Your privileged users and accounts have access to your organization’s most critical assets, including sensitive data and key systems. By managing privileged access, you’ll reduce your risks of a cyberattack or breach. But to do so effectively, you need to follow privileged access management best practices. 

The benefits of a well-designed program for privileged access management go beyond password security. You will also gain the ability to detect threats faster, to better understand your risks, and to monitor unauthorized access.  

The following privileged access management best practices will help strengthen your organization’s security.

Create a privileged account policy. 

Before you can implement a program for privileged access management (PAM), you need to know what you want to achieve. Your objectives will guide your strategic decisions, as well as help you create an effective privileged account policy. You need this policy so you can implement and enforce the right practices and procedures.

The PAM policy should include categories such as: 

  • Provisioning and deprovisioning procedures 
  • Approval and dismissal of privileged access requests 
  • Password categorization 
  • Password composition, such as length and complexity 
  • Acceptable use for privileged accounts 

The policy should also detail your account management practices. These practices will vary based on what identity access management (IAM) and identity governance administration (IGA) solutions you have implemented.  

In general, the policy should address management-related questions such as: 

  • How are accounts centrally managed? 
  • Are they integrated with native directories? 
  • Do they use strong authentication (such as two-factor)? 
  • How are they integrated into your password management solution? (For example, do you use a password vault?) 

If you’re not certain where to start creating a privileged accounts policy, you can use a template provided by your vendor or another trusted security partner and adapt it to your own needs and objectives. 

Prioritize and address major security risks. 

Understanding your landscape is another critical step to take as part of privileged access management best practices. This step gives you the visibility and context that will help prioritize and address your top security risks

The reality is that the typical organization doesn’t have the staff and resources to mitigate every single risk in the IT infrastructure. By prioritizing, you ensure that you’re focusing on the risks that are most critical.  

The depth of your risk assessment may depend on factors such as the size of your organization, the complexity of your IT landscape, your security maturity, and so on. 

A simple matrix for ranking risks takes into account the likelihood of an exposure occurring (e.g., likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited) and the degree of impact (not only monetary but also in terms of disruption and other adverse effects). 

Utilize PAM automation. 

Automating your PAM processes streamlines administration by eliminating redundancy. Not only does this achieve faster provisioning and deprovisioning but also facilitates faster reporting and auditing.  

Additionally, when you integrate your PAM with your IAM or IGA solution, automating processes improves visibility and helps you close gaps in your security posture. You’re also reducing risks by preventing overprovisioning or providing privileged account access to unauthorized users. 

When your PAM and IAM/IGA solutions operate in silos, you have limited insights into how privileged and nonprivileged accounts connect and relate to each other. These silos reduce the effectiveness of your risk management. 

Here are some examples of processes that can be automated with a PAM/IAM integration: 

  • Provisioning of new privileged accounts using role-based access provisioning  
  • Discovering privileged accounts configured in the PAM solution then managing them more effectively through the IAM solution 
  • Terminating privilege account access based on termination events processed in the IAM solution 

Implement least privilege. 

Least privilege is a concept that restricts access rights for accounts, computing processes, and users based on what they require for performing typical activities.  

Threat actors target privileged user credentials because these accounts provide a faster track into the target’s IT environment. By implementing the least privilege model, you both prevent unauthorized access to critical resources and reduce your attack surface, minimizing your security risks. 

For example, your human resources manager doesn’t need access to email passwords and vice versa, your email admin doesn’t need to view personnel records. And even within the same department, not all users need the same level of access.  

It’s far too common for organizations to have unrestricted entry for entire teams when not all roles require it. This creates exposure not only to outside threats but also to internal ones. 

Best practices for least privilege include: 

  • Performing audits to discover all privileged accounts and credentials 
  • Removing the default admin rights on workstations and mobile devices 
  • Using segmentation for networks and systems 
  • Limiting superuser accounts (usually used by IT staff, these accounts often have unlimited privileges) 
  • Enforcing vulnerability-based access to restrict privileges for accounts or devices suspected of compromise 

Record and monitor privileged activity.  

Recording, monitoring, and auditing privileged activities gives you an added layer of protection against inside and outside actors. This best practice is also an important part of maintaining regulatory compliance. And in the event of a security incident, it gives your security team data that helps identify the chain of events and respond faster. 

Some of the privileged account categories that you should monitor include accounts for: 

  • Local admins 
  • Applications 
  • Services 
  • Privileged users 
  • Domain admins 

Consider these steps as you implement this best practice: 

  • First establish the policies that define legitimate behavior for the privileged accounts.  
  • Log all data needed to trace actions. This includes information such user ID, action executed, time, database object, and accessed or altered records. 
  • Ensure that the admins can’t modify the logs. You can do this by restricting write access or hosting the logs separately, for example. 
  • Identify the actions that are sensitive and verify that those accounts are authorized to perform them.  
  • Analyze behavior so you can identify anomalies.  
  • Block suspicious activities and alert the appropriate parties. 

In addition to monitoring in real time, use the accumulated logs to provide reporting. This enables you to trace suspicious activities over time as well as gives your organization’s leadership data for making better decisions. 

Wrapping up. 

There are many examples of high-profile data breaches that involved privileged access. Privileged accounts create high risk for your organization, and you need an effective system for checks and balances.  

Implementing privileged access management best practices is key to the success of your PAM program. It’s also important to not only make PAM a priority but also ensure this program is part of your larger cybersecurity strategy. 

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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