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What Is Privilege Access Management?

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By: Divya Bora

August 12, 2021

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Privilege Access Management(PAM) is considered a combination of technology and tools used to control, secure, and monitor access to an organization's critical resources and information. PAM includes various strategies like application access management, privileged session management, vendor privileged access management, and shared access password management.

PAM aims to minimize the attack surface and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by negligence or external attacks on organizations. Organizations should implement both privileged & identity access management. The second focuses on any user that requires access to a system, whereas the first one concentrates only on privileged accounts or administrative access.


In data innovation, advantages are a power allowed to a given record or interaction inside a figuring framework or organization. It empowers the client to approve superseding or bypassing a couple of explicit security limitations. A few models are consents to close down methodology, designing organizations/frameworks, cloud occurrences, and some more. Tragically, they include the potential for abuse or maltreatment of advantages by insiders or even external programmers, representing a considerable security hazard for the association.

For the most part, authorizations for different client records and cycles are incorporated into the working framework, document frameworks, applications, data sets, cloud the executive’s stages, and so forth. A framework or organization director can appoint explicit kinds of them to advantaged clients according to their requirements and set different boundaries.


The PAM administrator uses a portal to define methods to access the privileged account across various enterprise resources and applications. They also include policies and conditions. The account credentials are securely stored in a password vault.

Once the access is logged, it remains temporary to perform some specific tasks exclusively by the user. PAM ensures its security by asking the user to provide their business justification for using the account so the system can log it. Sometimes, the manager's approval is required. Frequently, the user doesn't have access to the actual passwords used to log into the applications, whereas the permissions to the user through PAM. PAM's responsibility is to ensure that passwords are frequently changed automatically at regular intervals or after each use as the PAM administrator chooses.

The administrator can monitor any user's account activity and manage live sessions in real-time as and when required. In addition, modern PAM has built-in machine learning algorithms to identify any anomalies and uses risk scoring to alert the responsible about any risky operations in real-time.


In the least privilege environment, most of the time, maximum users operate with non-privileged accounts. Non-privileged accounts are also called least privilege accounts (LUA) and consist of two types:

Standard user accounts

These accounts have a restricted set of privileges like internet browsing, accessing a limited amount of resources, and specific types of applications defined by role-based access policies in most cases.

Guest user accounts

These accounts have fewer privileges than standard user accounts and are restricted to fundamental application access with internet browsing functionality.

A Privileged record alludes to a record that approaches and advantages past those of non-favored clients. They represent a considerable danger since they have more abilities. One of them is known as superuser accounts. types of pam accounts

A few examples of privileged accounts commonly found in the organizations are:

  • Superuser Account- These are the accounts that have unparalleled access to systems across the entire network. They are often used to create or maintain other user accounts and grant or revoke permissions when required. They can make systemic changes across a network, like creating or removing files, servers, and devices. Generally, every organization has at least one such account.

  • Local Administrative Account- These are non-personal accounts that provide administrative access to the localhost or instance. These are usually used daily by the IT staff to maintain servers, network devices, databases, and workstations. They often have the same password for the entire platform or organization to make it easy to use, making them a soft target for advanced threats.

  • Privileged User Account- These are accounts with named credentials that have been provided with administrative privileges on one or more systems. They have access granted on an enterprise network, and so these accounts use a unique and complex password. Accounts with such permission and access need to be continuously monitored for their use.

  • Domain Administrative Account- These are accounts with privileged access to all the servers and workstations within the specified domain. They provide the most robust and extensive access to the resources within a network, and so they are comparatively less in number. These accounts have complete control over all the domain controllers and can modify the membership of any administrative account within the domain. So the organization should make sure their credentials are strong and complex because the compromise of one such account can pose a risk.

  • Emergency Account- These are unprivileged accounts that have been granted administrative access to secure the systems in case of an emergency. They are also referred to as ‘break glass’ or ‘firecall’ accounts.

  • Service Account- These accounts can be privileged local or domain accounts used by a service or application to interact with the operating system. Local service accounts interact with various Windows components making it difficult to coordinate the passwords.

  • Active Directory or Domain Service Account- These accounts require coordination across multiple systems making password changes difficult. So service account passwords are rarely changed to avoid the problem-posing a significant risk to the organization's security.

  • Application Account- These are privileged accounts used by applications to access databases, provide access to other applications, or run scripts. They have wide access to the organization’s information as they deal with applications and databases. Usually, passwords for such accounts are embedded and stored in unencrypted text files.

Privileged credentials also go by the name Privileged passwords. It can likewise be related to human, administration records, or applications. Forrester Research assessed that 80% of the security penetrates include special accreditations. Privileged account passwords are alluded to as "the way into the IT realm" since we consider the instance of superuser passwords in such a case that they can furnish validated clients with unhindered restricted admittance rights to the most basic situation and information. Insiders and hackers abuse the superuser's force.


The potential for misuse or abuse increments as more advantages and access are permitted to a client account. PAM can destroy numerous marks of the cyberattack chain, securing against both outer and inner attacks. Few benefits of PAM are:
benefits of pam chart

  • Ensures compliance

Numerous regulations require granular management of privileged user access and the ability to audit access. Using PAM, one can restrict access to sensitive systems, require multiple authentications or approvals and curb the activities creating a more audit-friendly environment. The auditing tools used in PAM systems record activities and also provide a clear audit trail. PAM assists organizations in complying with regulations like PCI DSS, ISO 27002, HIPAA, ICS CERT, SOX, FISMA, and FDCC.

  • Enhances operational performance and productivity

PAM allows users to log into the required systems faster and relieves the cognitive burden of retaining the passwords in their memory. In addition, the superuser can easily manage privileged user access from a central location rather than using different systems and applications. So It restricts privileges to a minimal range of processes to perform an authorized activity; thus, reducing the chance of incompatibility issues between the applications or systems and the risk of downtime.

  • Condenses attack surface

PAM condenses the attack surface by limiting privileges for people, processes, and applications to protect against internal and external threats. When the privileges have been limited, the pathways and entrances for exploits are diminished in a way. Since many attacks are from bad actors within the organization or disgruntled employees whose access has not been fully de-provisioned after their departure, PAM plays a crucial role in reducing such attacks.

  • Protects against cybercriminals

Privileged users face challenges remembering multiple passwords and hence tend to use the same passwords for numerous platforms. These users are likely to be targeted by cybercriminals. The PAM system reduces this and avoids users creating local/direct system passwords. Most of the malware requires elevated privileges to install or execute. The least privilege enforcement done in PAM removes these excessive privileges, prevents the malware from gaining a foothold, and reduces the damage caused by its spread. Session management and alerts help the super admin identify potential attacks in real-time.

Privileged Access Management Basics is a course specifically designed to strengthen the basics of Privileged Access Management for a beginner. Privileged Access Management Fundamentals will provide a complete summary of PAM and make the topics covered in this article clearer. For an intermediate, Privileged Access Management will be a perfect start.


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