PAM vs. PIM: what is the difference?

By Sidsel Loyche - 28 Nov, 2023
IAM

Privileged Access Management (PAM) and Privileged Identity Management (PIM) have similarities, but they serve different purposes. In this blog post we will look at those functions, how they differ, and how and when to implement both solutions.

PAM is a security framework that safeguards sensitive data and critical resources by imposing a heightened level of security on them. PIM, on the other hand, focuses specifically on securing the privileged accounts used to access these services. This might include, for example, superuser and administrator accounts. PIM goes beyond the standard identity management processes used for typical accounts, providing additional layers of protection.

When and how to use PAM

An effective PAM implement should consider the following:

  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA): mitigate against the risk of theft of credentials by requiring a second authentication factor.
  • Automation: Automate security measures to avoid human error and respond instantly to threats.
  • Prune unnecessary accounts from privileged groups: Identify and remove unnecessary accounts from privileged groups to reduce the risk associated with a compromised account.
  • Establish baselines and monitor deviations: Audit acceptable privileged access activity to define a baseline and then identify deviations that could indicate malicious activity.
  • Use activity-based access control: Grant privileges based on past activity and usage, aligning privileges granted with those used in practice.
The Importance of Privileged Access Management

People are often the weakest link in system security, and so their privileged accounts pose a significant risk. PAM allows companies to identify and mitigate malicious activities resulting from privilege abuse, helping to minimise security breaches, reduce entry points for threats, prevent malware attacks, and create a more audit-friendly environment.

How Does PIM Work?

PIM operates by enforcing time-based and approval-based role activation, mitigating the risks associated with excessive or unnecessary privileged access. Key components of PIM include:

  • Time-bound access: PIM allows organisations to set time limits on privileged access, reducing the risk of long-term unauthorised access.
  • Approval-based access: Before granting access, PIM requires approval from designated authorities, adding an additional layer of security.
  • Enforcement of policies: PIM enables the enforcement of policies like multifactor authentication, further securing privileged identities.
Differences and Synergies

PAM covers a broad spectrum of privileged access, encompassing both privileged accounts and non-privileged users. It emphasises the control, monitoring, and management of access to critical resources.

PIM focuses on the identities of privileged users and their specific access needs, ensuring just-in-time and just-enough access.

PIM works with PAM to provide enhanced security for privileged accounts, adding fine-grained controls and auditing for highly privileged accounts.

Conclusion

As cybersecurity threats continue to evolve, the need for robust privileged account and access management is more critical than ever. PAM and PIM both play crucial roles in securing sensitive resources and protecting against unauthorised access. While they have distinctly different goals, they are highly complementary and work together to provide organisations with a robust defence against the ever-present threat of privilege abuse.

Author: Sidsel Loyche

ISO-IEC 27001 certification
Cyber essentials
Microsoft partner
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