Identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management (PAM) are sometimes used interchangeably. While there is overlap between the two, each handles access for different sets of users and systems within an organization. However, both are important to the overall identity access strategy, making a thorough understanding of IAM and PAM critical to organizational success and regulatory compliance.  

What is identity and access management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of policies and technologies that enable IT managers to control everyday users’ access to specific applications and information within the organization. As the number of cyber attacks rise—and companies undergo increased regulatory pressure to control corporate information access—IAM is more often considered a vital framework for protecting systems and data.

In the past, IT managers manually tracked user identities, leaving their organizations vulnerable to both insider threats and external attacks. IAM automates these functions, allowing IT managers a high level of control over user identities while gaining an audit trail of access to corporate information needed for compliance purposes.

Now, leading IAM solutions are available for both on-premises and cloud implementation. IT managers assign information access based on an individual’s role or job responsibility. As these user roles change, IAM solutions automatically add and remove access. They can also strengthen password management with features such as single sign-on and multi-factor authentication.

With IAM, IT managers maintain complete visibility into all user access activity via a central management console. Administrators can manage access for both internal and external users, as well as to devices and applications. By providing complete control for monitoring and modifying user access, IAM solutions are a crucial component of a company’s overall cybersecurity strategy.

What is privileged access management?

Privileged access management (PAM) is a subset of IAM that focuses exclusively on protecting privileged accounts—accounts granted to a small number of users who need access to backend systems, databases, and other places where highly-sensitive information is stored. Whereas IAM safely authorizes any user who needs access to a system, PAM limits access rights to the absolute minimum number of users necessary to perform authorized business activities.

Since privileged accounts hold the keys to an organization’s most critical assets, they are prime targets for cybercriminals. PAM closes the gaps of IAM, adding another layer of security with measures such as storing privileged account credentials in a separate and secure repository to reduce the risk of theft or misuse, and administrator capability to restrict user access with time limits and other rules. PAM also lowers the risk of credential sharing by ensuring every individual uses a unique login. PAM solutions protect a company’s most sensitive user credentials, secrets, tokens, and keys—reducing the need for manual intervention and automatically locking down sensitive systems in the event of a cyber attack.  

Which should your enterprise use?

To fully protect themselves from internal and external security breaches, companies typically deploy both IAM and PAM solutions. By using these tools together, organizations can fully mitigate coverage gaps that make them vulnerable to hackers with a complete security solution that regulates password use, monitors user access activity, and facilitates government regulation compliance.

To avoid redundant processes for privileged and everyday user accounts, organizations closely integrate their IAM and PAM tools. With the combined power of PAM with IAM, they leverage automated provisioning and deprovisioning along with faster reporting and auditing across all of their user accounts. Not only does an integrated solution offer complete user identity protection, but it saves the time and complexity of managing all user accounts across the organization.

An integrated approach to IAM and PAM

In an era of increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats, the enterprise uses both IAM and PAM to protect their sensitive data, integrating these solutions to avoid inconsistent access processes and reporting. With an integrated IAM and PAM solution, organizations take a unified approach to identity access—securely managing all user identities while meeting regulatory requirements.

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