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Identity Access Management vs Privileged Access Management

The importance of robust security measures for safeguarding sensitive information has become paramount with the changing times. Among these measures, both Identity Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) play crucial roles.

Although they may sound similar, they cater to different security needs within an organization. Let's simplify the concepts of IAM and PAM, describe their functionalities, and help you understand their importance in the context of cybersecurity.

Understanding Identity Access Management and Privileged Access Management

What is Identity Access Management (IAM)?

Identity Access Management (IAM) is a management framework that helps organizations ensure that the right individuals access the appropriate resources at the right times and for the right reasons. IAM systems provide a means to create, store, and manage user identities and their related access permissions in an automated manner, thereby streamlining and securing the process of granting access across various systems within an organization. By implementing IAM solutions, businesses can enhance operational efficiency, reduce the risk of unauthorized access, and comply with regulatory requirements.

What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is ultimately a subset of IAM that focuses on the special requirements of managing privileged accounts, which are accounts that have elevated access rights to critical systems and sensitive data. PAM tools are designed to control, monitor, and secure access to an organization's critical information and resources by restricting and managing the 'privileged' credentials that can act as gateways for cybercriminals.

With PAM, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with privileged accounts, such as those used by system administrators, by employing rigorous controls and monitoring practices. This is essential for preventing security breaches that could lead to substantial financial and reputational damage.

IAM vs PAM: Functionality

IAM and PAM may intersect in their objective to secure access within an organization, but they differ significantly in functionality. IAM encompasses a broad range of user identities, including employees, customers, and partners, providing them with access to various devices and applications within the company infrastructure. It manages a multitude of user profiles and permissions, ensuring that access rights are granted according to each individual's role and responsibilities.

On the other hand, PAM is specifically concerned with privileged users who have access to highly sensitive systems. It's not just about who gets access, but also about how, when, and what they do with that access. PAM solutions often include features like session recording, multifactor authentication, and advanced monitoring capabilities to ensure that privileged accounts are not misused.

While IAM focuses on ensuring that access is granted efficiently and securely, PAM is dedicated to protecting and monitoring the "keys to the kingdom," thereby reducing the potential attack surface for cyber criminals.

IAM vs PAM: Technology Integration

When it comes to technology integration, both IAM and PAM solutions need to be seamlessly incorporated into the existing technology stack of an organization. IAM integration involves ensuring compatibility with various devices and applications, from legacy systems to modern cloud environments. It should support single sign-on (SSO) capabilities, identity governance, and directory services to streamline user access while maintaining security.

In contrast, PAM integration must work with systems that handle highly sensitive data and control critical operational processes. PAM solutions should integrate with existing security tools to provide a holistic view of privileged activities and risks. They must also adapt to multi-cloud environments, where privileged access is not limited to on-premises systems but extends to cloud-based resources and services.

Both IAM and PAM must offer observability and reporting features to detect potential security breaches and ensure compliance with the organization's privacy policy and regulatory requirements.

Remember that the integration of these solutions should not be an afterthought but a strategic implementation that aligns with the organization's overall cybersecurity framework.

IAM vs PAM: Cybersecurity

When it comes to cybersecurity, both IAM and PAM serve as critical defenses against data breaches and unauthorized access. IAM protects against a broad spectrum of threats by managing and monitoring user access across the organization. It employs authentication methods, such as passwords and biometrics, to verify user identities and enforces authorization policies to control what resources a user can access.

PAM, however, provides an additional layer of security for the most sensitive information and systems. By managing privileged access, PAM helps to mitigate the risk of compromised privileged credentials, which are a common target for cybercriminals. PAM tools often include advanced security features like session monitoring and threat detection to identify and respond to malicious activities in real-time.

IAM serves as the first line of defense, managing access for all users, while PAM offers focused protection for the critical assets that, if compromised, could cause the most damage.

IAM vs PAM: Credential Risks

Credential risks are a significant concern for organizations as they can lead to severe security breaches. IAM addresses this issue by managing the lifecycle of user identities and their credentials across the organization. It ensures that account passwords are created, used, and retired according to best practices and compliance standards. Regularly updating and enforcing strong password policies are part of IAM's strategy to minimize the risk of compromised user credentials.

PAM takes credential risk management a step further by focusing on privileged account information. Since these accounts, if hacked, can give a malicious actor high-level access to sensitive systems, PAM solutions employ techniques like password vaulting and rotation, and session isolation to protect privileged credentials. By limiting the exposure of privileged credentials and monitoring their use, PAM significantly reduces the chance of a cyber criminal gaining unauthorized access to critical systems.

Both IAM and PAM play crucial roles in credential risk management, but PAM is specifically tailored to address the heightened risks associated with privileged access and the potential for more significant damage.

IAM vs PAM: Compliance Reporting

Compliance reporting is an essential aspect of both IAM and PAM, as organizations must adhere to various regulatory requirements and industry standards. IAM solutions help businesses demonstrate compliance by providing detailed reports on user access rights, authentication methods, and identity governance practices. These reports are crucial for audits and for proving that the organization follows best practices in managing and securing user identities.

PAM, in contrast, focuses on reporting for privileged accounts, which are often subject to stricter regulatory scrutiny due to their access to sensitive information. PAM solutions generate granular reports on privileged user activities, access patterns, and policy violations. This level of detail is necessary for compliance with regulations that specifically address the management of privileged access, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

By maintaining comprehensive compliance reporting, both IAM and PAM not only help organizations avoid hefty fines and legal repercussions but also reinforce trust with customers and partners by demonstrating a commitment to data security and privacy.

IAM vs PAM: Limitations and Strengths

Understanding the limitations and strengths of IAM and PAM is also important for implementing effective security measures. IAM solutions are designed to manage a wide range of user identities, making them highly versatile. However, this broad focus can sometimes lead to less attention on the specific needs of privileged accounts, which require more stringent security measures. The strength of IAM lies in its ability to facilitate seamless access for legitimate users while maintaining control over who enters the system.

Conversely, PAM's strength lies in its laser focus on the highest-risk accounts within an organization. It provides a sturdy set of tools specifically designed to protect against the misuse of privileged access. The limitation, however, is that PAM does not address the general user population's access needs and must be complemented by IAM to ensure comprehensive coverage.

By recognizing the distinct but complementing roles of IAM and PAM, organizations can leverage their strengths to build a layered defense strategy that addresses both general and privileged access security concerns.

Specialized PAM Features

Privileged Access Management solutions offer specialized features that set them apart from general IAM tools. These features are designed to provide an additional layer of security for the most sensitive areas of an organization's IT environment. Key specialized PAM features include:

- Session management and monitoring, which allows security teams to oversee and record privileged sessions, ensuring that any suspicious activity can be identified and investigated promptly.

- Least privilege enforcement, which ensures users have only the access necessary to perform their job functions, minimizing the potential for abuse or error.

- Privileged credential vaulting, which securely stores and manages sensitive account passwords, automatically rotating them to prevent unauthorized use.

- Multi-factor authentication for privileged accounts, adding an extra verification step to ensure that the person accessing the account is authorized to do so.

These features help organizations to not only protect against external threats but also to guard against insider threats and accidental misuse by ensuring that privileged access is closely controlled and monitored.

PrivX - The Best Bolt-on for IAMs like Microsoft Entra

IAMs are great at handling identities and their authorizations. Our PrivX PAM is great bolt-on to any IAM, like Microsoft Entra, for critical access, high-impact targets, privileged credentials, and sensitive data.