Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management (PAM) Overview  

Topics: Privileged Access Management

In enterprise environments, “privileged access” is a term used to describe certain access or abilities that are above and beyond that of a standard user. Taking control of privileged access is one of the first steps an organization can take in moving toward a Zero Trust approach to cybersecurity. This is where Privileged Access Management comes in. PAM strategies and tools enable an organization to take greater control of the elevated accounts and credentials in their environment.    

What are some examples of privileged accounts? 

Typical privileged accounts utilized by IT administrators withing organizations: 

  • Local Admin Accounts 
  • Domain Admin Accounts 
  • Domain Service Accounts 
  • Break Glass Accounts (also known as Emergency Accounts) 
  • Application Accounts 
  • Service Accounts 
Privileged Access Management (PAM) in action

Why do you need Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

Privileged accounts are the keys to the kingdom when it comes to your IT environment. When bad actors are able to gain access to a privileged account your entire environment is at risk. A single compromised privileged account enables hackers to traverse resources and gain additional data from your organization. For this reason, limiting access granted to accounts is essential.   

PAM enables organizations to further understand and act on access usage in their environment. Utilizing a PAM solution increases environmental security without causing major impacts to your end user’s productivity levels. Expanded visibility facilitated by logging and reporting helps track who is using what credentials and for what purpose. This can help in making more informed decisions on accounts that may need their access reeled in due to lack of use or can help detect suspicious activity that is outside of the norm that may indicate a breach has occurred.  

Guiding Principles of Zero Trust 

Least privilege – the minimum necessary amount of privilege should be granted for the shortest duration of time needed.
Explicitly verify (never trust, always verify) – replaces the antiquated “trust but verify” approach by requiring users and endpoints to always authenticate and authorize network access. 
Assume breach – the mentality that a cybersecurity event will happen or already has happened, moving practices from a more passive defense to an active defense. 

Pillars of Zero Trust Architecture 

  • Identity – an attribute or set of attributes that that uniquely describes a user or entity in the environment. 
  • Device – a hardware asset that has the ability to connect to the network.  
  • Network – an open communications medium including internal networks, wireless networks, and the Internet. 
  • Application – systems, computer programs, and services that execute on premise as well as in the cloud. 
  • Data – organizations should protect data on devices, in applications, and networks.  

Principle of Least Privilege

Microsoft has two concepts related to limiting access rights: Just-in-Time (JIT) and the Just-Enough Administration (JEA) models.

The idea of the JIT model is to allow higher level access rights only when it’s necessary. Admin role or account is under no circumstances used constantly: instead, you create, activate, or elevate one to the required level when need be.

The JEA model is a more evolved management model that makes use of Powershell. The idea is to:

  • decrease the number of admins on devices,
  • limit the actions available to users
  • improve the users’ understanding on what they are doing on their devices.

An admin can, for example, log into a Windows server with their regular user id, but thanks to JEA, they can use Powershell commands to edit a certain component on the Windows server. The admin doesn’t need extensive admin rights covering the entire server or even the entire domain to execute a single task.

Verification and Authentication

In traditional security model, companies trusted an authentication if it was done from a trusted device or within a trusted network. In a Zero Trust model, you do not trust automatically. Instead, you verify everything. Whether it’s a user logging into a cloud service, a device authenticating itself into an internal network, or other similar action, with modern systems like Azure AD and firewalls it’s possible to view the background of a single event. This in turn enables real-time authentication and allowing an action only after a successful authentication.

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Types of Privileged Access Management Solutions

Privileged Access Management Suites

Privileged Access Management suites provide a comprehensive set of features for managing privileged access. These suites typically include features such as:

  • Privileged account discovery and auditing
  • Password vaulting and management
  • Credential provisioning and deprovisioning
  • Privileged session monitoring and recording

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) Solutions

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) solutions focus on managing the identities of privileged users. These solutions typically include features such as:

  • Single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  • User provisioning and deprovisioning
  • User activity auditing
  • Privileged user access control

Past, Present, and Future of Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Gone are the days of generic local admin credentials set universally on all endpoints in the environment. With the move away from a “castle and moat” network approach, the lines defining where a company’s network begins and ends have blurred requiring organizations to take further steps to harden their networks. Currently, the move to a Zero Trust architecture is the best practice to combat ever evolving security risks. PAM tools are becoming more necessary as breaches become exceedingly common.  

Learn more about Privilege Manager, Recast’s PAM solution. Documentation, including system requirements, can be found here.

Additional Resources

Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Admin Rights

Recast and Zero Trust

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