How Preferred Access Management increases security | SITS
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How Preferred Access Management increases security
PAM is a modern identity management system that increases IT security, protects data and ensures compliance. This post outlines the essentials and explains what you need to know.
4 minutes
05. april 2024

Privileged Access Management - greater security for key users

  • PAM increases IT security through the constant monitoring of sensitive data and just-in-time and just-enough restriction of access rights.
  • Implementation requires expertise and a comprehensive assessment of the IT systems and the entire security architecture.
  • When used correctly, PAM minimizes risks, supports reporting, creates greater transparency and helps to meet compliance requirements.

In addition to access data for regular users, company networks also have accounts with very extensive authorizations for employees who are responsible for administering systems or accessing sensitive data. If one of these accounts is compromised, substantial damage can quickly occur. Privileged access management (PAM) helps to comprehensively protect these critical accounts. In this post, you can find out how PAM works, how it is implemented and what precautions a company should take.

How does Privileged Access Management work?

PAM is a modern form of identity management. It is used for two main reasons: First, because it increases the security of critical data by preventing the theft of credentials, securing data and detecting attacks before damage occurs. A study by Gartner shows the importance this has, according to its findings, around 70 percent of all relevant security incidents can be traced back to the compromise of privileged access.

In addition, the use of PAM may be necessary in order to meet compliance standards or fulfill corresponding requirements. PAM solutions also create immutable audit trails that prove that the necessary access controls are in place and effective.

What are privileged accounts?

In the PAM context, privileged accounts are user accounts that have extensive access rights to data, systems and services.

The most obvious example of a privileged account is the administrator, who must have access to all systems. However, there are also accounts that have full access to data because their users are part of the management team, accounts for users who manage applications and therefore need access to special administration interfaces, or accounts for users who have access to sensitive data such as payment information, health data, etc. These are all assigned credentials by the company. They are all issued with credentials by the company that have more rights than standard users.

The implementation of PAM

PAM can be implemented either as Software-as-a-Service or with local IT resources. In both cases, a comprehensive approach is required for the management and control of accounts, access, systems, services and processes. A zero-trust architecture is used, which distributes access rights according to the least privilege principle. This means that all access is constantly checked and each user can only access the data they actually need to perform their tasks.

The implementation of a PAM architecture should include the following steps:

  • Identify privileged accounts: The first step is to determine who needs credentials that go beyond the rights of a standard user. A distinction is usually made between two groups here: Users who need access to sensitive information and IT administrators who need to manage systems and services.
  • Evaluate risks: Once the required users have been defined, a risk assessment should be carried out for each set of rights.
  • Implement controls: Systems must be prepared to restrict and monitor privileged accounts. Methods to achieve this are explained below.
  • The controls do not only relate to accounts or users. It must also be possible to assign appropriate privileges or restrictions to devices and services.
  • Monitoring: All employee activities in the network must be monitored and logged. This log data is constantly checked for unusual activities or conspicuous usage patterns. To avoid data protection problems, the collected data should be pseudonymized as far as possible.
  • Train employees: Once all measures are in place, employees must be made aware of the importance of PAM and trained in the use of the system.

What elements does a PAM system require?

As part of a security and risk management strategy, a PAM system has to offer the possibility of identifying people, services and systems that require privileged access rights. These accesses must be secured, logged and monitored. The following elements are required to fulfill these tasks:

  • Privileged password management: Automated password management that assigns role-based access rights to credentials. Solutions that allow sensitive access rights to be assigned for a limited period of time are ideal here. In addition, the system should also allow external partners or guest users to assign (time-limited) authorizations.
  • Privileged session management: This is a system that monitors and logs access to privileged accounts. It can also create audit logs and session records to meet compliance requirements.
  • Usage analysis: An analysis system records all activities and can therefore detect conspicuous usage patterns at an early stage.
  • Flexible assignment of rights: The system recognizes whether users with extended access rights currently need their privileges – and downgrades these rights to a lower security class if no sensitive data is required. Critical data is offered “just in time” and is not kept constantly available.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): All privileged credentials should only be usable with a prior MFA login.
  • Account economy: Privileged access rights should only be granted to users who really need them. The list of these users should be checked regularly and the rights granted adjusted accordingly.

The difference to PIM

At first glance, Privileged Identity Management (PIM) seems to have many features in common with PAM. However, PIM focuses on the management of accounts, while PAM also monitors and secures access to resources.

PAM - more security via customized user rights

Used correctly, a PAM can not only improve the quality of IT security, but also improve the creation of reports and security audits. At the same time, the management of access rights increases transparency for the company itself. The implementation of preferred access management is therefore worthwhile wherever companies work with sensitive data and the loss of this data would cause significant damage to the company.

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