Securing Networks with Privileged Access Management (PAM)

July 30, 2019 | Views: 2933

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There are critical assets in organizational networks that must be secured from unwarranted or unauthorized access. This could be central servers, payroll data, personally identifiable information, or any other system that requires careful monitoring and regulation. Privileged Access Management, or PAM, is a means to control access to these assets with secured accounts. This section will explore the function of Privileged Access Management, its application in real-world scenarios, and how hackers and cybersecurity professionals work to compromise these accounts.

 
TL;DR: Privileged Access Management, or PAM, is a means of securing powerful user accounts from misuse and malicious activity. The system requires a secured login to a vault of credentials with administrative access. This section breaks down the function of PAM systems, explains real-world examples of PAM accounts, and explores the value of PAM systems as a target for malicious hackers and cybersecurity professionals.
 

Privileged Access Management are certain accounts on a device or network that have access to options that affect all users. An administrator account on an online web service would be secured by Privileged Access Management. A root user account on a UNIX system would also fall under Privileged Access Management. PAM systems1 work by creating an encrypted reserve of secured credentials and a portal to access secured applications. The user must log into the PAM system with their credentials and acquire access to secured accounts.

In some cases, the user must request permission from another member of the organization before proceeding. The ultimate purpose of Privileged Access Management is to protect against malicious attacks. As a result, users often have to state the reason why they are accessing the account. Having a reserve of credentials prevents the need to memorize and update passwords frequently while allowing system administrators to manage many accounts at once.

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Once a PAM system has been installed within an organization, several applications can be utilized in the form of specialized accounts. Domain administrative accounts are the most powerful type of accounts. These accounts have access to control all servers and devices within an organization. Most commonly, privileged user accounts make up the bulk of PAM and portal access systems. For example, a user account with admin controls on a password-secured workstation is a privileged user account. Service accounts are used exclusively by automated services and applications; these typically run in the background and are managed by system administrators. Application accounts include any credentials that must be entered by a user before using an application. Among administrative users, local administrative accounts are most frequently used to handle networking tasks within the organization. Similar to local administrative accounts, emergency accounts are used to handle administrative tasks in the case of an emergency. These accounts typically require the user to go through administrative users before accessing emergency privileges. Finally, Windows Domain Service Accounts are used by PAM systems to access and control built-in Windows network security features. These are frequently used as point of entry for hackers and cybersecurity professionals carrying out penetration tests.

Gaining access to privileged accounts is one of the fastest ways to compromise an organization. Once an attacker has compromised a PAM system, they have access to the organization’s most valuable assets and controls. Assets and controls include systems that are essential to the function of the organization, access to personally identifiable information, and anything else that is considered important enough by the organization to secure. As a result, PAM systems are frequently seen as valuable targets by malicious hackers. The standard methods of attack are employed: password cracking through repeated attempts, password phishing through carefully crafted emails, and password collection through keyloggers and other monitoring software. Password security and secure communications are still essential to organizational security despite the implementation of privileged access management.

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References:

1. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-identity-manager/pam/privileged-identity-management-for-active-directory-domain-services

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