special-purpose and highly secure password vault. Privileged users log in through the PAM and request or immediately assume access to the privileged user account. This access is logged and remains temporary for the exclusive performance of specific tasks. For obvious security reasons, the PAM user is usually required to provide a motive for using the account, or request manager approval. Frequently, users aren’t granted access to the actual passwords, but instead, they’re granted access via the PAM. What is more, the PAM makes sure that passwords are regularly changed, often automatically, either at regular intervals or after each use.

PAM administrators can easily follow user activities via the PAM portal and even manage live sessions in real-time if needed. In addition, new PAM systems use machine learning to track down deviations and risk scoring to immediately alert the administrator of dangerous activities.

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What are the benefits of Privilege Management?

#1. It increases security

Need I say more? PAM protects you from cyberattacks. Privileged users face the same challenges as others with regard to remembering multiple passwords—and have the habit of using the same password across multiple accounts. Yet, these users are also more likely to be targeted by hackers. Having a strong password management policy in place is crucial. A PAM system can reduce the need for administrators to remember many passwords and avoid privileged users creating local/direct system passwords. Session management and alerts help you identify potential attacks in real-time.

#2. It protects you from inside attacks

As surprising as it may sound, a large number of attacks come from within the organization. If it’s not an “inside job”, it’s usually former employees who haven’t been fully stripped of privileges to prevent access after departure.

#3. It increases productivity

A PAM allows privileged users to log in faster to the systems they need and eases the burden of having to remember multiple passwords. It also enables the user to easily manage privileged user access from a single central location, rather than a bundle of different systems and applications.

#4. It ensures compliance

Specific management of privileged user access and the ability to audit access is required by many regulations. You can restrict access to sensitive systems, require additional approvals, or use multi-factor authentication for privileged accounts. The auditing tools in PAM systems record activities and enable you to provide a clear audit trail. Essentially, Privileged Access Management tools provide you with a wide range of features, such as the possibility to log and record all privileged sessions. For instance, our Heimdal™ Privileged Access Management solution, is a highly elaborate technology that allows for both escalation and de-escalation of user rights. What’s more, when used in tandem with our threat prevention, detection, and hunting suite, it becomes the only software on the market to automatically de-escalate users’ rights, should any infection be discovered on the machine.

What Is the Difference Between PAM and IAM (Identity Access Management)?

What is IAM? Identity & Access ManagementSource

Let’s shed some light on Identity Access Management. Often mistaken for PAM, it focuses on authenticating and authorizing all types of users for an organization, including employees, vendors, contractors, partners, and even clients. IAM manages general access to applications and resources, including on-prem and cloud, and usually integrates with directory systems.

While PAM focuses on privileged users, administrators, or those with elevated privileges in the organization, IAM covers a larger attack surface from the many users across an organization’s ecosystem, as explained in one of our previous blog posts.

On the other hand, PAM covers a high-value surface and requires an additional set of controls normally irrelevant for regular users (such as logging and recording all privileged user sessions).

If they’re serious about protecting themselves against cyberattacks and securing their resources and data, organizations need both tools. The best identity management solutions require a synchronized use of IAM and PAM systems to ensure security and versatility.

Wrapping It Up…

As all businesses are prone to the risk of having their privileged accounts exploited, it’s vital not to turn a blind eye to Privileged Access Management tools. In the end, internal and external threats remain a serious danger, that shouldn’t be underestimated or ignored.

What Is the Principle of Least Privilege?

Privileged Account Management 101: How Can Privileged Accounts Compromise Your Security

What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

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