The increasing importance of privileged identity management for cybersecurity

Protecting your digital systems and data is essential. Learn how privileged identity management can help you manage and secure privileged accounts and meet cybersecurity compliance requirements.

The security of digital systems and data is a major concern for businesses and organisations of all sizes. With rising cybercrime, it's more important than ever to protect your systems against malicious actors. One key component of cybersecurity is privileged identity management (PIM).

PIM is a system created to oversee, control, and protect privileged accounts, including accounts with administrator or superuser access rights. The goal of PIM is to ensure that these accounts aren't used for unauthorised or malicious purposes. PIM can also be used to manage and secure all user identities within an organisation, by controlling who can access privileged accounts and granting just-in-time access to trusted users.

However, many organisations still don’t take the necessary steps to properly manage and secure their privileged accounts. This leaves them vulnerable to data breaches, regulatory violations, and insider threats. It’s important to understand the risks of unmanaged privileged access and the role of PIM in cybersecurity, as well as the similar but different cybersecurity tools of privileged access management (PAM) and identity and access management (IAM).

What is the difference between IAM, PAM, and PIM?

IAM is an umbrella term for the policies, processes, and technologies used to manage and secure all user identities and their access to resources. It encompasses both PIM and PAM, as well as other aspects of user management such as authentication, authorisation, and single sign-on. IAM controls access to data, applications, and other IT assets, enabling organisations to govern who can access specific resources, as well as when they can access resources, how, and for how long.

PAM is a subset of IAM that oversees and manages the activities of users with elevated access rights. It grants, revokes, and monitors access to sensitive resources, using tools like multifactor authentication and session monitoring to ensure the right users have the right level of access.

PIM is a subset of PAM that focuses on managing the identities of privileged users such as system administrators, who have access to sensitive resources. PIM provides secure authentication and authorisation for these users, tracks their activities, and monitors their access.

Overall, IAM, PAM, and PIM are key to a strong cybersecurity strategy, no matter your organisation’s industry or goals.

What are the core elements of privileged identity management?

The core elements of PIM work together to ensure that only authorised users have access to critical systems and data, and those users can only access the resources they need to do their jobs. These elements include:

  • Account discovery: identifying all privileged accounts, of all types (individual/shared, local/remote)
  • Access control: granting trusted users access to what they need, when they need it
  • Privilege elevation: granting temporary elevation of privileges so users can complete specific tasks
  • Smooth integration: integrating with existing systems/applications to streamline management of privileged identities
  • Credential management: encryption, secure storage, rotation, and retrieval of privileged account credentials (passwords/SSH keys)
  • Session monitoring: real-time tracking and monitoring of privileged sessions to identify anomalies
  • Auditing and reporting: generating in-depth records of privileged users’ activities for analysis, auditing, and compliance purposes

Together, these capabilities allow organisations to maintain strict control over privileged accounts and protect critical information and IT assets.

The considerable risks of unmanaged privileged access

Unmanaged privileged access is a serious risk for any organisation. Privileged access grants admittance into sensitive information, systems, and applications that are essential to an organisation’s functioning. That’s why privileged access requires elevated permissions and is typically reserved for the most trusted members of an organisation. It’s also why privileged access must always be closely monitored.

Without the right controls to manage privileged access securely and effectively, an organisation becomes an easy target for a variety of security risks and malicious activity, such as:

  • Unauthorised access: This is the first step in data breaches and cybercrimes like intellectual property theft, identity theft, ransomware, fraud, and a range of serious financial and reputational losses.
  • Insider threats: Sometimes the harm comes from inside an organisation, due to individuals who either deliberately or unknowingly abuse their privileged access.
  • Compliance violations: There are numerous laws and regulations that protect data privacy through security controls and auditing requirements. Violations are quite costly, both in fines and reputational damage.
  • Lack of accountability: Managing privileged access lets you track which users accessed which resources when. Without that management, it becomes difficult to impossible to trace a security incident back to the source, thereby hindering investigation and response.

By implementing PIM, organisations can protect their systems and data from unauthorised or malicious actions, while ensuring users have the access they need to carry out their duties securely.

Learn more in our eBook, Automate identity and access management processes.