Security managers today understand they need to either implement or upgrade their Privileged Access Management (PAM) programs. The role of privileged account abuse in many recent, serious cyberattacks reveals just how important this aspect of security has become. Success, it turns out, involves more than just acquiring a PAM solution and installing it.
Like most vital cybersecurity countermeasures, PAM requires a strategy. This article offers insights into devising an effective Privileged Access Management strategy. An effective PAM strategy starts with selecting the right PAM solution and includes building security awareness with both IT and business stakeholders and then encouraging user adoption.
Successful PAM adoption requires a strategy to back it up.
PAM in Brief (What is PAM?)
The acronym “PAM” refers to a collection of tools and practices that are designed to keep an organization safe from accidental or deliberate misuse of privileged access. A privileged user has administrative or “root” access to a system. He or she (or it, i.e. a machine) is authorized, for example, to set up or modify user accounts on servers and infrastructure appliances. Such access privileges should only be extended to trusted people. Indeed, serious security risk exposure results when privileged users are not well governed.
PAM solutions ensure that organizations have the control and oversight they need across their most critical systems and data.
Choosing the Right Solution for Your PAM Strategy
A PAM strategy begins with a PAM solution that aligns with your business and cybersecurity objectives. Everyone’s specific needs will be different, but we have found that certain features work best for a PAM strategy. For instance, PAM has to work on-premises as well as in cloud environments. Other success factors include ease of installation and use and a lightweight architecture. PAM fails when it is not broadly adopted. Agent-based solutions invariably bog down in the installation process or subsequent updating cycles.
Efficiency of use counts, too. The best PAM solutions offer a streamlined, centralized system, with the critical functional areas in one place:
- Access Manager—Governing access to privileged accounts with a single point of policy definition and policy enforcement for privileged account management. A super admin can add/modify/delete privileged user accounts for any resource.
- Session Manager—Tracking and monitoring all actions taken during a privileged account session for review and auditing. Some session managers can even prevent malicious or unauthorized actions and automatically alert Super Admins if suspicious activity is detected.
- Password Vault—Keeping passwords in a secure and certified “vault.” All system access is via the password vault. End users never have direct access to root passwords. This capability mitigates the risk of local overrides on physical devices.
Making PAM Part of the IT Lifecycle
To work, PAM needs to be pervasive and consistent in all areas of IT operations. It also needs to be a consideration in the design of future systems. An effective PAM strategy, therefore, requires getting the entire IT organization to embrace PAM and commit to using it. With overly complex tools, some will adopt it but others will ignore it, leading to needless vulnerability to cyber threats. With streamlined access controls and virtually no change to users' habits and workflows, user adoption is guaranteed with the right PAM solution. The following groups deserve focus in PAM strategy:
- Security Team—Needs to be on board with PAM. This might require some re-education. Earlier generations of PAM were sometimes cumbersome affairs that caused delays. Or, they didn’t work well (or at all), leading some security people to cast PAM aside. Security staffers need to understand that PAM today is different. With training and active outreach, PAM champions can sooth concerns that it will be a hassle and an obstacle to improved security posture. Rather, they can impart that PAM provides a path towards more robust security.
- External Providers—Privileged access management facilitates and secures 3rd-party access and remote activity on sensitive resources. Super administrators can easily grant new access rights to a vendor for a specific project, for a defined period of time, and automatically rotate the password when it's complete, eliminating the need for external parties to even know the root password (or carry out malicious actions in critical assets).
- Infrastructure Managers—Like developers and architects, infrastructure managers benefit from a robust PAM solution. With hybrid architectures that leave some assets on-premises and some migrating to the Cloud, having one centralized point of access control streamlines work and keeps all systems administrators organized.
Getting Business Stakeholders Engaged with PAM
Both IT and the business benefit when business stakeholders have a firm understanding of how PAM works and its value to the organization. While security breaches may be a headache for security and IT staff, they are also major problems for the business. Recovering from a data breach can take months, and millions in costs to cover damages, rebuild systems, and pay regulatory fines. When offered mechanisms to reduce cyber liability, most business people are eager to learn more.
PAM training for business users will, of course, be quite different from IT and security-specific training. It will be more policy-oriented, covering compliance and legal liability in depth. Key elements of business PAM training include raising awareness of the importance of privileged access control to improve security and compliance, how PAM solutions work at a high level, and the role of business stakeholders in reviewing and approving security policies related to PAM.
Executive sponsorship can also be quite helpful to a PAM strategy, putting some weight behind the selection of the right access management solution. CISOs and decision makers have the final say in determining which PAM solution offers the most robust, effective, and easy-to-integrate security features.
The WALLIX PAM Solution
PAM can make a difference in an organization’s security posture. To succeed with PAM, however, requires a well-planned, comprehensive PAM strategy. WALLIX can help you enact an effective PAM strategy with an all-in-one solution to manage, monitor, and control all privileged access to critical data and servers, and respond to high-stakes cybersecurity regulations.
To learn more about the WALLIX Bastion and how we can help you improve security organization-wide, simply contact us.