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The Path to PAM: Solutions and Implementations for Privileged Access


The increasing prevalence of cyber threats and vulnerabilities within information systems demands that companies place a heightened focus on endpoint security and privileged accounts. Data breaches frequently occur due to the compromise of these specific elements. Therefore, it becomes critically important to monitor privileged users and protect their access rights. Ensuring the security of confidential data necessitates the implementation of solutions that provide robust endpoint and privileged account security within your system.


Understanding PAM: What and Why?


Privileged Access Management (PAM) plays a vital role in helping organizations monitor and protect their entire network. It offers insights into which users have access to specific data, making it a crucial aspect of cybersecurity.


What is PAM?


PAM, or Privileged Access Management, refers to a set of specialized tools and technologies designed to secure, control, and monitor access to an organization's confidential information and resources. There are several well-known types of PAM, including:

  • Shared Password Management

  • Privileged Session Management

  • Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM)

  • Application Access Management

Implementing PAM is essential to provide modern professional protection for user accounts and to manage accounts with privileges to key organizational resources.


What are Privileged Accounts?


Privileged accounts offer full access to a limited number of high-level users to support their IT infrastructure. These accounts allow both internal and external personnel to manage operating systems, network devices, applications, industrial control systems, and IoT devices with ease. In some cases, this unrestricted access enables users to conceal modifications or changes they have made to the software, a tactic that can be very useful for cybercriminals.


Why is PAM Crucial?


Control over privileged access creates a strong defense against many failure causes, reduces the attack surface, and minimizes the negative impact of breaches. This control even protects against internal threats, misconfigured automation, and operator errors in production environments.


One of the most important reasons PAM becomes a top priority for organizations is its ability to save time and money while providing effective security. It enables CISOs to accomplish more within the same budget. Cybersecurity solutions primarily aim to reduce risk, which means most organizations spend their budgets on implementing security systems that usually do not add additional commercial value. This is where PAM plays a critical role.


Regulatory Compliance and PAM


Almost all organizations, from small to large, must comply with industry and governmental regulatory requirements. Meeting these requirements can often be challenging for CISOs, as they need to know where to start building protection. Whether it's PCI, ISO 27002, EU GDPR, Cyber Essentials, or the NIST framework, all of them strongly recommend access control. PAM can help organizations quickly advance and establish a solid foundation for effective defense against cybercriminals.


Incident Response and PAM


Your privileged access management solution allows for quick and easy auditing of your privileged accounts in the event of a cyberattack. PAM works immediately to detect if passwords have been changed and identify which unauthorized applications have been executed. It is also beneficial to have a snapshot of audit logs. You may have already prepared privileged accounts exclusively for incidents, allowing technical specialists and cybersecurity experts quick access to systems.


High-Level Security for Privileged Accounts


Privileged accounts require a high level of security, as they provide direct access to a company’s valuable assets. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) protects the login attributes of privileged accounts. The administrator's or user's identity is verified through more than one independent credential. Adding security layers to credentials in the form of OTP, biometrics, security questions, etc., makes data access significantly more challenging for hackers and hacking groups.


Technical Challenges of Implementing PAM



Problems

Description

 Possible Solution

Integration Issues

Need to Understand Network Infrastructure

Perform a detailed analysis of the network infrastructure before implementing Privileged Access Management (PAM) systems. Develop specialized integration strategies that consider the specifics of network protocols and security measures. Ensure effective collaboration with the client's IT department to successfully integrate PAM into the existing infrastructure.

Issues with Change and Integration

Challenges, such as managing RDP sessions, arise when the PAM solution creates connection problems, requiring additional analysis, diagnostics, and policy changes.


Intensive collaboration with the client's IT specialists to investigate and resolve issues related to RDP sessions. Allocate additional resources for diagnostics and policy adjustments.

Technical Issues with Backup

Difficulties in configuring a failover cluster that require additional measures, diagnostic procedures, and assumptions regarding the client's virtualization settings.


Perform preliminary configuration of a failover cluster in collaboration with the client's technical specialists. Provide detailed instructions and resources for diagnostics. Ensure consultation on virtualization issues for successful backup configuration.


Technical obstacles that may arise during the implementation of PAM require a thorough understanding of the client's infrastructure and additional efforts to effectively resolve these issues.


Organizational Issues of Implementing PAM


Problems

Description

Possible Solution

Uncertainty and Fear of Change

Organizations accustomed to existing security procedures may face uncertainty and anxiety about the changes brought by PAM implementation.

Clearly explain the reasons and benefits of implementing PAM to dispel possible fears and emphasize the advantages of the new system.

Integration with Existing Security Systems

Organizations frequently encounter difficulties when incorporating PAM into their security systems. Incompatibilities between PAM and other security tools can complicate effective privilege management and control.

Careful planning and coordinated integration are key aspects to resolving this issue.

Unclear Understanding of Implementation Purpose

If employees do not understand the purpose of implementing the PAM system and the benefits it provides, there is a risk of misinterpreting its goals. This can lead to insufficient support from staff and even internal resistance.

Clear and understandable definition of goals is crucial for the successful implementation of PAM.

Challenges in Developing and Implementing Effective Security Schemes

Developing and implementing effective security policies for controlling privileged access requires careful planning and the establishment of coherent standards.

Create clear guidelines for the implementation or transition to the PAM system.

Change Management and Adaptation to New Processes

Adapting to a new Privileged Access Management system requires effective change management within the organization.

Employees need to be prepared to adapt to new procedures, which sometimes causes resistance and necessitates the development of an effective change management strategy.

Lack of Systematic Training and Updates

Information security is constantly evolving, and the lack of continuous training and updates for staff can lead to inadequate understanding and ineffective use of the PAM system.

Systematic training courses and regular knowledge updates are crucial aspects for effectively addressing this issue.

Criticality of the PAM System

High responsibility for proper operation, as access to protected servers is controlled through the PAM system.

Implement support protocols and procedures that include monitoring and regular audits. Provide professional training for the client's staff to ensure effective use of the PAM system. Develop a quick recovery strategy to minimize downtime in case of failures.


Focused efforts are necessary to overcome organizational barriers, including training employees, creating clear security policies, and managing changes effectively. Successful implementation of a PAM system can significantly enhance the level of information security and ensure the protection of privileged access, which is a key aspect of modern cybersecurity strategies.


Best Practices for Implementing a PAM Solution


Privileged accounts and credentials that grant unrestricted access to your systems are both essential and hazardous. In the right hands, they are crucial tools for managing your IT infrastructure; in the wrong hands, they become keys that open access to your assets. This is where Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions come into play. Implementing a well-executed PAM solution is key to managing, tracking, and protecting privileged accounts.


Below are four best practices for implementation that will positively impact the deployment of your PAM system. Two of these should be considered before choosing a product, as selecting the right solution is a critical prerequisite for successful PAM implementation.


Understand How the Privilege Management Lifecycle Affects Your Solution Choice


The lifecycle model of privilege management looks like this:


The stages of the cycle speak for themselves regarding their function and importance, and you are likely already familiar with this model (or something very similar). The main takeaway is that for successful implementation, you need to choose a solution that supports your organization at every stage of the cycle.

For instance, no matter how good your monitoring is, it won’t help if you cannot use that information to detect intruders and hacker groups. Similarly, high-quality threat detection is useless if your system is so locked down that timely response to threats is impossible.


Your system will inevitably face constant threats—whether from an insider, a careless employee, or a planned cyberattack—so your long-term security depends on how you can enhance your PAM to counter these threats.


Choose a Solution That Is Easy to Use and Implement


Different solutions vary in their ease of use and implementation, which can significantly impact the success of your PAM deployment. Solutions that are harder and more time-consuming to implement will require more resources, especially time from your specialist team. This remains true whether you choose a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution or a full on-premises deployment.


This is important because budget and resource overruns are two of the most common reasons for implementation failures. Many companies underestimate the costs of implementation and underfund a project that turns out to be much more complex than initially planned.


The cost of implementing PAM in your specific case is only part of the overall future ownership cost—you need to consider implementation, consulting, and configuration. Training and documentation are also crucial, as achieving the best quality requires changes in company and employee behavior.


By choosing a solution that simplifies PAM implementation at your enterprise, or by working with a software provider that offers high-quality support, you can ensure the success of your PAM deployment and free up resources to focus on the less technical aspects of your implementation.


Principle of Least Privilege


The principle of least privilege is one of the foundational and important principles governing your PAM. Simply put, any account (whether human or not) should have its privileges reduced to the minimum necessary to perform and complete any tasks.


Here are the initial steps to implement this principle:


  • Inventory: Identify all your privileged accounts.

  • Identification: Determine who owns these accounts.

  • Restriction: Reduce privileges where appropriate.

  • Elimination: Remove privileges where possible.


To achieve this, you need to find a balance between efficiency and security. For many tasks, high privileges and low control increase efficiency but at a significant loss of security. Conversely, completely lowering access across the board will hinder the effective operation of your system and users, or even stop it entirely. Clearly, this is not feasible, so while you need to keep privileges as low as possible, you also need to increase control in areas requiring high access. Implementing tools like session recording can help increase security without sacrificing efficiency.


Automate Access Decisions


The most effective tools largely automate many everyday access decisions according to predefined rules, considering the person's role, location, time of day, previous history, etc. For example, a person who needs to perform a routine task daily can be granted privileged access for this but only if they are on-site and connected from the correct workstation. If there is no need to provide privileged access from other locations or workstations, they should not have it, and blocking this access is key to protecting your organization. In this case, even if a hacker obtains these credentials, they will not be able to use them without being on-site.


Eliminate Shared Accounts


Pay special attention to shared accounts and eliminate them if possible. These accounts often exist between an application and a database or between applications and may be hard-coded. For instance, some applications will have a login and password to connect to one or more databases. These passwords are often stored in unencrypted files, making them easily accessible to anyone who knows the login and password.


When multiple users have access to a single shared account (whether intentionally or because the password is easily obtainable), it becomes difficult to link changes made to the people making them. This lack of accountability opens your business to risks, makes it much easier for an attacker to escape detection, and requires a high level of visibility from your IT security. Some of these accounts may never need to be used by a human, in which case an appropriate measure would be to prohibit human login for these accounts.


Implement Effective Password Management


Your passwords are keys to your system. Effective implementation will set a new standard for managing your passwords.

Consider the following steps:


  • One-Time or Cyclical Passwords: If you have not previously implemented a Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution, some of your users may have been using weak passwords for years. For effectiveness, passwords should be unique, hard to guess, and complex enough to resist brute-force attacks. Best practice is to include automatic password changes on a regular cycle, such as every 30 days.

  • More Secure Approach: Use one-time passwords. Changing the password after each session makes it significantly harder for a hacker to use and greatly reduces the risk of an attack while increasing visibility and accountability. Additional user inconvenience means this may be appropriate for some accounts but not for others.

  • Multi-Factor Authentication: Consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA), adding an extra layer of security for your most critical accounts. Much of your legacy equipment may not support this, so if you need it, the solution must be provided by your PAM software. Again, this creates another barrier between a hacker and your system, reducing the chances of access even if they obtain a set of credentials.


Implement Secure Password Storage


Users with multiple passwords and privileged access to many systems will find it challenging to manage these passwords, especially if you regularly change them. When users cannot keep up with your password policy, bad practices begin to emerge. It does not matter how strong your policies are if users resort to writing down passwords or storing them unencrypted on their workstation because they cannot remember them all.


A password vault can reduce complexity by acting as a single point of authentication, allowing users to access various systems (whose passwords are managed by the vault) with just one login. The password vault serves as another step between users and their privileged accounts, presenting yet another barrier for hackers.


Conclusion


Today, Privileged Access Management products are becoming key elements of companies' information security strategies. Despite the widespread adoption of such products, many enterprises face challenges during their implementation. In this situation, some PAM product providers handle emerging problems more effectively than others.


The current trend in privileged access management is moving from individual, manual, decentralized control to more complex and adaptive systems. Companies seek to expand the functionality of PAM products, particularly the capabilities for account discovery and device identification management. Modern products in this field offer session recording, credential replacement, and masking features, enhancing control over privileged access.


Given these trends and challenges, companies carefully analyze their cybersecurity needs and select PAM products that best meet their requirements and business processes. The information security market is seeing new entrants in the privileged access management segment, expanding the range of available solutions for companies. Solutions from ESKA are a good example of how today’s PAM systems should be offered, meeting current business needs and ensuring companies feel secure in the near future.

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