Privileged access management (PAM) consists of the cybersecurity strategies and technologies for exerting control over the elevated (“privileged”) access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems across an IT environment. By dialing in the appropriate level of privileged access controls, PAM helps organizations condense their organization’s attack surface, and prevent, or at least mitigate, the damage arising from external attacks as well as from insider malfeasance or negligence.
While privilege management encompasses many strategies, a central goal is the enforcement of least privilege, defined as the restriction of access rights and permissions for users, accounts, applications, systems, devices (such as IoT) and computing processes to the absolute minimum necessary to perform routine, authorized activities.
Alternatively referred to as privileged account management, privileged identity management (PIM), or just privilege management, PAM is considered by many analysts and technologists as one of the most important security projects for reducing cyber risk and achieving high security ROI.
The domain of privilege management is generally accepted as falling within the broader scope of identity and access management (IAM). Together, PAM and IAM help to provide fined-grained control, visibility, and auditability over all credentials and privileges.
While IAM controls provide authentication of identities to ensure that the right user has the right access as the right time, PAM layers on more granular visibility, control, and auditing over privileged identities and activities.
Privileges for various user accounts and processes are built into operating systems, file systems, applications, databases, hypervisors, cloud management platforms, etc. Privileges can be also assigned by certain types of privileged users, such as by a system or network administrator.
Depending on the system, some privilege assignment, or delegation, to people may be based on attributes that are role-based, such as business unit, (e.g., marketing, HR, or IT) as well as a variety of other parameters (e.g., seniority, time of day, special circumstance, etc.).