Privileged User Access Reviews: Definition & Best Practices


Centered around the concept of least privilege, IT teams adopt privileged access management (PAM) to limit sensitive data access. This involves assigning distinct "privileges" exclusively to chosen users, mitigating data breach risks. 

While this method effectively lowers threats, ensuring compliance requires the crucial step of auditing privileged user activities.

Privileged user audits provide crucial insights, aiding proactive anomaly detection. They empower IT teams to fine-tune access controls, strengthen security, and promptly address potential risks.

Privileged user access review/audit refers to the systematic process of evaluating and scrutinizing the access rights and permissions granted to privileged users within an organization's digital ecosystem. These privileged users often hold elevated access levels, granting them authority to manipulate critical systems, sensitive data, and crucial applications. 

The access review aims to ensure that these privileged users maintain only the necessary and appropriate access levels, reducing security risks, preventing unauthorized actions, and upholding compliance with industry regulations. This comprehensive assessment allows organizations to manage access privileges effectively, minimize potential vulnerabilities, and maintain a robust security posture.

For instance, consider a scenario in a financial institution where a senior financial analyst has privileged access to sensitive customer data and financial reports. The IT team periodically examines the analyst's access permissions as part of the privileged user access review. They verify whether the access granted aligns with the analyst's current role, responsibilities, and job requirements. If the analyst has recently changed roles or responsibilities, the review will prompt adjustments to their access rights, preventing unauthorized access to information they no longer need.

By conducting regular privileged user access reviews, your IT teams can mitigate security risks by ensuring that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive systems and data. It also aids in complying with regulations by demonstrating that access privileges are well-maintained and appropriate, reducing the chances of insider threats and unauthorized data breaches.

The Significance of Privileged User Access Review:-

  • Mitigating Security Risks: Privileged user access review minimizes security vulnerabilities. Your IT teams can significantly reduce the potential for unauthorized breaches and malicious activities by consistently evaluating and adjusting access privileges.

  • Ensuring Regulatory Compliance: Conducting thorough reviews of privileged user access aligns with regulatory requirements and industry standards. This practice demonstrates a commitment to maintaining data integrity, protecting sensitive information, and meeting compliance obligations.

  • Preventing Insider Threats: Privileged user access review safeguards against insider threats. It provides a mechanism to detect and address any unauthorized or suspicious activities conducted by privileged users, preventing potential breaches and data leaks from within the organization.

3 Key Components of Privileged User Access Review

The 3 key components of Privileged User Access Review typically include:

  1. Identification of Privileged Users: This involves recognizing individuals within the organization who hold elevated access rights and permissions, typically associated with critical systems and sensitive data.

  2. Regular Access Auditing: Conducting frequent and systematic assessments to scrutinize the access activities of privileged users. These audits ensure that access privileges remain aligned with job roles and responsibilities.

  3. Evaluation of Access Rights: An in-depth analysis of the specific permissions granted to privileged users. This evaluation ensures that their access is appropriate, adheres to the principle of least privilege, and is in line with security protocols.

6 Best Practices for Auditing Privileged User Activity

Let's explore the essential best practices for auditing privileged user activity, providing a strategic roadmap to strengthen your defenses, guarantee compliance, and uphold the integrity of your digital resources.

1. Create an Inventory Of Privileged Accounts/Users

First and foremost, initiate the process by creating a comprehensive inventory of privileged accounts. This involves meticulously documenting all individuals, whether human or automated, who possess the authority to manipulate networks and devices, manage user profiles and privileges, or gain entry to confidential and sensitive information. This inventory is crucial for understanding the scope of privileged access and potential points of vulnerability.

These categories may include:

  • Privileged users holding administrative privileges, encompassing the capability to execute commands, effectuate alterations in system configurations, and bestow or withdraw access rights.

  • Service accounts vested with the ability to interact with operating systems, carry out alterations, and execute scheduled tasks.

  • Transient infrastructure components such as containers, Kubernetes, and serverless frameworks.

  • External users beyond your organizational boundaries, such as third-party vendors and contractors.

  • Privileged business users who hold access to sensitive data, contributing to their elevated status.

You can implement comprehensive security measures, robust monitoring, and precise access controls by accurately pinpointing and cataloging these privileged users. This practice enhances the integrity of sensitive information and bolsters the organization's ability to detect and mitigate potential security breaches. Thus, it ultimately helps to safeguard digital assets and maintain operational continuity.

2. Continuously Monitor & Document Privileged Activities

Among the leading causes of data breaches, privileged credential misuse stands out prominently. While some organizations may view shifting through traditional log data as a viable option, privileged access management (PAM) eliminates the need for this process.

The automated monitoring capabilities of PAM alleviate the drain on time and the delay between breach occurrence and its discovery. Thus, freeing up teams from prolonged data analysis and enabling them to focus on swift issue resolution.

Through vigilant surveillance and systematic recording of privileged user actions, your team gains the ability to promptly detect suspicious conduct and intercept incidents as they unfold. This real-time vigilance not only bolsters security but also allows for effortless retrieval of past activities, ensuring a reliable repository of historical data for resolving disputes. 

In the event of an audit, having well-documented privileged activities streamlines the process. Auditors can easily trace user actions, verify compliance with policies, and assess whether access rights align with business requirements. This documentation also aids in identifying any deviations from normal behavior, enabling auditors to focus on potential security threats or non-compliance issues.

Thus, continuous monitoring and documentation of privileged activities stand as cornerstones of a robust cybersecurity strategy. By vigilantly observing and recording the actions of privileged users, you can effectively manage risks, detect and respond to potential threats, and uphold compliance standards.

 3. Assess the Patterns & Usage of Privileged Users

One of the fundamental aspects of effective privileged user activity auditing is the thorough assessment of patterns and usage exhibited by these users. Privileged users, often holding elevated access levels, have the potential to wield significant influence over critical systems and sensitive data within an organization. Therefore, it becomes crucial to closely monitor and understand their behavior to ensure security, compliance, and risk mitigation.

By reviewing the patterns and usage of privileged users, organizations can achieve several key objectives:

  • Detection of Anomalies: Regularly analyzing the activities of privileged users allows for the swift identification of unusual or suspicious behavior. Deviations from established patterns could indicate unauthorized access attempts, data breaches, or other security incidents.

  • Early Threat Identification: Monitoring usage patterns empowers security teams to detect potential threats at an early stage. Identifying unusual access timings, locations, or actions can provide insights into potential insider threats or external attacks.

  • Proactive Incident Response: A deep understanding of how privileged users interact with systems and data enables your team to proactively respond to incidents. By recognizing abnormal behavior promptly, security teams can take swift action to mitigate risks and prevent potential breaches.

  • Compliance and Accountability: Auditing privileged user patterns aid in maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements. Organizations can demonstrate that access to sensitive resources is being monitored, ensuring accountability and transparency.

To effectively assess the patterns and usage of privileged users, organizations should:

  • Implement robust monitoring tools that capture user activities and generate comprehensive logs.

  • Define baseline behavior for privileged users, including typical access times, locations, and actions.

  • Continuously analyze activity logs to identify deviations from established patterns.

  • Regularly review and update baseline behavior based on evolving usage patterns and organizational changes.

By diligently assessing the patterns and usage of privileged users, organizations can significantly enhance their security posture, mitigate risks, and safeguard critical assets and data from potential breaches or unauthorized access.

4. Establish Accountability & Ownership

A fundamental pillar of robust security practices lies in establishing clear accountability and ownership for auditing privileged user activity within an organization. This step is crucial in ensuring that privileged user actions are monitored, analyzed, and managed with diligence and precision.

Here's how establishing accountability and ownership enhances the auditing process for privileged user activity:

  • Clearly Defined Roles: Assign specific roles and responsibilities to individuals or teams responsible for overseeing and conducting auditing activities. This ensures that the right individuals can monitor privileged user actions and respond to potential security incidents.

  • End-to-End Oversight: Accountability ensures that every stage of the auditing process, from data collection to analysis and reporting, is managed by designated personnel. This holistic approach helps prevent gaps in monitoring and analysis.

  • Effective Collaboration: Establishing ownership fosters collaboration among different departments, such as IT security, compliance, and internal audit teams. This collaborative effort ensures a well-rounded approach to auditing privileged user activity.

  • Continuous Improvement: Accountable individuals or teams can continuously refine and optimize auditing processes based on evolving security requirements and emerging threats. Ownership promotes a proactive mindset toward enhancing the effectiveness of auditing practices.

  • Transparency and Reporting: Clear ownership contributes to transparent reporting and documentation of auditing procedures. This transparency is essential for demonstrating compliance with regulatory standards and internal policies.

To establish accountability and ownership for auditing privileged user activity:

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities for each stage of the auditing process.

  • Assign accountable individuals or teams who are knowledgeable and experienced in privileged user activity monitoring.

  • Foster open communication channels among stakeholders to ensure effective collaboration.

  • Develop protocols for timely response and resolution of detected anomalies.

  • Regularly review and update ownership assignments to adapt to organizational changes.

Organizations can elevate the effectiveness of their privileged user activity auditing efforts by instilling a sense of ownership and accountability. This proactive approach improves security, streamlines compliance, and enhances the protection of critical systems and sensitive data.

5. Set Real-Time Alerts for Risky Behaviours

For auditing privileged user activity, one pivotal step to ensure comprehensive security is the implementation of real-time alerts for detecting and addressing risky behaviors. These alerts serve as a proactive defense mechanism, enabling IT teams to swiftly respond to potential threats and unauthorized actions carried out by privileged users.

This step involves the following key considerations:

  • Identifying Risk Indicators: Collaborate with security experts to define the parameters and criteria that signify risky behaviors. These indicators range from unusual access patterns, unauthorized account activities, or attempts to breach security protocols.

  • Customizing Alert Triggers: Tailor alert triggers to align with your organization's risk tolerance and specific requirements. Fine-tuning these triggers ensures that alerts are only generated for events that genuinely want attention.

  • Immediate Notification: Alerts should be designed to provide real-time notifications to designated individuals or teams. This swift communication empowers your security personnel to promptly investigate and respond to potential threats.

  • Granular Configuration: Implement a granular approach to alert configuration, allowing you to adjust the severity level of alerts and the recipients based on the nature of the detected behavior.

  • Continuous Monitoring: Regularly review and refine alert settings to adapt to evolving threats and changing operational dynamics. Continuous monitoring ensures your alert system remains effective and aligned with emerging risks.

Your organization gains a proactive shield against security vulnerabilities by setting up real-time alerts for risky behaviors. Rapid response to suspicious activities helps prevent potential breaches and unauthorized access, enabling you to uphold the integrity of your systems, data, and sensitive resources.

6. Create Auditing Workflows for Seamless Monitoring

Creating well-designed auditing workflows is pivotal to establishing a seamless and comprehensive monitoring system within your organization. These workflows serve as a strategic roadmap, guiding the entire process of auditing privileged user activity precisely and consistently. Further, implementing an auditing workflow guarantees uniformity and adherence to regulations throughout your organization. 

Whether it involves tailoring actions based on risk-centric behavior or delineating and executing a reporting cycle, your auditing workflow caters to your specific needs. You can collaborate with relevant stakeholders to establish and align the sequence of steps and arrange periodic workflow reviews to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.

A well-organized process provides clear instructions to your IT admins for auditing, especially its ability to be repeated. A defined workflow helps admins catch problems early and control privileged accounts, reducing the chances of attacks. Therefore, setting up your auditing workflow needs careful attention because its effectiveness is crucial. 

Furthermore, workflows established under previous processes or leadership must undergo reevaluation and refinement to align with current process goals. An audit workflow serves as a valuable tool for identifying gaps and making necessary adjustments to match present objectives.

As organizations strive to maintain robust security postures, these practices are essential for safeguarding critical assets and data from unauthorized access and breaches. 

Amidst this complexity, a platform-Zluri- is designed to guide you seamlessly through it all. Let's explore how it works without any inconvenience.

Enhance PAM Auditing With Zluri's Access Reviews

As the SaaS adoption gains momentum and the work environment becomes more decentralized, your employees now find it more convenient to acquire privileged access rights. Yet, this convenience is accompanied by an elevated complexity in efficiently overseeing and regulating these privileges. To establish an environment that is secure and aligns with regulations, assigning the right level of permissions to the right individuals is imperative. This is precisely where Zluri's identity governance and administration (IGA) solution takes center stage, transforming the landscape of access management. 

Zluri's IGA

Through Zluri’s IGA solution, you can streamline the process of IT audits, maintain regulatory compliance, and exercise effective control over who can access what. Its IGA solution boasts a robust access review feature designed for analyzing user access, simplifying the task of managing and assessing users' permissions. This functionality plays a significant role in mitigating security risks and providing you with enhanced authority over user access within your organization.

IGA solutions

So, how does Zluri make this possible? To monitor user app access, the initial step is pinpointing and identifying all the SaaS systems and applications in operation. With its SaaS management platform, Zluri presents a centralized hub to access a comprehensive roster of all the applications integrated into your organization's SaaS infrastructure. This equips your IT teams with an extensive view of your organization's SaaS landscape.

This newfound clarity empowers IT teams to proficiently oversee user access throughout the SaaS framework. You can process access requests and conduct thorough reviews to ensure conformity with requisite regulations and uphold suitable access privileges.

Now, let's delve into the mechanics of its operation:

  • Elevate your users' data with Zluri's unified access.

Zluri introduces unified access, which streamlines the intricate process of attaining clear insight into users' access across diverse systems and applications. By presenting consolidated access, Zluri enhances your organization's security measures, enhances operational effectiveness, and upholds adherence to industry mandates. The components of unified access encompass:

  • Access Directory: With Zluri, you attain centralized authority over your organization's access directory. This provides a comprehensive overview of who holds access to specific resources and applications. Such clarity is essential for upholding security and preventing unauthorized entry. This insight empowers you to swiftly address potential vulnerabilities and ensure data protection.

Let's take the scenario of an organization with numerous departments and numerous employees, where the complexity of access permissions resembles an intricate web of digital pathways. This boasts a diverse array of departments, each with its own set of applications, databases, and systems that employees require access to to perform their roles effectively.

As this company operates across various geographic locations and industries, its digital infrastructure has grown in tandem, resulting in an intricate mosaic of user roles, access lists, and permissions. The finance department necessitates access to sensitive financial data, while the research and development team requires entry to proprietary research databases. Meanwhile, the marketing division relies on collaborative tools and customer databases. 

Each department's requirements for access are unique, reflecting the specific functions they perform. Keeping tabs on who possesses access to what becomes a challenging task. In this intricate digital tapestry, Zluri simplifies this complexity, granting you an access rights overview that guarantees a secure environment for sensitive data. It offers a completed directory of multiple access lists, permissions, and user roles spanning various applications.

  • Access Privileges: Grasping user access privileges is vital for effective access management. Zluri lets you establish and oversee user roles, departments, and other relevant details that define their access. These contextual elements could include job roles, project involvement, or pertinent data.

    With this precise control, you ensure that each user is limited to the necessary resources for their specific responsibilities, thus minimizing the risk of breaches and enhancing overall security.
    Imagine a marketing team member responsible for social media management, requiring access to specific tools. Zluri allows you to allocate exact access to fulfill their role efficiently. The user gains entry to social media platforms and necessary marketing tools while being restricted from sensitive parts of your IT setup.

  • Activity & Alerts: Timely understanding of user actions is essential to maintaining a strong security stance for your organization. Zluri provides essential insights into user activities, including details like their recent logins and logouts across diverse applications. These insights enable you to monitor user conduct and promptly identify any anomalous behaviors that might indicate potential security risks.

    Furthermore, Zluri offers a preemptive notification system. You'll promptly receive alerts via email whenever there are uncommon activities or potential security breaches. This proactive system empowers you to respond swiftly, reducing the repercussions of security events and guaranteeing the overall well-being of your IT ecosystem.

  • Enhance your access review procedure through automation
    Zluri provides the tools for automated review functionalities, guaranteeing a smooth access control framework. Utilizing Zluri's automated review features, you can confidently uphold security measures and protect your confidential information, all while maintaining adherence to regulatory obligations. The automated review capabilities offered by Zluri encompass the following:

  1. Access Rules/Guidelines: Zluri's access insights equip you with an extensive comprehension of your organization's access framework. These insights lay the groundwork for crafting precise access guidelines.
    For example, if you pinpoint unnecessary access to sensitive data among specific employees, you can promptly formulate rules to curtail their permissions, thereby bolstering data security.

  2. Scheduled certification: Zluri simplifies the validation process by enabling proactive scheduling of certifications. After acquiring valuable insights, you can take action by arranging certification tasks.

    Scheduling certifications

These certifications ascertain whether employees' access adheres to organizational policies and regulatory mandates. Through scheduled certifications, you ensure that access permissions remain current and compliant at all times.

3.Automated Remediation: Zluri propels access management and governance to the next level by introducing automated remediation capabilities. This robust functionality transcends routine reviews and takes active measures in response to access violations.

Whenever the system detects unauthorized access or potential security breaches, it promptly initiates corrective actions for immediate resolution. This proactive strategy elevates your organization's security stance and effortlessly ensures adherence to industry benchmarks.

Consider a scenario where a user within your marketing team experiences growth or transitions to a new role; Zluri streamlines the process of adjusting access privileges accordingly. Whether it involves a promotion or a change in responsibilities, modifying access privileges seamlessly aligns with the user's updated role.

Similarly, if a user possesses unnecessary access, auto-remediation swiftly revokes such access, effectively mitigating potential security concerns.

To put it concisely, conventional manual access reviews demand substantial time and human resources. These involve intricate coordination across departments, data compilation, and cross-referencing access authorizations. These endeavors can be wearisome and vulnerable to human oversights, potentially resulting in compliance challenges or security vulnerabilities.

Zluri's automated review system significantly alleviates the challenges posed by manual efforts, reducing them by an impressive 70%. Thus, it accelerates the review process 10 times faster. This intelligent automation takes on arduous tasks, encompassing data collection, consolidation, and analysis of access patterns. This efficiency grants your IT team more bandwidth to concentrate on strategic endeavors.

Embrace Effortless Access Review Automation with Zluri

Automated review access

Let's delve into the steps involved in automating access reviews using Zluri:

Step 1: Go to Zluri's main interface and navigate to the "Access Certification" module.

Step 2: Create an access certification by selecting "Create a New Certification." Assign an appropriate certification title and designate a responsible owner.

Step 3: Within the certification setup, opt for your preferred method of reviewing user access—by either Application or Users.

Reviews access certifications

For instance, if you opt for reviewing access by Application, include the relevant application to audit users' access.

Step 4: Designate a primary and fallback reviewer from the provided drop-down menu. Upon selecting the reviewers, proceed by clicking "Next."

Please Note: Primary reviewers typically are app owners. Further, choose the fallback reviewer carefully whom you think is responsible. A fallback reviewer is necessary in cases when the primary reviewer is unavailable.

Reviews access certifications

Step 5: Opt for specific users to be included in the certification procedure. Additionally, customize data filters such as user department, job title, usage, and other criteria to align with your certification requisites. To continue click "Next."

Kindly Note: Select pertinent data points that you want your reviewers to access during the review. By adeptly filtering criteria, you accelerate informed decision-making, streamlining the review process for optimal efficiency.

Certification process

Step 6: Configure actions based on your requirements, selecting from the available drop-down options. For instance, in the case of a rejection action, you can opt for the corresponding deprovisioning playbook to revoke users' unnecessary access. Upon configuring the action, click "Add Applications."

Please Note: AOpt for specific users to be included in the certification procedure. Additionally, customize data filters such as user department, job title, usage, and other criteria to align with your certification requisites

Access certification

Step 7: Establish the commencement and conclusion dates for the certification process, aligning with your desired timeframe for review completion.

Additional Note: For future utility, you can save the template by selecting "Save Template."

Step 8: Monitor the automated access review progress by clicking on 'Review Status.' This function allows you to track whether the review is pending, modified, declined, or approved.

Furthermore, you can conveniently oversee the review process through a visual chart. When the review concludes, and the designated reviewer approves it, a simple 'conclude' click promptly dispatches reports to their respective email addresses.

For a deeper understanding of Zluri's access review capabilities and to experience it firsthand, Schedule a Live Demo today.


Mastering SaaS Vendor Management: A Comprehensive Guide-2023

Shadow IT in the SaaS World - A Complete Guide

Introducing Zluri's Modern Identity Governance & Administration platform for the cloud-forward world

SaaS Sprawl - The Ultimate Guide

SaaS Operations (SaaS Ops) - The Complete Guide


Mastering SaaS Vendor Management: A Comprehensive Guide-2023

An obese SaaS stack leads to SaaS wastage. It's a disease! It not only causes financial issues but also gives you security and compliance problems. That's why you must keep tight control on your SaaS stack. And it begins with managing your SaaS vendors. 

Shadow IT in the SaaS World - A Complete Guide

In this post, you'll learn about shadow IT due to SaaS apps. You'll also learn the most common types of shadow apps categories, shadow IT risks, and shadow IT benefits.

Introducing Zluri's Modern Identity Governance & Administration platform for the cloud-forward world

Zluri's Modern IGA solution helps companies mitigate security and compliance risks. Govern access to your SaaS for the entire user lifecycle through user provisioning, automated access reviews, and self-service access requests.

SaaS Sprawl - The Ultimate Guide

When an organization has a large number of SaaS applications in its SaaS stack, it gives rise to SaaS Sprawl.

SaaS Operations (SaaS Ops) - The Complete Guide

SaaS operations consist of procuring the right set of SaaS apps, managing access to these apps by users/departments, monitoring their usage, and offboarding them properly when they are no longer needed.

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