Privileged Access Management - What It Is & Why It's Important

Privileged Access Management or PAM in short can be interchangeably referred to as privilege identity management, privilege account management or just privilege management, according to cyber security specialists, implementation of PAM in your organization is a huge undertaking that is essential to uplifting overall cybersecurity posture. 

What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

Privileged Access Management refers to the strategies and technologies organizations utilise to manage the privileged access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems across an IT environment. By strategically assigning employees the correct level of access depending on their role and responsibilities in the organization, the overall risk of suffering extensive damage from a cyber attack is effectively mitigated, irrespective if it is from an external actor or due to internal errors. 

While there are a plethora of strategies that can be implemented when an organization is considering privileged access management, a key concept that dictates these strategies is, the concept of least privilege. Least privilege is defined as the strict assignment of access rights and permissions for users, accounts, applications, systems, devices and computing processes, to the absolute minimum so that assigned organizational activities can be carried out.  


Privileged Access Management falls under the umbrella term Identity & Access Management or IAM. In coordination both these activities enable an organization to control credentials and privileges, by providing them with visibility and audibility. IAM controls help organizations authenticate user access ensuring that the right employees are given access at the right time, whereas PAM refers to the ability of an organization to fine tune its control, visibility and auditability of identities and activities. 

What are Privileges? 

The term Privilege refers to the authority a given account or process has over making or performing functions on a computer system or network. For example a user requires access to make any security related changes such as configuring networks/systems . Although assigning privileges serve an important operational purpose that is essential for employees to be able to complete the tasks assigned to them, there is a huge security risk where privileges can be misused or abused by malicious internal or external actors to cause damage to an organization. 

What are Privileged Accounts?

The majority of employees operate in an environment of least privilege, there are two common types of non-privileged accounts or least privilege accounts, they are standard accounts or guest accounts. Standard accounts have restricted privileges associated with internet browsing, access to applications such as the Microsoft Office Suite or access to company resources, all this is dependent on the role and responsibilities assigned to the employee. A guest account on the other hand is heavily restricted to basic application access and limited browsing on the internet. 

So what is a privileged account? A privileged account is any account that offers additional privileges in comparison to the accounts explained above.  An example of a privileged account is a superuser account, these types of accounts are typically used by certain employees in the IT or administrative departments, who have unrestricted privileged access to make changes and execute commands within networks and systems. The common vernacular for superuser accounts on a Windows system is ‘Administrator’ and ‘Root’ for Unix/Linux systems. 

Examples of common privileged accounts used by employees

Local Administrative: This account is located on an endpoint or workstation and uses a combination of a username and password. It helps people access and make changes to their local machines or devices.

Domain Administrative: An account providing privileged administrative access across all workstations and servers within a network domain.

Emergency: An emergency account provides employees with administrative access to secure systems in the case of an emergency

Why implement Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management refers to the strategies and technologies organizations utilise to manage the privileged access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems across an IT environment. There are several reasons why managing privileged access is crucial when it comes to enhancing an organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Below are five key reasons why organizations need to implement privileged access management. 

Biggest threat to an organization’s information security are it’s employees

Human error continues to be the biggest threat to an organization’s information security, from the chance of employees abusing their access to critical systems and networks to external actors targeting and hijacking employee systems to steal or compromise an organization from within. Privileged Access Management ensures that employees only have the absolute minimum access necessary to carry out their roles and responsibilities, this way if a malicious actor was to gain access to an employees system their impact would be contained. Privileged Access Management also adds a certain level of accountability when security incidents occur, as a key aspect is monitoring who has access to what in an organization. 

Reduce the effectiveness of Malware

Several types of malware require elevated access to be effective, for instance a SQL Injection is a web security vulnerability that allows an attacker to interfere with the queries that an application makes to its database, allowing attackers to view data that ordinarily isn’t available to them. A SQL Injection requires a lack of least privilege to be effective, therefore needs a high level of access to install or execute on a system. By implementing privileged access management in your organization, you can control who has privileged access to critical systems and networks, thus reducing the overall effectiveness of malware attacks by cyber criminals.

Endpoints & Workstations are frequently targeted by hackers

An endpoint is any device that is physically an end point on a network, for example a laptop, smartphone, tablet, desktop, server etc. in an organization every one of these endpoints contains privileges of some kind. Administrative accounts provide employees the ability to locally fix any issues or configure systems and networks with ease, however, the existing privilege provided by these accounts also creates a risk of misuse. Cyber criminals can hijack these accounts and go from workstation to workstation by stealing credentials and increasing their level of privilege until they find what they are looking for. By implementing a privileged access management system in your organization you can eliminate this risk by the removal of local administrative rights on employee workstations. 

Keep track of an ever-increasing list of privileges 

In today’s world the number of applications and machines that require privileged access is ever increasing with organizations adopting DevOps, cloud, IoT and robotic automation solutions to name a few. This sheer number of applications and machines outnumber your human personnel in your organization and are much harder to manage and monitor or even identify. A robust privileged access management system accounts for all the privileges in your organization regardless of the environment they exist in, and enables an organization to effectively monitor and track any suspicious activity.

Privileged Access Management plays a vital role in achieving compliance 

Unmanaged, unprotected and unmonitored privileged access is one of the biggest vulnerabilities when it comes to information security for an organization. By implementing a robust privileged access management system as part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy, auditability and compliance requirements can be simplified and made easy. 

How do you currently manage privileged accounts within your organisation? StickmanCyber's team can help review your existing setup and share and implement recommendations around building the right privileged access management systems

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