With Privileged Access Management (PAM), organizations operate on the principle of least privilege, limiting the number of users who have access to sensitive, stored data by assigning a select few defined “privileges” to those who need it while preventing widespread access. Though this limitation of users alone significantly reduces the risk of data breaches, to maintain compliance, privileged user activity auditing is not only recommended but necessary.  
Conducting internal audits keeps you informed of any restricted account activity and indiscretions, inadvertent or otherwise. Here are the five best practices for ensuring your organization is prepared to take on the auditing process and handle issues as they arise. 

Create an inventory of all privileged accounts. 

One of the most crucial aspects of privileged user activity auditing is knowing which users have the privileges and what type of information the accounts store. Taking inventory of your privileged accounts‚ including shared and superuser accounts, gives you a total view of the users who have the highest-level permissions and the critical assets they can modify—whether a database, application or server. Running a consistent inventory of privileged accounts enables you to establish and maintain accurate user tracking. And you can also identify unmanaged privileged accounts whose dormancy may be leaving your organization vulnerable to attack. 

An effective PAM system will automate the inventory process, tracking user permissions and accounts in real-time to alleviate administrators’ tasks, free up time dedicated, and significantly reduce possible error.  

Monitor and record privileged activity. 

Privileged credential abuse is one of the leading causes of data breaches. While many organizations may consider reviewing traditional log data as a practical solution to this challenge, PAM eliminates the need for any manual review. PAM’s automated monitoring reduces time wasted and time from breach to discovery as teams aren’t forced to spend hours examining information and can focus their efforts on addressing the issue.  

By monitoring and recording all privileged user activity, your organization can detect suspicious behavior, catch incidents as they happen, easily search previous activity, and rely on relevant (and accurate) historical references for any dispute resolution. Implementing PAM grants full visibility and equips administrators with the tools to find and mitigate insider attacks. 

Set up alerts for risky behavior. 

Within an efficiently designed PAM system, administrators can set and regulate system deterrents, acting as both a preventative security measure and response to risky, privileged user behavior. Such risk-based behavioral indicators could be searching for highly sensitive data, repeated password submission attempts, or moving classified information over to unapproved devices, among others.  
You can also set up alerts based on existing user activities using scoring algorithms to warn administrators whenever activity digresses from an average session—whether IP location, time of access, or any other algorithm defined indicator. These alerts immediately inform administrators of the behavioral changes or violations, helping them determine their best course of action, and for security events, time is always of the essence. 

Analyze behavior and usage. 

Leveraging PAM threat analytics tools can—and will—make your admins’ lives easier. Just as with monitoring activity, machine analytics and response are not only a time-saving solution but a more accurate one.  

These tools use machine-learning algorithms and other pre-built threat models to evaluate behavior and trigger a previously designated response to address the identified risk. Each is appropriate to a given behavioral marker with responsive actions like system lockout, a request access function, or live session monitoring. The latter allows admins to assess (and record) the severity of the situation or perceived threat as it is happening and act accordingly. This means that should there be any unusual, risk-based behaviors within your systems, administrators have the opportunity to prevent their escalation if proven necessary. 

Create auditing workflows. 

Having an auditing workflow ensures consistency and compliance within your organization. Whether it’s to customize actions for risk-based behavior or determine and carry out a reporting cycle, your auditing workflow should work for you. Establish and agree on the order of operations with concerned parties and schedule workflow reviews to ensure continued success and practice.  
With a well-devised procedure, your administrators will have clearly defined guidelines for the auditing process that is—perhaps most importantly—repeatable. An outlined workflow will help admin teams detect issues early and maintain control of privileged accounts, effectively minimizing the possible attack surface. For this reason, configure your auditing workflow with the utmost attention and care, its efficiency is crucial. 

Wrapping up.  

Privileged user activity auditing is essential for maintaining and securing the sensitive assets within your system. Having an auditing process in place ensures daily compliance and equips your organization with an accurate record of activity should there be any dispute. By following these practices, your organization can build a sturdy and reliable foundation for successful and secure PAM operation. 

SailPoint Privileged Access Management.

SailPoint sets the industry standard on PAM and API integration for Identity and Access Management systems, allowing your organization to centrally manage access to both privileged and standard accounts—with ease. Find out how SailPoint can integrate with your privileged access management system.

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