Privileged Access Management: An In-Depth Guide

Ritish Reddy

6th December, 2023


Privileged users and accounts are the prime targets for attack as they have elevated/high levels of access permissions to confidential data. If these users and accounts get into the wrong hands, attackers can impact the organization's financial state and reputation.

This is why it's crucial to opt for privileged access management solutions to manage these users and accounts with high levels of access securely. This guide will walk you through PAM, its types, importance, benefits, how it works, and best practices to implement. 

Let's first start by understanding what is privileged access management. 

What Is Privileged Access Management?     

Privileged Access Management (PAM) serves as an identity security mechanism to safeguard organizations from cyber threats. It does this by monitoring, detecting, and preventing unauthorized privileged access to crucial resources. 

Furthermore, PAM provides your IT team visibility into who is using privileged accounts and what they are doing while logged in. With the help of this comprehensive visibility, your IT team can control user access to critical resources.  

Restricting the SaaS app access to a selected number of users helps enhance system security. Also, it acts as an additional protective layer that helps mitigate the risk of data breaches caused by malicious actors.       

What Is Privilege Account?

A privileged account is considered as any account that provides access and privileges exceeding those of non-privileged accounts. 

A privileged user refers to any individual currently utilizing privileged access, typically through a privileged account. Due to their heightened capabilities and access, privileged users and accounts pose significantly greater risks compared to non-privileged users/accounts.

Types Of Privilege Account

While it's recommended that most non-IT users have standard user account access, certain IT employees may have multiple accounts. They might log in as standard users for routine tasks and switch to a superuser account for administrative activities.

Because administrative accounts carry more privileges and thus pose a greater risk if misused compared to standard user accounts. This is why utilizing privilege/administrator accounts is suggested only when absolutely essential and for the briefest duration necessary. The recommendation is to limit the usage of high-privileged accounts to specific tasks or situations that require elevated access, minimizing the potential security risks associated with prolonged or unnecessary use of such accounts. 

Some types of privileged accounts commonly found in organizations include:

  • Local Administrative Accounts: This non-personal account has administrative (admin level access) access to the local host or instance only.

  • Domain Administrative Accounts: This account holds privileged administrative access across all workstations and servers within the domain.

  • Break Glass (Emergency/Firecall) Accounts: This is the account for unprivileged users who need administrative access to secure systems in emergency situations.

  • Service Accounts: These privileged local or domain accounts are used by applications or services to interact with the operating system.

  • Active Directory or Domain Service Accounts: This account helps in supporting/ enabling password changes to accounts, etc.

  • Application Accounts: Applications use this account to access databases, run batch jobs or scripts, or provide access to other applications.

Now that you have understood the PAM meaning and types, let's proceed and find out how exactly the privilege access management solution works.

How Does Privilege Access Management Work? 

A Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution identifies the users, process, and technology requiring privileged access and specifies the policies that apply to them. It possesses functionalities that help align with access privilege control policies

Furthermore, this solution allows your IT admin to automate the creation, modification, and deletion of accounts. Also, it helps to continuously monitor sessions and generate reports for anomaly identification and investigation. 

Privilege access management solutions focus on preventing credential theft and achieving compliance. 

  • Credential theft involves threat actors stealing login information to gain unauthorized access. A PAM solution mitigates this risk by enforcing just-in-time and just-enough access and multi-factor authentication for all admin identities and accounts. 

  • Compliance requirements, such as least-privilege policies, can be enforced using PAM, allowing organizations to prove compliance by generating reports on privileged user activity.

    Additionally, it automates the user lifecycle, monitors and records privileged accounts, secures remote access, and controls third-party access. PAM solutions are adaptable to diverse contexts, including devices (Internet of Things), cloud environments, and DevOps projects. The threat of privileged access misuse poses significant cybersecurity risks, and PAM solutions provide robust features to proactively address this concern. 

    But why is it so important? Let's find out.

Why Is Privileged Access Management Important?

Privileged access management (PAM) holds significant importance in any organization because, in every organization, there are privileged accounts that need to be managed. Moreover, privileged accounts pose a substantial risk to the organization. Why is that? 

  • For example, if a malicious/threat actor compromises a standard user account, they can only access specific user information. But, if they somehow manage to infiltrate a privileged user account, they will have more access, and depending on the privileged account's access level, they can even potentially sabotage the organization's systems.

    Due to the privileged account's status and profile, cybercriminals specifically target them to compromise entire organizations rather than individual users. However, a PAM solution addresses such security risks and vulnerabilities with ease. 

  • For example, enforcing password policies mitigates the risk associated with long-standing static passwords that admins may be hesitant to change due to concerns about unplanned disruptions by enforcing password policies. This policy instructs users to change their passwords at periodic intervals to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

    In short, privileged access management effectively manages secure access and simplifies the setup of administrator user accounts, elevated access rights, and configuration for cloud applications. In the context of IT security, PAM plays a crucial role in minimizing an organization's potential points of vulnerability. It achieves this by decreasing the attack surface, which includes networks, servers, and identities. Furthermore, PAM helps lower the risk of data breaches stemming from both internal and external cybersecurity threats. Essentially, PAM is positioned as a proactive measure to fortify an organization's overall cybersecurity posture.

    However, that's not all; privileged access management solutions also offer other benefits. 

Benefits Of Privileged Access Management 

The more privileges and access a user or account holds the likelihood of potential access abuse, errors, and security breaches increases. However, by implementing privileged access management, your IT teams can minimize the risk of a security breach and restrict the impact of a breach if it occurs. PAM is not restricted to this only; it further offers other benefits as well, which include: 

  • Minimizes Attack Surface: By limiting privileges for individuals, processes, and applications, PAM reduces the pathways and entry points for exploitation, safeguarding against both internal and external threats.

  • Reduces Malware Impact: Many types of malware, relying on elevated privileges for installation or execution, can be thwarted by removing excessive privileges through least privilege enforcement across the enterprise. This helps prevent malware from gaining a foothold or limits its spread.

  • Enhances Operational Performance: Restricting privileges to the minimal range required for authorized activities reduces the likelihood of compatibility issues between applications or systems and lowers the risk of downtime.

  • Easier Compliance Achievement: By limiting potentially privileged activities, PAM creates a less complex and more audit-friendly environment, making achieving and demonstrating compliance easier.

  • Support for Cyber Insurance Requirements: PAM controls are recognized by cyber insurers as effective measures in risk reduction and threat prevention. Consequently, many cyber insurance providers mandate PAM controls for renewing or obtaining new cyber liability coverage.

  • Alignment with Compliance Regulations: Various compliance regulations, including HIPAA, PCI DSS, FDDC, Government Connect, FISMA, and SOX, necessitate implementing least privilege access policies. This helps ensure that data is managed correctly and systems are secure.

Now let’s learn about some best practices to implement privileged access management effectively. 

6 Best Practises For Privileged Access Management

Listed below are the expert-recommended privileged access management best practices that can help your IT team strengthen the organization’s security system: 

1. Implement the Principle of Least Privilege

The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is a security policy that suggests restricting user and system accounts to the minimum levels of access or permissions required to perform their functions. So, by enforcing this security policy, PAM can limit access to resources to only those users or accounts that require privileged access, preventing unnecessary exposure and reducing the potential for security breaches.

2. Keep Track of All Privileged Accounts

To effectively manage privileged accounts, it is crucial to maintain a comprehensive inventory of all accounts with privileged access. This includes tracking user accounts, service accounts, and any other entities with elevated/excessive privileges. This inventory forms the foundation for a successful PAM solution, enabling organizations to monitor, control, and secure privileged access effectively.

3. Consider Granting Temporary Privilege Access

Rather than providing continuous privileged access, consider a model of temporary privilege escalation. This involves granting elevated privileges to a user only when needed and revoking those privileges once the specific task is completed. This approach minimizes the window of opportunity for potential misuse of privileged access and enhances overall security.

4. Use Role-Based Access Control

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is another security access policy that assigns permissions to roles rather than individual users. By implementing RBAC, PAM can help your IT team ensure that users only have privileged access that is suitable for their designation or role. 

For example, if every user had admin-level access, there is a higher likelihood of security breaches and increasing surface attacks. So, assigning user access as per their role will help IT teams have more granular control over privileged access, making the environment more secure and manageable.

5. Automate Access Management Tasks

Automation involves using technology to perform tasks without human intervention. By considering automation, PAM can help your IT team effectively automate access management tasks, reducing the risk of human error and enhancing the efficiency of information security processes. By using PAM’s automated workflows, your IT team can seamlessly automate tasks like provisioning and de-provisioning privileged accounts, ensuring consistency and minimizing the likelihood of configuration errors.

6. Monitor, Log, and Audit

Continuous monitoring, logging, and auditing of privileged account activity are fundamental to a robust PAM strategy. Monitoring lets your IT team detect and respond to suspicious behavior in real-time. Logging involves recording all relevant events related to privileged access. And lastly, regular audits of these logs are crucial for reviewing and analyzing historical data, identifying potential risks, and implementing measures to address security concerns proactively. The audit process ensures that the organization remains vigilant and responsive to evolving threats.

After going through PAM’s importance, benefits, and best practices, you might consider opting for a privileged access management solution. But what features should be looked for in a PAM solution? 

Key Features To Look For In A Privileged Access Management Solution 

Listed below are the expert-recommended privileged access management best practices that can help your IT team strengthen the organization’s security system: 

  • Privileged Accounts Governance & Credential Management

A poorly managed privileged account can potentially jeopardize an entire enterprise's data security. With privileged account governance, your team can enforce detailed, role-based access controls (RBACs) for users. RBACs play a crucial role in preventing the exploitation of privileged accounts by various threats, including rogue insiders, external attackers targeting unsuspecting employees, negligent staff, malicious ex-employees, remote vendors, and others.

By employing privileged account governance and adhering to the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP), your team can minimize the attack surface by granting users only the necessary, task-specific access levels. This approach enhances security by allowing the secure sharing of privileged credentials and accounts with selected users on a time-limited, need-only basis. 

A robust PAM solution with these features acts as a deterrent against privilege abuse and unauthorized access, promptly alerting your team to any anomalies.

Privileged credential management involves securely vaulting, regularly rotating, and storing privileged credentials and secrets. A PAM solution enables the vaulting of passwords, tokens, and SSH keys, facilitates the retrieval of lost credentials, and ensures the periodic rotation of credentials.

An ideal PAM solution not only supports the secure vaulting and sharing of credentials among human users but also generates credentials, manages privilege brokering, rotates secrets, periodically resets credentials, and oversees the authorization of non-human entities, such as machines, applications, services, and DevOps pipelines.

  • Automated Discovery

Most organizations have thousands of privileged accounts, endpoints, and credentials, making manual discovery challenging. So, look for a PAM tool that allows your IT team to discover privileged accounts and resources through a unified dashboard. With an effective PAM solution, you can also automatically discover the endpoints, services, and credentials linked with the discovered accounts and resources.

  • Privileged Elevation and Delegation Management

PEDM, an integral aspect of privileged access management, provides users with temporary and fine-grained privileges based on specific needs. Granting users elevated privileges and permanent access to privileged accounts poses significant security risks. The persistence of such standing privileges, even if accidentally exposed, allows attackers to enter an organization's most valuable assets.

In PAM solutions, PEDM addresses this challenge by permitting users and applications to access privileged information through a time- and request-oriented approach. Essentially, access to sensitive information is granted for a defined period based on the user's validated requirements, and these privileges are automatically revoked after the stipulated time.

  • Privileged Session Management

Privileged session management involves the continuous real-time monitoring, administration, and recording of sessions associated with privileged access. So opt for a PAM tool that actively helps your IT team actively monitor sessions to promptly terminate any suspicious activities. 

  • Real-time Auditing

The real-time audit log of a privileged session encompasses details such as the nature of the event, the user or application initiating the event (including IP address and device type), the operations conducted throughout the entire session, and the date and time of the event. These audit trails establish accountability for each action, enabling the tracking of suspicious activities and system failures to comprehend their origins.

Moreover, maintaining audit trails for privileged access helps adhere to HIPAA, SOX, and PCI DSS compliance standards. 

Though there are a number of privileged access management tools available in the market, the one that stands out from the rest is Zluri. Zluri offers exceptional features to manage your privileged accounts and users in the organization. Let’s explore what features it offers and how it helps your IT team effectively manage access.

Zluri: Your Go-To Solution To Manage User & Account’s Access 

Zluri is a modern platform offering an access management solution that enables your IT team to manage users and accounts seamlessly with privileged or unprivileged access. It ensures that only the right users can access the organization's SaaS apps, data, and system, which further helps prevent security breaches. 

Zluri’s access management is not only restricted to creating a secure access environment for your users and data; it also helps improve the efficiency and productivity of your IT teams and employees. How does it do that? It automates repetitive IT tasks, such as access granting, modifying, revoking, reviewing, and more. This way, your IT team no longer has to struggle to manually manage these critical IT teams, and your employee(s) gain access to required applications within no time.

Moreover, manual methods are susceptible to errors and consume a lot of time and effort, which could have been utilized in other core activities. With Zluri’s access management, your IT team expedites the process of managing access and maintains compliance with evolving regulatory standards. So, Zluri’s access management is the key to streamlined access management processes, enhancing your organization's security and operational efficiency.

Zluri’s access management offers other functionalities as well. Let's have a quick look at them:

Securely Grants, Modify, And Revoke Access 

Upon the user's (employee) onboarding, Zluri's access management ties the user's profile with digital identity, which further helps your IT team assign the new employee roles. Once the roles are assigned successfully, your team can grant required application access based on their job title/role and responsibility. They can easily determine whether to grant the user privileged access or usual access by analyzing their role. 

But how does Zluri's access management manage users' access upon mid-life cycle changes? It integrates with your organization's HR system; via this integration, Zluri provides your IT team with updated user identity details in a centralized dashboard. 

For instance, if an employee shifts to a new department/position/role, Zluri's access management will update the same on its dashboard. Accordingly, your IT team can modify the employee's access and revoke the no longer required access.

Additionally, for the convenience of employees during transition, Zluri's access management offers an Employee App Store, a self-serve model. EAS is a collection of IT team-approved SaaS applications, so your employees can choose any application from this collection and gain quick access to it within no time upon the IT team's approval.

Employee App Store

Lastly, when an employee's tenure ends, your IT team can promptly revoke access from the departing employee without missing out on critical steps.

Provides Users Access To Only What Is Essential 

Zluri’s access management helps your IT team ensure that only the right users have access to authorized applications with the right level of permissions at the required time. How does it do that? It enforces different access security policies to manage and control user access, which are role-based access control (RBAC), segregation of duties (SoD), the principle of least privilege access (PoPL), and just-in-time access.

  • Role-based access control- By implementing RBAC with Zluri’s access management, your IT team can assign individual users (employee(s)) access based on their roles and responsibilities to perform everyday tasks. By doing so, your IT team can ensure employees only have access to resources (apps, data, and systems) required for their job role, preventing unauthorized access attempts and insider threats. 

  • Segregation of duties: By enforcing SoD, it enables your IT team to prevent a conflict of interest by ensuring no single employee/user holds all the power and sole responsibility for specific IT tasks. This further helps ensure no partiality during decision-making by assigning different employees to manage different aspects of a task. 

  • The principle of least privilege: By implementing PoLP, Zluri’s access management, your IT team can grant employees with minimal or limited access to SaaS apps, data, and systems. This way, your IT team can eliminate the likelihood of over-provisioning or granting excessive privileges.

  • Just-in-time access: Zluri’s access management securely enables your IT team to grant employees temporary or just-in-time access to required apps for a specific duration. This way, your team can reduce the attack surface caused by standing privileges. This way, your team improves employee experience by granting required timely access while maintaining security.

Actively Monitors And Analyses User Access 

Zluri’s access management thoroughly tracks who can access what and checks if anyone has more access or privileged access than they need. If it finds any issues or violations, your IT team can promptly change the user's access permissions, ensuring only the right users have the right level of access. This way, your IT team can prevent security breaches that may occur from employees holding excessive permissions or privileged access permissions. 

That's not all; it also sends real-time notifications if any users attempt to access apps not authorized to access as per their role. This alert enables your team to take immediate action, like restricting or suspending user accounts if required, to maintain a secure access environment. 

Actively Monitors And Analyses User Access

Conducts Timely Audits 

Zluri’s access management conducts regular/periodic access audits to ensure each employee has the necessary access permissions to SaaS apps, data, and systems and nothing more than that. If there is any misalignment in their access permissions, your IT team and reviewers can run deprovisioning playbooks or modify access playbooks. By doing so, your team can revoke access from users not required for their roles or modify the access/ privileged access. 

Conducts Timely Audits

Also, you can adhere to stringent compliance regulations, such as GDPR and HIPAA with Zluri’s access management. This proactive approach aids in averting potential legal repercussions and financial penalties linked to non-compliance. Also, you can avoid getting into trouble and having to pay fines.

Furthermore, it also records the entire review process and generates access logs/audit trails and reports to show as evidence to auditors that your team has enforced a secure access control policy effectively and adhered to compliance without fail. 

Audit logs

Now that you know how Zluri can be your ideal solution to simplify access management, why wait longer? Book a demo now and view all the other exquisite access management capabilities that Zluri offers in real-time.


What Is The Difference Between IAM and PAM?

PAM tools offer automated control and surveillance for various privileged accounts, establishing a genuine 'Trust No One' system. Meanwhile, IAM manages regular user accounts within the organization.  

What Is Privileged Credential Management?

Privileged credential management is the process of securely storing, sharing, creating, and managing privileged passwords. It is also widely known as privileged password management, enterprise password management, or enterprise password security.

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