IAM vs. PAM: What Can They Do for Your Business?

by Jake Wengroff
IAM vs. PAM: What Can They Do for Your Business?

Identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management (PAM) are two types of access-management strategies that organizations use to manage authentication and authorization at scale. However, while similar, these products serve very different functions within an enterprise IT environment.

An Overview of IAM

IAM, or identity and access management, is a collection of rules and policies that control users’ access to devices, apps, networks and other resources. IAM allows a business to determine who can access what, when, where and how. This includes restricting or granting administrative privileges to employees on an as-needed basis.

An Overview of PAM

PAM, or privileged access management, is a subset of IAM that focuses on managing access to specific resources and services, often of a critical nature. PAM restricts access to privileged information, such as data and apps stored in devices and networks, to certain employees.

“At its core,” notes CIO Insight, “PAM operates as a gatekeeper for privileged information by managing privileged access to an organization’s resources.”

Similarities Between IAM and PAM

There are many similarities between IAM and PAM, which is perhaps why a lot of confusion exists between the two.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

For both IAM and PAM, access is assigned — and controlled — based on roles. Not everyone holds all of the privileges to access all resources. Having defined roles makes both policy creation and enforcement easier because roles will include predefined sets of permissions for a particular task or job function. For example, members of the marketing team will not have access to the company’s accounting data and vice-versa.

Strong Authentication Built In

Strong authentication, including two-factor or multifactor, is a must for both IAM and PAM. This ensures that only verified users can get in and access the right resource. Beyond a password, the use of a one-time passcode, authenticator app or biometric modality for both IAM and PAM adds another layer of protection.

Continuous Monitoring

Continuous network monitoring is most likely in place for both IAM and PAM. Strong continuous-monitoring policies and even automation software can spot anomalies and stop a breach early before significant damage can occur.

IAM vs. PAM: How Are They Different?

Despite these similarities, there are also striking differences. Here are a few:

Users vs. Assets

Once deployed within an organization, IAM can be leveraged to manage both users and assets simultaneously, while PAM only manages assets. However, PAM provides much more granular control over assets.

PAM Is Less Flexible

“When compared side-by-side, it’s clear that IAM tends to have a larger initial cost, due to its need for integration with existing platforms,” notes CIO Insight. “On the other hand, PAM has high reliability, due to its complexity.” While PAM is considered less adaptable than IAM, IAM’s flexibility can be misused, leading to potential security risks. In this way, PAM closes the gap, bringing stricter access control standards to critical assets.

IAM Includes User Provisioning and Delegation

IAM takes care of provisioning and delegation, or creating and assigning login accounts. PAM takes over from there and ensures that these accounts can only access the assets they have privileges for.

Can a Company Deploy IAM and PAM Together?

IAM lets an enterprise define who can access specific resources in its ecosystem. However, PAM goes a step further by defining who has access to which resources.

Rather than deciding to leverage one or the other, centralized tools can bring these products together in order to reduce friction and improve user experience. This is not only for employees but also for customers or partners, who also must be assigned access.

With centralized access management in place, employees and customers would experience faster logins, and IT staff can receive detailed reports on activity across all accounts. Risky or unusual behaviors can be spotted immediately and addressed before further damage occurs. Indeed, both IAM and PAM can work in tandem to provide the strongest security across the organization.

Your Privileged Access Management Solution

To summarize, IAM vs. PAM comes down to identity validation versus resource-access validation. IAM is based on credentials, while PAM is based on attributes. However, which one would be most appropriate for your organization?

The Migus Group can answer this question. We can help you better understand access management and how its implementation fits into your overall security policies and risk management strategy for your organization.

Contact us today to learn more.

Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, he covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and the Internet of Things.