Building An Effective Privileged Access Management Program

In today’s world of ever-present cyber threats, organizations need robust defenses to protect their systems and data. A key aspect of cybersecurity defense is controlling privileged access – the credentials that administrators use to manage computer systems. Without proper controls over privileged accounts, attackers can gain a foothold and access sensitive resources.

However, implementing privileged access management (PAM) controls is often seen as a one-time project to become compliant with security standards. In reality, PAM requires an ongoing program that evolves over time as new threats emerge. When designed thoughtfully, a PAM program can significantly reduce cyber risk without major disruptions to business operations.

The most effective PAM programs take a phased approach to balance security priorities with business needs:

Phase 1 – Risk Assessment: Document all administrative accounts across platforms and identify those that pose the greatest potential risk. This allows focusing first on accounts with widespread access privileges that attackers would likely target.

Phase 2 – Prioritize Quick Wins: With highest risk accounts identified, implement initial PAM controls such as multi-factor authentication, automated rotation of passwords, and logging of activities. Going after “quick win” security gaps builds momentum without being too disruptive.

Phase 3 – Expand Controls: With initial building blocks in place, start expanding controls to additional accounts and systems. Integrate PAM systems with IT ticketing workflows to streamline access granting procedures. Begin managing SSH keys, service accounts, and application-to-application credentials.

Phase 4 – Automate Processes: Mature PAM programs embed controls into provisioning, deprovisioning and daily account management processes. The goal is to automate mundane tasks to reduce administrative workload. All changes are logged centrally for auditing purposes.

Phase 5 – Continuous Improvement: Treat PAM as an ongoing program, not a one-time project. Continually evaluate controls, close gaps, and keep up with new guidance. Integrate with identity governance systems to unify visibility over access.

Building an effective Privileged Access Management program takes time – often multiple years. But a phased, disciplined approach allows securing high-privilege access without major disruptions to business. Ongoing improvement and automation ensures the program continues effectively adapting to evolving threats.