Privileged access management (PAM) is a system that securely handles the accounts of users who have elevated permissions to valuable resources. It simplifies the way organizations define, monitor, and manage privileged access across their network, applications, and infrastructure. PAM enables organizations to reduce the attack surface and mitigate the damage that could arise from external attacks and internal negligence.The core objective of PAM is to restrict access rights of users, accounts, applications, devices, systems, and computing processes to a minimum. This reduces the risks of having company data copied, deleted, or stolen.
What are privileges and how are they determined?
In the context of information technology, privilege is the authority or right given to an account or process to perform certain things within a device or network. It permits the user or application to override or bypass certain security measures, including permissions to shut down systems, load devices drivers, access files, configure networks, provision and configure accounts, and many more.
The role of privilege is something that cannot be overstated. It allows users, applications, and other system processes to access certain resources and complete various tasks. However, it should be noted that this could also be misused or abused by insiders or external attackers, if left unguarded.
Privileges for user accounts and processes are firmly established into operating systems, file systems, applications, hypervisors, databases, and cloud management platforms among others. Certain authorized personnel, such as network administrators, are the ones responsible for delegating them.
How does one determine who to grant privilege to? It depends on several factors. Network administrators could authorize users based on their role in the business unit, their seniority, the time of day, or if there is any special circumstance.
What are Different Types of Privileged Accounts?
Typically, a least privileged environment has users that are working with non-privileged accounts. These accounts are called Least Privileged Accounts (LUA) and they are categorized into two types namely:
Standard user accounts
These only have a few privileges, which include internet browsing and accessing certain types of applications and resources defined by role-based access policies.
Guest user accounts
These possess lesser amount of privileges as compared to standard user accounts. They are only allowed to do basic application access and internet browsing.
Meanwhile, a privileged account is any account that can give access to non-privileged accounts. Privileged users have elevated capabilities and access, making them more at risk of compromising data.
Superuser accounts are a type of privileged account that is primarily used to manage specialized IT employees and provide unrestricted power to perform commands and make system modifications. Superuser accounts are also referred to as “Root” in Linux OS and “Administrator” in Windows OS.
Superuser accounts can allow full access to files, directories, and resources. This means users can read, write, and execute privileges. They are also able to render major system changes across the network such as installing software, creating files, and cancelling permissions of other users. If this account is misused due to an error (e.g. you accidentally deleted a vital file or mistyped a powerful command) or with a malicious objective, it can easily cause damage across the network or the whole organization.
In a Windows-run PC, there is at least one administrator account. This allows the user to execute activities like installing software and changing local configurations and settings. On the other hand, Mac OS X is hardly deployed as a server. Mac users may run with root access by default. To better secure this type of device, a non-privileged account must be created and used for routine activities to limit the likelihood of getting threats.
The common privileged accounts used in organizations include:
- Local administrative accounts – non-personal accounts giving administrative access to local host
- Domain administrative accounts – has privileged administrative access within the domain.
- Break glass accounts – unprivileged users that have administrative powers to secure systems during an emergency
- Service accounts – privileged local or domain accounts utilized by applications to interact with the operating system.
- Active Directory or domain service accounts – allows password changes
- Application accounts – applications use this to access databases, execute batch jobs or scripts, or enable access to other programs
As a best practice, non-IT users should just own a standard user account access. Meanwhile, IT employees can possess multiple accounts, logging in as a standard user to perform daily tasks and logging into a superuser account to handle administrative duties.
Why Should You Use Privileged Access Management Solution?
Having privileged access management should be prioritized by organizations that are looking to protect their data and systems from unauthorized people. After all, nobody wants to expose their valuable resources, compromise sensitive details, and affect system reliability. Having full control over privileged accounts can help prevent attacks on critical systems before they even begin.
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