What is the difference between IAM and PAM?

Access management within a business context is the process of handling user privileges in complex corporate networks. It comes in two variations: identity and privilege. 

While they have overlapping responsibilities and are often referred to interchangeably, Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) are not exactly the same.

Understanding the difference between them is important if you work in IT, digital security, or any other position that puts you in charge of the security posture and compliance level of your business. 

Remember that 9 out of 10 surveyed organizations stated that access management was a large part of their cybersecurity strategy, so spare no expense in developing an equivalent system for your business.



What Is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Businesses work with a lot of sensitive information, services, and applications every day. In order to protect the privacy of themselves, their clients, and their employees, they need a secure way to authenticate human and machine users and to be able to authorize their access privileges in a way that does not compromise on productivity while still maintaining a streamlined user experience.

The recent surge in remote work has only boosted the trend towards having a more secure digital environment for off-premises employees. IAM technology has taken center stage, with an extra $15 billion spent per week on remote security.


What Does IAM Aim to Accomplish?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) includes all the tools and practices IT professionals use to:

  • Control digital access
  • Protect against internal and external cyberattacks
  • Authenticate users and entities, both internal and external
  • Keep records of access activities and logins
  • And generate an audit trail for compliance reasons

Modern approaches to IAM use automated tools, which are far less error-prone and much more efficient than traditional manual methods. For instance,

  • Password security: The IT department can strengthen password security through strong credential management and multi-factor authentication to prevent identity theft. Why businesses need to focus on passwords more often is apparent, as almost half of US companies suffer a data breach at one point according to the 2021 Thales Data Threat Report.
  • Role-based access control (RBAC): You can assign every employee, application, or other entity a specific role in the business and then assign access privileges based on those roles. Even when roles change during staff promotions or server configurations, the right amount of access is always given.
  • De-provisioning: When an employee leaves the company, IAM automatically de-provisions the associated credentials and roles. Properly closing accounts and their access rights will prevent open gaps that would otherwise threaten company’s security and be a prime target for cybercriminals.
  • Centralized management: Visibility and awareness are the keys to a secure workspace for your organization. Automated IAM solutions often provide a dashboard for centralized administration of cybersecurity needs.

IAM has become more and more essential as companies digitize their workflows, cyberattack rates go up, and governments subsequently put more legal pressure on businesses to improve their cybersecurity. Having the right control over your security also paints you in a positive light for your business partners and customers.


Tools and Practices

Automated identity access management solutions deploy several components and tools in order to accomplish these goals.

  • Contextual authentication: A risk-based approach looks at a user’s IP address, location, or network to calculate a risk level before granting access.
  • Multi-factor authentication: You have likely used 2FA before when logging into a social networking account. The site sends your smartphone a notification to verify your login before giving you access. The same technology is used in business as an extra layer of security when a user authenticates, and it is so effective that the IRS itself recommends it.
  • Single sign-on (SSO): Instead of having individual logins for every application (each of which is a potential target for exploitation and misconduct), single sign-on allows you to authenticate with just one set of credentials. SSO streamlines the workflow, enhances the user experience, and minimizes the security risk.
  • Zero-Trust: The traditional “border patrol” approach to network security using a firewall is no longer sufficient, especially now that working remotely has become the new normal for many businesses. Zero Trust assumes everyone is unauthorized until proven otherwise.


What Is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

A portion of the people in a company network have special access to backend services, systems, and databases where the business’s most sensitive data is stored. Oftentimes, these people are known as administrators. A subset of IAM, known as Privileged Access Management (PAM), deals with handling these privileged accounts. You can think of “regular” IAM as the management system for giving and managing access to people who request it.

Following the principle of least privilege, PAM aims to give as little privileged access as possible so that authenticated users can still perform the business activities they need to do while still minimizing the potential for unauthorized access to areas which they do not need access to. Information security experts, for example, might:

  • Manage account credentials separately to prevent misuse or theft
  • Require unique logins for each user with unique secrets, tokens, and keys
  • Restrict access sessions with time limits or policies

Just as it sounds, PAM and IAM can only work together. IT administrators will consequently close off any gaps in the security posture of the business.



Getting Both To Work Together

If you have separate solutions for both PAM and IAM, you run the risk of inefficiencies and unnecessary redundancies. That is why finding a way to integrate your IAM and PAM initiatives is so important. An integrated access management solution means not only more comprehensive protection but also less complexity and more productivity.

In the face of an evermore threat-laden business environment, protecting your most critical assets and high-ranking accounts from becoming targets for cybercriminals is paramount. Identity and Access Management and its associated Privileged Access Management are the keys to better company resilience against malware, phishing attacks, and identity theft.


Book your Discovery Call today with one of our IAM or PAM experts!