If you’re a sysadmin, you’ve heard about the risks associated with many accounts with privileged access to critical IT assets. Read about the best solutions to keep them under control.

The situation with privileged access can quickly get out of control when the number of users grows, together with the number of applications, devices, and even infrastructure types.

You must apply a privileged access management solution to avoid such a problematic situation. Let’s start by answering the most obvious question:

What is Privileged Access Management?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a set of cybersecurity strategies and technologies for exercising control over elevated (“privileged”) access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems in an IT environment.

By defining the appropriate level of privileged access controls, PAM helps organizations reduce their attack surfaces and prevent (or at least mitigate) damage from external attacks, as well as internal attempts at sabotage or acts of negligence.

Although privilege management encompasses many strategies, a central objective is the application of least privilege, defined as the restriction of access rights and permissions to the absolute minimum necessary for users, accounts, applications, and devices to perform their routine authorized activities.

Many analysts and technologists consider PAM one of the most critical security initiatives for reducing cyber risk and achieving a high return on security investment.

How Does Privileged Access Management (PAM) Work?

Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management works on the principle of least privilege so that even the most highly privileged users can access only what they need. Privileged access management tools are usually parts of broader PAM solutions designed to address various challenges related to monitoring, securing, and managing privileged accounts.

A solution designed for privileged access management must provide the ability to monitor and log all privileged access activity and then report it to an administrator. The administrator can keep track of privileged access and detect in which situations it may be being misused.

The solution must make it easy for sysadmins to identify anomalies and potential threats to take immediate action and limit the damage. The essential features of a privileged access management solution should include:

  • Identify, manage and monitor privileged accounts on all systems and applications within a network.
  • Control access to privileged accounts, including access that may be shared or available during emergencies.
  • Create randomized and secure credentials for privileged accounts, including passwords, usernames, and keys.
  • Provide multi-factor authentication.
  • Restrict and control privileged commands, tasks, and activities.
  • Manage credential sharing between services to limit exposure.

PAM vs. IAM

Privileged Access Management (PAM) and Identity Access Management (IAM) are common ways to maintain high levels of security and allow users access to IT assets regardless of location and device.

It’s essential for business and IT staff to understand the difference between the two approaches and their role in using them to secure access to private and sensitive information.

IAM is a more general term. It is primarily used to identify and authorize users throughout the organization. On the other hand, PAM is a subset of IAM that focuses on privileged users, i.e., those who need permission to access the most sensitive data.

IAM refers to identifying, authenticating, and authorizing user profiles that employ unique digital identities. IAM solutions provide enterprises with a combination of features compatible with a zero-trust approach to cybersecurity, which requires users to verify their identity whenever they request access to a server, application, service, or other IT asset.

The following overview of the leading PAM solutions available, both as cloud-based and locally installed on-prem systems.

StrongDM

StrongDM provides an infrastructure access platform that eliminates endpoint solutions and covers all protocols. It is a proxy that combines authentication, authorization, networking, and observability methods in a single platform.

StrongDM

Rather than complicating access, StrongDM’s permission assignment mechanisms speed up access by instantly granting and revoking granular, least-privilege access using role-based access control (RBAC), attribute-based access control (ABAC), or endpoint approvals for all resources.

Employee onboarding and off-boarding are accomplished with a single click, allowing temporary approval of elevated privileges for sensitive operations with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and PagerDuty.

StrongDM allows you to connect each end user or service to the exact resources they require, regardless of their location. Additionally, it replaces VPN access and bastion hosts with zero-trust networks.

StrongDM has numerous automation options, including integrating access workflows into your existing deployment pipeline, streaming logs into your SIEM, and collecting evidence for various certification audits, including SOC 2, SOX, ISO 27001, and HIPAA.

ManageEngine PAM360

PAM360 is a comprehensive solution for companies that want to incorporate PAM into their security operations. With PAM360’s contextual integration capabilities, you can create a central console where different parts of your IT management system are interconnected for a more profound correlation of privileged access data and overall network data, facilitating meaningful inferences and faster remediation.

PAM360 ensures that no privileged access path to your mission-critical assets goes unmanaged, unknown, or unmonitored. To make this possible, it provides a credential vault where you can store privileged accounts. This vault offers centralized management, role-based access permissions, and AES-256 encryption.

With just-in-time controls for domain accounts, PAM360 grants elevated privileges only when users need them. After a certain period, permissions are automatically revoked, and passwords are reset.

In addition to managing privileged access, PAM360 makes it easy for privileged users to connect to remote hosts with a single click, without browser plug-ins or endpoint agents. This functionality provides a tunnel of connections through encrypted, password-less gateways that provide maximum protection.

Teleport

Teleport’s strategy is to consolidate all aspects of infrastructure access onto a single platform for software engineers and the applications they develop. This unified platform aims to reduce the attack surface and operational cost overhead while improving productivity and ensuring standards compliance.

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Teleport’s Access Plane is an open-source solution that replaces shared credentials, VPNs, and legacy privileged access management technologies. It was specifically designed to provide the necessary access to the infrastructure without hindering the work or reducing the productivity of IT staff.

Security professionals and engineers can access Linux and Windows servers, Kubernetes clusters, databases, and DevOps applications such as CI/CD, version control, and monitoring dashboards through a single tool.

Teleport Server Access uses open standards such as X.509 certificates, SAML, HTTPS, and OpenID Connect, among others. Its creators focused on simplicity of installation and use, as these are the pillars of a good user experience and a solid security strategy. Therefore, it consists of only two binaries: a client that allows users to log in to obtain short-lived certificates, and the Teleport agent, installed on any Kubernetes server or cluster with a single command.

Okta

Okta is a company dedicated to authentication, directory, and single sign-on solutions. It also provides PAM solutions through partners, which integrate with its products to provide centralized identity, customizable and adaptive access policies, real-time event reporting, and reduced attack surfaces.

Through Okta’s integrated solutions, enterprises can automatically provision/de-provision privileged users and administrative accounts while providing direct access to critical assets. IT administrators can detect anomalous activity through integration with security analytics solutions, alert, and take action to prevent risks.

Boundary

HashiCorp offers its Boundary solution to provide identity-based access management for dynamic infrastructures. It also provides simple and secure session management and remote access to any trusted identity-based system.

By integrating HashiCorp’s Vault solution, it is possible to secure, store and structurally control access to tokens, passwords, certificates, and encryption keys to protect secrets and other sensitive data via a user interface, a CLI session, or an HTTP API.

With Boundary, it is possible to access critical hosts and systems through multiple vendors separately, without the need to manage individual credentials for each system. It can be integrated with identity providers, eliminating the need to expose the infrastructure to the public.

Boundary is a platform-agnostic open-source solution. Being part of the HashiCorp portfolio, it naturally provides the ability to integrate easily into security workflows, making it easily deployable across most public cloud platforms. The necessary code is already on GitHub and ready to be used.

Delinea

Delinea’s privileged access management solutions aim to simplify the installation and use of the tool as much as possible. The company makes its solutions intuitive, facilitating the definition of access boundaries. Whether in the cloud or on-premises environments, Delinea’s PAM solutions are simple to deploy, configure and manage without imposing a sacrifice in functionality.

Delinea offers a cloud-based solution that allows deployment on hundreds of thousands of machines. This solution consists of a Privilege Manager for workstations and Cloud Suite for servers.

Privilege Manager allows it to discover machines, accounts, and applications with administrator rights, whether on workstations or servers hosted in the cloud. It even operates on machines belonging to different domains. By defining rules, it can automatically apply policies to manage privileges, permanently defining local group membership and automatically rotating non-human privileged credentials.

A policy wizard allows you to elevate, deny and restrict applications with just a few clicks. Finally, Delinea’s reporting tool provides insightful information about applications blocked by malware and the least privileged compliance. It also offers Privileged Behaviour Analytics integration with Privilege Manager Cloud.

BeyondTrust

BeyondTrust Privilege Management makes it easy to elevate privileges to known and trusted applications that require them by controlling application usage and logging and reporting privileged activities. It does this by using security tools already in place within your infrastructure.

With Privilege Manager, you can give users the exact privileges they need to complete their tasks without the risk of over-privileging. You can also define policies and privilege distributions, adjusting and determining the level of access available throughout the organization. This way, you will avoid malware attacks due to privilege excess.

You can use fine-grained policies to elevate application privileges for standard Windows or Mac users, providing sufficient access to complete each task. BeyondTrust Privilege Manager integrates with trusted help desk applications, vulnerability management scanners, and SIEM tools through connectors built into the tool.

BeyondTrust’s endpoint security analytics allow you to correlate user behavior with security intelligence. It also gives you access to a complete audit trail of all user activity, so you can accelerate forensic analysis and simplify enterprise compliance.

One Identity

One Identity‘s Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions mitigate security risks and enable enterprise compliance. The product is offered in SaaS or on-premises mode. Either variant allows you to secure, control, monitor, analyze and govern privileged access across multiple environments and platforms.

In addition, it provides the flexibility to give full privileges to users and applications only when necessary, applying a zero trust, least privilege operating model in all other situations.

CyberArk

With CyberArk Privileged Access Manager, you can automatically discover and incorporate privileged credentials and secrets used by human or non-human entities. Through centralized policy management, CyberArk’s solution allows system administrators to define policies for password rotation, password complexity, per-user vault assignment, and more.

CyberArk

The solution can be deployed as a service (SaaS mode), or you can install it on your servers (self-hosted).

Centrify

The Centrify Privilege Threat Analytics service detects privileged access abuse by adding a layer of security to your cloud and on-prem infrastructures. It does this by employing advanced behavioral analysis and adaptive multi-factor authentication. With Centrify’s tools, it is possible to get near real-time alerts on abnormal behavior of all the users within a network.

Centrify Vault Suite lets you assign privileged access to shared accounts and credentials, keep passwords and application secrets under control, and secure remote sessions. In turn, with Centrify Cloud Suite, your organization can, regardless of size, globally govern privileged access through centrally managed policies dynamically enforced on the server.

Conclusion

Privilege misuse is one of the top cybersecurity threats today, often resulting in costly losses and even crippled businesses. It is also one of the most popular attack vectors among cybercriminals because, when carried out successfully, it provides free access to a company’s innards, often without raising any alarm until the damage is done. Using an appropriate privilege access management solution is a must whenever the risks of account privilege abuse get hard to control.