PAM vs PIM: Privileged Identity Management Explained

Identity management involves managing user accounts and regulating their access to resources. PIM (Privileged Identity Management) prioritizes the authentication process, controlling user privileges to minimize data breach risks by preventing unauthorized access. PAM (Privileged Access Management) focuses on the authorization process, monitoring and auditing privileged account usage to prevent potential abuse. IAM (Identity and Access Management) offers a holistic approach to identity management, governing access for all users. It encompasses PIM and PAM, along with additional features such as ILM (Identity Lifecycle Management) and identity federation, providing a comprehensive solution for managing identities and access rights effectively.

Learn How Lepide Helps in Privileged Access Management

What is Privilege?

Individuals and accounts can hold varying levels of privilege, ranging from full system control to limited access. High-level individuals, such as senior IT administrators, possess extensive privileges, including the authority to manage servers and cloud storage. In contrast, low-level individuals, like sales representatives, may only access designated systems and data, with minimal ability to alter configurations. An organization’s network often accommodates a multitude of individuals and accounts with diverse levels of access. For instance, Unix administrators have access to Unix systems, Windows admins manage Windows systems, and Help Desk staff can configure printers.

What is Privileged Access?

Privileged access refers to the authorization granted to a user, process, or computer to access protected resources. It encompasses a broad set of strategies and technologies known as Privileged Access Management (PAM). PAM aims to control elevated access and permissions by employing mechanisms such as access workflows, multi-factor authentication, and session recording.

PAM takes a comprehensive approach, encompassing the control, protection, and monitoring of all privileged access. To maintain security, organizations establish dedicated lists and rules governing privileged users and resources. Such resources fall into three main categories:

Credentials: Usernames, passwords, and emails for both end users and administrators, providing access to sensitive systems.

Production Resources: Direct or indirect access to databases and other resources vital for business operations and continuity.

Sensitive Data: Personal information of both staff and clients, compliance data (e.g., financial, legal, healthcare), and regulated data with potential legal implications. 

What is Privileged Identity Management (PIM)

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) serves as a critical cybersecurity framework for securing access to an organization’s most sensitive accounts. These privileged accounts, often held by administrators, service accounts, or applications, possess elevated permissions that can significantly compromise systems and data if exploited.

PIM enforces the principle of least privilege by meticulously controlling access to privileged accounts. This includes granular control over who can access these accounts, what actions they can perform, and the temporal context surrounding those actions. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and just-in-time (JIT) provisioning further strengthen access controls, minimizing the attack surface and potential misuse windows.

Beyond access control, PIM offers robust session monitoring capabilities. By meticulously logging and auditing privileged account activity, security teams gain invaluable insights into user behavior. This enables them to detect anomalies and potential insider threats that traditional methods might miss.

In essence, PIM acts as a cornerstone for a Zero Trust security model. It mitigates the inherent risks associated with privileged accounts, safeguarding critical infrastructure and sensitive data from both external and internal threats.

PIM vs. PAM: What’s the Difference?

Privileged Identity Management (PIM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) are two distinct approaches to securing highly sensitive resources within an organization.

  • PIM emphasizes resource management, determining access rights based on user roles or attributes to prevent excessive privileges. It aims to distribute access to mitigate the risks associated with superuser or admin overreach.
  • PAM focuses on securing resources by restricting access to authorized identities. It monitors and controls access requests, validating user identities and providing secure access. PAM grants escalated access sparingly and only for a limited duration.

How do PIM and PAM Work?

PIM and PAM are complementary solutions that work together to enhance system security. PIM solutions often integrate with PAM policies and management capabilities, ensuring that privileged access to critical resources is closely monitored and controlled.

To effectively implement a PIM/PAM solution, organizations need to select appropriate tools that can manage both user identities and resource accessibility. The solution connects to the user directory, which holds user credentials and permissions, and establishes a link to a resource management platform.

Through a secure gateway, the solution provides single sign-on access to authorized resources. All user interactions are meticulously logged for auditing purposes. Additionally, administrators can leverage the solution to grant temporary credentials to users who require limited-time access to resources, eliminating the need for constant access privileges.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

To enhance organizational security, it is crucial to implement Identity and Access Management (IAM) mechanisms. IAM policies establish authentication and authorization protocols for users, controlling their access to resources such as hardware, applications, cloud infrastructure, and data. The development of IAM policies involves defining authentication rules to verify user identities and authorization rules to delineate the access permissions assigned to users for specific resources.

Implementing IAM in the Organization

Effective IAM implementation requires a comprehensive resource inventory that identifies all systems, resources, and software requiring protection. User groups should be created with well-defined authorization patterns to streamline access control. Security rules should be implemented to enforce stringent credential management practices, including setting, resetting, and password security best practices.

Additionally, multi-factor authentication protocols can be employed to enhance security. Finally, clear access patterns should be defined for IT resources to ensure that users only access authorized resources within the organization.

Shadow Privileged Access

Shadow privileged access, stemming from unchecked privileges granted to end users, poses significant risks to organizations. This lax security can originate from system administrators or managed IT providers who grant excessive local or domain administrator rights. The absence of monitoring and accountability for privileged access creates blind spots, leaving organizations vulnerable to insider threats and data breaches.

Furthermore, the elevated permissions increase the susceptibility to malware and ransomware attacks. Finally, shadow privileged access can lead to compliance violations and jeopardize the organization’s integrity, exposing it to potential legal and reputational repercussions.

How Lepide Helps with PAM, PIM and IAM

The Lepide Data Security Platform centralizes the management of privileged accounts and credentials, providing enhanced visibility into user permissions and activities. The platform’s data discovery and classification tool automatically locates and classifies sensitive data, facilitating streamlined access management. Continuous monitoring and logging deliver real-time insights into system activity, while customizable alerts promptly detect suspicious behavior. Additionally, the platform seamlessly integrates with existing IT infrastructure, including Active Directory, LDAP, AWS, and Azure, ensuring consistent PAM policies and eliminating security loopholes.

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