What is Privileged Access Management?
We’re approaching a new year, and it looks like, yet again, the pandemic will be affecting how we do business. The omicron variant likely means that many companies will let their employees continue to work remotely. There is also likely to be plenty of uncertainty along the way.
What you do have control over as a business operating in an uncertain world is how you approach things like cybersecurity and access management.
When your employees continue working remotely, or maybe they suddenly shift to remote, given any number of scenarios that are out of your control, when you have the right cybersecurity solutions in place you have business continuity and peace of mind.
Specifically, one thing you need to think about is called privileged access management or PAM. Below we break down what it is and what the potential implications for your business could be.
What is Privileged Access Management?
Privileged access management (PAM) refers to a set of cybersecurity technologies and strategies to provide control over elevated access and permissions for users, accounts, and systems that are part of an IT environment. Elevated access is known as privilege in this context.
When you have the appropriate level of access controls, you can reduce your potential attack surface.
In reducing your attack surface, you prevent or reduce the damage that can come from both external attacks and internal negligence or threats.
Privilege management aims to build a strategy reliant on least privilege enforcement.
You’ll also see privileged access management referred to as privileged account management or privileged identity management. Analysts often consider it one of the most essential priorities overall when it comes to reducing organizational cybersecurity risk.
Privilege management falls into the larger category of identity and access management or IAM, which gives one centralized place to manage users and devices.
When IAM and PAM are utilized together, it offers visibility and high levels of control over all privileges and credentials.
What is a Privileged Account?
In the least privileged environment, the majority of users will be operating with a non-privileged account most of the time. Non-privileged accounts are also called least-privileged accounts.
There are two types of non-privileged accounts. There are standard user accounts with a set of certain privileges for applications and online browsing. They may also have access to a few resources based on role-based access policies. Then, there are also guest user accounts, which have fewer privileges than standard accounts.
On the other hand, a privileged account provides access beyond what’s available to non-privileged accounts. If you’re a privileged user that means you’re using your access and elevated capabilities. That elevated access then means privileged accounts create a more significant security risk.
There are also superuser accounts. A superuser account is most often for the administration of specialized IT employees. These accounts have essentially unlimited access. In Windows, this is the Administrator.
A superuser account has unrestricted access to files and resources, as well as full read, write and execute privileges. An admin or superuser account can make systemic changes across an entire network.
A superuser can both give and revoke permissions for other users. It’s easy to see how these superuser accounts can cause significant damage if not adequately protected with PAM best practices.
PAM As a Potential Problem-Solver
Beyond protecting against security breaches, PAM has other problem-solving advantages. For example, it creates a simplified onboarding and offboarding experience for employees. PAM can save time and improve compliance and productivity.
PAM is process automation that streamlines workflows and simplifies authentication.
Employees can access what they need, but they can focus on the work at hand.
PAM is a scalable, centralized solution. It usually has monitoring and password management tools built-in, balancing the end-user experience and reducing risk.
Types of PAM
There are various smaller categories of PAM, including:
- Shared access password manager: SAPM is a way to reduce the potential for human error to create password issues. With SAPM, employees have access to critical accounts with the added security of multi-factor authentication. There’s also the creation of an audit trail.
- Superuser privilege management: This subcategory of PAM is also known as SUPM. The superusers, as was touched on, are those people like your IT team with the highest level of privilege in your company.
- Privileged session management: PSM refers to elevated security and compliance with remote recording of active sessions.
Understanding the Principle of Least Privilege
To understand the relevance of PAM for an organization, it’s critical to comprehend what the principle of least privilege is and what it isn’t. This is the philosophy that underlies everything in identity and access management.
The principle of least privilege is a response to access control. The idea that underlies the principle of least privilege is that an individual needs only the minimum access privileges to perform a specific task or job and nothing beyond that.
The entire overall goal of least privilege is to reduce the damage that too much privilege or misuse of privileges could inflict intentionally or accidentally. You can minimize the risk to your organization itself, your assets, and your people.
The principle of least privilege applies not just to individual users but also networks, devices, programs, services, and processes.
Integrating the principle of least privilege has the advantage of reducing your attack surface. The broader your attack surface, the more difficult it is to defend.
There are several examples of high-profile breaches due to a lack of the principle of least privilege.
For example, there was a 2019 breach on Capital One that exposed the personal information of 106 million consumers. In part, this breach was due to a firewall with excessive privileges. The excessive privileges allowed the firewall to run commands and gain access to data it shouldn’t have in cloud-based storage.
Finally, the principle of least privilege also protects your organization from internal threats. When users have more access than what they need, it can put your assets and data at risk because of error and negligence, as well as malicious acts.