IAM vs PAM: What is the Difference?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Your employees can likely access anything from anywhere. For example, features like Single Sign On (SSO) provide employees with seamless access to the necessary tools and resources, helping break down productivity and efficiency barriers. 

But how secure are these ‘access any time’ digital interactions? The pressing need for secure and efficient access management is evident, with 49% of data breaches happening because of issues with these access rights. 

IAM comes into play to ensure appropriate access for all individuals, while PAM focuses on providing special safeguards for privileged access. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two. 

What is IAM?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) ensures that only the right people have access to the right resources. It identifies, authenticates, and authorizes users to access applications, networks, or systems by associating user roles and permissions. 

The goal of IAM is to provide a single point of control for managing users and their access in line with IAM best practices like zero trust and MFA.

By meticulously managing who has access to what resources, IAM ensures that only authorized individuals can access critical information. As well as significantly reducing the risk of data breaches, IAM provides the visibility and control over access that’s essential for compliance with stringent regulatory standards like GDPR and HIPAA. 

It also makes life easier for users, too. IAM enhances operational efficiency and user experience by streamlining access to various applications and services, making it a key component in maintaining the integrity and security of an organization’s digital assets.

How Does IAM Work?

IAM solutions perform two critical tasks: Authentication and authorization.

Authentication vs Authorization
  • Authentication – When someone in the organization tries to access a specific tool or data, the IAM system checks their identity, usually through a username and password, biometrics, or other authentication methods.
  • Authorization – Once the user’s identity is confirmed, IAM checks what permissions they have by reviewing what the person is allowed to do or see within the system based on their role in the organization.

What are the Benefits of IAM?

  • Enhanced security: Reduces the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access. For example, it supports advanced security features like Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
  • Regulatory compliance: Plays a crucial role in helping organizations adhere to legal and regulatory standards. For example, IAM systems can enforce policies limiting access to personal information, helping the organization comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • Improved user experience: Features like Single Sign-On (SSO) streamline the user experience.
  • Reduced IT costs: Administrators can set time limits and rules for user access and automatically remove privileges when roles change, reducing the risk of misuse or theft.

What are the Challenges of IAM?

  • Complex integration: Integrating IAM solutions into existing IT infrastructure can be challenging for organizations with legacy systems. For instance, connecting a modern IAM solution with a decade-old database will require extensive customizations.
  • Balancing security and usability: Implementing strong security measures, like MFA, can sometimes complicate the user experience.
  • Scalability and flexibility: The IAM system you choose must accommodate more users, more complex organizational structures, and a greater variety of access levels without compromising performance or security.

What is PAM?

Priviledged Acess Management Lifecycle

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a security framework that focuses on controlling and overseeing the access of privileged users within an organization. These privileged users have higher access rights, often allowing them to manage critical systems or sensitive data.

PAM’s goal is to reduce the risks associated with privileged access significantly. PAM helps protect against external and internal threats by tightly monitoring and auditing privileged accounts.

How Does PAM Work?

PAM operates through several key functions:

  • Identification of privileged accounts: The first step is to identify all the accounts with privileged access, including user accounts, service accounts, application accounts, and more.
  • Securing access: PAM ensures secure access to these accounts through authentication methods like MFA, secure portals, or password vaults. PAM follows the principle of least privilege, ensuring that users have only the access necessary for their role.
  • Monitoring and auditing: PAM tools constantly monitor user activities and maintain detailed logs. They can manage and record user sessions and the entire lifecycle of privileged access, from granting access based on role changes to revoking access. This helps in quickly detecting any unusual or unauthorized behavior.

What are the Benefits of PAM?

  • Enhanced security: Prevents unauthorized access to critical systems by ensuring only authorized users can make significant changes.
  • Compliance assurance: Helps organizations meet strict cloud and other compliance regulations. For example, PAM can ensure compliance with Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) regulations by meticulously controlling and logging access to financial records and systems.
  • Regulate access in one location: Allows organizations to manage all privileged accounts centrally, regardless of the platform, device, application, or service.
  • Prevent privileged account attacks: Administrators can set time limits and rules for user access and automatically remove privileges when roles change, reducing the risk of misuse or theft.

What are the Challenges of PAM?

  • User resistance: Users with long-standing privileges might resist PAM changes, such as stricter access controls or the need for more frequent authentication. This resistance can slow down implementation and adoption.
  • Balancing security and efficiency: Finding the right balance between securing privileged accounts and maintaining operational efficiency can be challenging. For instance, overly restrictive access controls might hinder administrators’ ability to perform routine tasks quickly.
  • Regular maintenance and updates: PAM systems require ongoing maintenance and updates to remain effective.

IAM vs. PAM: 5 Key Differences

IAM and PAM complement each other. While IAM provides broad control over user access across an organization, PAM provides more granular control and monitoring of privileged accounts. But both are essential for a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and here is how they differ.

1. Tools

IAM

  • IAM tools are designed to manage and secure general user access using SSO, MFA, and directory services.
  • For example, directory services like Active Directory (AD) or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) can be used to manage user roles and permissions easily.
How LDAP Works

PAM

  • PAM tools focus on privileged access management, such as session monitoring, password vaults, and privileged session management.
  • For example, privileged session management tools can provide controlled, monitored, and recorded access to sensitive systems, ensuring that only authorized users can perform high-risk tasks.

2. Differences in Implementation

IAM

  • IAM is implemented organization-wide, integrating various systems and applications to manage user identities and access rights.
  • An example is integrating IAM with HR systems like SAP SuccessFactors for automated user provisioning based on employee roles and status changes.

PAM

  • PAM is typically implemented in areas requiring higher security levels, such as IT departments, server rooms, or data centers.
  • For example, implementing PAM in IT departments might involve setting up a privileged access workflow where multiple stakeholders review and approve access requests.

3. Tracking User Access

IAM

  • IAM systems track user access via logs, which can be integrated with Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) systems like Okta and IBM Security Verify. These logs detail which users accessed which applications or resources, aiding in both security and compliance efforts.
Rezonate Users Dashboard

PAM

  • Provides granular tracking of privileged user actions.
  • This can include real-time monitoring capabilities and detailed audit trails, like those provided by CyberArk, which can record session activity down to the keystroke or command level.
Policy Audit Events

4. Level of Security

IAM

  • Offers foundational security, such as enforcing password policies across all users.
  • An example is implementing complex password requirements and regular password rotation policies. Shown below is a JavaScript function that checks for complex password requirements.
function isPasswordComplex(password) {
    // Regex to check for a minimum of 8 characters, including uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters
    const regex = /^(?=.*[a-z])(?=.*[A-Z])(?=.*\d)(?=.*[@$!%*?&])[A-Za-z\d@$!%*?&]{8,}$/;
    return regex.test(password);
}

// Example usage
const password = "ExamplePassword1!";
console.log(isPasswordComplex(password));

PAM

  • Provides an enhanced security level, like enforcing One-Time Passwords (OTPs) for accessing critical systems, or implementing Just-In-Time (JIT) access, granting privileged access only when needed and for a limited duration.

5. Target Users / Scope of Users

IAM

  • Targets a broad user base, including employees, contractors, and customers.
  • For example, IAM policies might dictate access levels for different departments or external partners, ensuring appropriate access based on roles.

PAM

  • Focuses on a narrower, more specialized user group.
  • For example, it might manage access to server rooms or data centers for IT staff, ensuring that only authorized personnel access these high-risk areas.

Apart from the above, there are various other factors to compare IAM and PAM:

IAM vs PAM

Securing Digital Access: The Way Forward with Rezonate

With nearly half of all data breaches stemming from improper access management, the importance of IAM and PAM has become paramount. However, these traditional approaches have also become complex and inflexible due to the rise of remote work and hybrid cloud infrastructure. 

Rezonate‘s identity centric security platform tackles the complexity of modern IAM and PAM by providing real-time, end-to-end coverage of all access activities. Rezonate ensures your organization is not just reacting to security incidents but also proactively managing and preventing them, offering:

  • Continuous monitoring and protection.
  • Immediate insights into potential security threats.
  • Comprehensive visibility across the entire access landscape, from cloud environments to on-premises applications. 
  • Automatically identify and rectify potential vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
  • Seamlessly integrate with modern work environments, including remote and hybrid models.

Rezonate complements traditional IAM and PAM systems and provides the necessary Cybersecurity layer on top of them, focusing not only on the Administration and operational aspects but zeroing in on the security requirements to measure, manage, and reduce identity risk via its identity intelligence capabilities. Rezonarte, elevates them, addressing their limitations and fitting them into modern requirements.

See Rezonate in action today.

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“Rezonate combines identity threat detection and posture management to reduce exposure time and optimize our response to suspicious activities. The robust remediation workflows and the UI, make the platform an important asset in our line of defense.”

Paul Groisman

Sr. Director Cyber Security, Fubo

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