Virtual CISO

Privilege, in an information technology context, can be defined as the authority a given account or process has within a computing system or network. It provides the authorization to override, or bypass, certain security restraints, and may include permissions to perform such actions as shutting down systems, loading device drivers, configuring networks or systems, provisioning and configuring accounts and cloud instances, etc.

Management of these privileges through use of Cybersecurity strategies and technologies to exert control over the elevated (“privileged”) access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems across an IT environment can be called as Privileged Access Management. Enforcing certain level of privileged access controls can help an enterprise to condense their organization’s attack surface, and prevent, or at least mitigate, the damage arising from external attacks as well as from insider malfeasance or negligence.

The domain of privilege management is generally accepted as falling within the larger scope of identity and access management (IAM). Together, PAM and IAM help to provide fined-grained control, visibility, and auditability over all credentials and privileges.

Additionally, many compliance regulations (including HIPAA, PCI DSS, FDDC, SAMA, SIA (NESA), FISMA, and SOX) necessitate that organizations apply least privilege access policies to ensure responsible data stewardship and systems security.

Privileged accounts commonly in use across an organization

  • Local administrative accounts
    Non-personal accounts providing administrative access to the local host or instance only.
  • Domain administrative accounts
    Privileged administrative access across all workstations and servers within the domain.
  • Break glass (also called emergency or firecall) accounts
    Unprivileged users with administrative access to secure systems in the case of an emergency.
  • Service accounts
    Privileged local or domain accounts that are used by an application or service to interact with the operating system.
  • Active Directory or domain service accounts
    Enable password changes to accounts, etc.
  • Application accounts
    Used by applications to access databases, run batch jobs or scripts, or provide access to other applications.

Benefits of Privileged Access Management

Privilege access management not only minimizes the potential for a security breach occurring, but it also helps limit the scope of a breach should one occur. One of the key advantages that PAM has over other type of security technologies is its ability to dismantle multiple points of the cyberattack chain, providing protection against both external attack as well as attacks that make it within networks and systems.

PAM confers many benefits, including:

  • A condensed attack surface protects against both internal and external threats:
    Curbing privileges for people, processes, and applications means the paths and openings for exploit are also diminished.
  • Reduced malware infection and propagation:
    Many varieties of malware (such as SQL injections, rely on lack of least privilege) need elevated privileges to install or execute. Eliminating excessive privileges, such as through least privilege enforcement across the enterprise, can prevent malware from gaining a foothold, or reduce its spread if it does.
  • Enhanced operational performance:
    Restricting privileges to the minimal range of processes to perform an authorized activity reduces the chance of incompatibility issues between applications or systems and helps reduce the risk of downtime.
  • Easier to achieve and prove compliance:
    By controlling the privileged activities that can possibly be performed, privileged access management helps create a less complex, and thus, a more audit-friendly, environment.

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