How Do Privileged Identity Management Tools Work?

How Do Privileged Identity Management Tools Work?

How exactly do privileged identity management (PIM) tools work? What capabilities do they provide enterprises’ identity management and cybersecurity strategies? Why should your organization adopt them? 

We can broadly categorize every business’ user-base into two camps: users and superusers. The former (ideally under identity management) should only have permissions to the data pertaining to their jobs within the company. 

However, the latter’s permissions extend far, far beyond that limitation. For example, privileged users could obtain sensitive data, change workflows, escalate permissions, and even destroy the network.

Obviously, hackers target privileged credentials more than any other target for precisely that reason; in their hands, privileged accounts could allow hackers to pull off substantial financial crimes or steal valuable data. Additionally, if a user decides to abuse their credentials, they could become an insider threat of a dangerous scale. 

Fortunately, privileged identity management tools work to curtail hackers’ goals. Here’s how.

How Privileged Identity Management Tools Work  

1. Limiting Privileges (And Privileged Users)

Not every manager can or should have privileged credentials; the fewer accounts which possess extensive privileges, the smaller your enterprise’s potential attack surface. Further, if those privileged users can only access certain resources, then even in the wrong hands the damage a hacker can wreak becomes limited.

Therefore, privileged identity management tools enforce the Principle of Least Privilege across all users. This principle states that users should only possess permissions they absolutely need to perform their roles; further, this principle extends to the most powerful users in your network. 

As part of this enforcement, PIM tools help enterprises extend their visibility over their users. Visibility is key to any cybersecurity policy and identity management strategy; after all, you cannot hope to protect what remains outside your vision. 

Privileged identity management requires that any new superuser accounts specify their permissions and reason for accepting; this prevents any new account from evading your cybersecurity policies. Additionally, privilege monitoring can help you find superuser accounts that previously eluded your IT team in the past. As such, it can help prevent the development of orphaned accounts.   

Further, privileged identity management tools can monitor for changes, updates, and other modifications in your IT infrastructure; this prevents malicious users from making changes that could compromise your data or workflows.      

2. Improved Authentication

A recurring theme in cybersecurity and identity management, in particular, is the inadequacy of passwords. Unfortunately, passwords can’t protect modern users or modern databases in the wake of digital threats. Hackers can far too easily guess passwords (especially weak passwords like “123456”) or crack them with simple tools. Otherwise, threat actors could always just exploit social media and make educated guesses based on public information or phish the information. 

In other words, single-factor authentication provides as much protection as a sign over an open door that says “No Entry.”

Thankfully, privileged identity management tools provide more sophisticated authentication options; usually, this manifests as multifactor authentication (MFA) capabilities. 

MFA operates off the simple yet effective premise that the more factors between the access request and the data, the more difficult hacking becomes. These capabilities may still use passwords, but they also incorporate: 

  • SMS Messaging
  • Biometric Authentication
  • Behavioral Biometrics (including typing behaviors)
  • Time of Access Request Monitoring
  • Device Recognition
  • Location Monitoring (Geofencing)

Moreover, many multifactor authentication factors can activate without disrupting the flow of work processes and logins; they operate on the background, only preventing logins if it detects a discrepancy.        

3. Securing More Than Just Users 

Users don’t need to be people to cause havoc on your network. Modern, next-generation privileged identity management tools now recognize that non-human entities can have their own permissions. 

Devices, applications, databases, and other programs can actually move data, make changes to the network, and more. Without proper monitoring and restrictions, as enforced by PIM solutions, hackers could easily exploit these security holes. Further, these restrictions prevent greyware or malicious applications from operating unmonitored. 

Also, you need to consider your third-parties; vendors and partners may have their own privileged accounts in your network. Without privileged identity management, hackers could use these accounts as a stepping stone.  

Privileged identity management tools restrict third-parties and non-human identities from violating the Principle of Least Privilege.          

4. Session Monitoring and Privilege Vault

Next-generation privileged access management tools also provide session monitoring recordings; these can be sorted into searchable metadata for incident response efforts. Furthermore, session monitoring capabilities can leverage user behavior analytics to automatically detect and suspend suspicious privileged sessions. Your team can review a clear chain of actions during incident response and follow the trail. 

PIM tools also collect all privileged accounts in a centralized vault. This secure credentials from across the network and centralizes management efforts. 

You can learn more in our Privileged Access Management Buyer’s Guide. We cover the top solution providers and their key capabilities in detail.  

Ben Canner

Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
Ben Canner