Privileged Access Management (PAM): An Overview

22 Sep 2021, MOQdigital

Cyber Security

Lifecycle Management

With more and more high-profile data breaches resulting from information leaks from privileged accounts, data security experts across the world are realising their need for: Privileged Access Management (or PAM).

Privileged Access Management, also known as Privileged Account Management, is a collection of cybersecurity strategies and technologies designed to help businesses exert control over the accesses and permissions for privileged accounts within their IT environment.

But what exactly is a privileged account? And why is it so important to ensure that their access is being managed correctly to protect your business’ sensitive data?

This guide from your resident team of IT experts will answer those questions and more as we provide you with an overview of privileged access management (PAM).

What is a privileged account?

To put it simply, privileged accounts are those that have more privileges or a higher level of access than ordinary user accounts. Privileged accounts may be able to install or remove software, upgrade the operating system or have access to files not accessible by standard users, such as those containing sensitive data.

There are a number of common types of privileged accounts, including:

  • Root and administrator accounts, used for installing and removing software and changing configurations
  • System accounts, used for running operating system components and owning related files
  • Service accounts, used for running processes like web, database and application servers
  • Super user accounts, built into every application and system

This definition of privileged accounts also includes user accounts that have privileged access to sensitive business data, such as financial information or clients’ personal contact information.

How does PAM work?

Privileged access management, while encompassing a number of cybersecurity strategies, has one simple goal: to restrict and monitor the access, rights and permission for users, accounts, applications, systems and computing processes to strictly what is necessary to perform routine, authorised activities.

You see, when hackers seek to bypass your cybersecurity measures, the easiest way is to target your privileged accounts. This is because privileged accounts, if not managed correctly, provide direct access to all of the sensitive information and processes you’re trying so hard to prevent hackers from compromising. In fact, Forrester Research estimates that 80% of security breaches involved privileged credentials.

By restricting the access of privileged accounts through PAM, you boost the security of your organisation by limiting what a hacker has access to if they managed to break-through your defences.

Think of it like this: a thief breaks into a bank wishing to gain access to the vaults. PAM ensures that each vault requires multiple keys, stored with different people, in order to access them. The existence of these keys drastically increases the difficulty of gaining access to the vaults. This is how PAM works when it comes to protecting your precious data.

Why is PAM important?

According to a study by One Identity, 88% of organisations find managing privileged accounts to be challenging. This was due to a number of factors, including:

  • The fact that privileged accounts were being externally accessed by vendors and developers
  • Internal threats and risky user behaviour and practices
  • A lack of individual accountability when it came to who oversaw the privileged accounts

However, in nearly every recent high-profile data breach, gaps in security and compromising user practices were exploited by hackers to secure the credentials of privileged accounts. These credentials were then used to gain access to information that compromised the organisations’ operations and cast negative light on their reputation within their industry or community.

PAM is important because with the appropriate level of restrictions enforced, these data breaches could have been avoided entirely. This is because by implementing privileged access controls, PAM helps minimise your organisation’s attack surface and, as such, prevent or minimise the damage that may ensue from external attacks. PAM also protects organisations from damage that may occur as a result of insider misuse or negligence, through the same process.

Want to know more about privileged access management? Watch this space for our upcoming breakdown of how exactly PAM works from a technical perspective.

Or, if you’re interested in learning about how PAM can help your organisation achieve a greater level of security, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and a member of our team would be happy to discuss it with you.

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