Privileged Access Management Best Practices for SMBs

Publication date: Feb 07, 2023

Last Published: Jul 12, 2023

Table of Contents
Read Time : 5 minutes

In today’s digital age, all small and medium-sized organizations (SMBs) are responsible for protecting large piles of treasure. At least that’s how cybercriminals see sensitive data like customer and employee information, intellectual property, or trade secrets. This treasure is so important that only certain privileged users, such as IT administrators, have unrestricted access to it.

As a result, privileged users are extremely valuable targets in the eyes of malicious actors, who are willing to go to great lengths to steal their keys so they can loot the digital kingdom. To prevent this from happening, organizations must implement strict security measures, including the Privileged Access Management (PAM) best practices described in this article.

DoD Contractor’s Guide to CMMC 2.0 Compliance

What Is Privileged Access Management (PAM), and What Are Its Benefits?

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a security discipline that involves limiting and controlling access to privileged accounts. It addresses the fact that not all people who interact with an organization’s systems and the data they store have equal privileges.

Some users, such as domain administrators, local administrators, or application administrators, can do more than regular users. Namely, they can access data without any restrictions, change system configurations and settings, or even modify other users’ privileges.

By implementing PAM best practices, organizations can better protect these privileged accounts to reduce the risk of cyber attacks, data breaches, and insider threats. At the same time, PAM makes it easier to comply with regulatory requirements, and it can also increase efficiency by reducing the time and effort required to grant and manage privileged access, among other things.

Privileged Access Management vs. Identity Access Management

PAM is sometimes confused with IAM because they both focus on user authentication and authorization. The main difference between them is that PAM focuses specifically on privileged users, while IAM defines and manages the identities and access permissions of all users.

5 Essential Privileged Access Management Best Practices

The following five essential PAM best practices should be implemented by all SMBs that want to ensure their digital castles can’t be easily infiltrated by credential-stealing cybercriminals.

1. Create a Complete Inventory of Privileged Accounts

The first thing SMBs should do when implementing a PAM strategy is to create a complete inventory of all privileged accounts. In most cases, SMBs discover many accounts they had no idea even existed, including long-forgotten elevated personal accounts used by executives, shared privileged accounts created by social media managers, or various service accounts used for app-to-app communication.

The privileged account inventory should clearly identify who uses each privileged account and how. It should also include the user’s contact information so that the user can be quickly called or messaged should any issues with their account arise. All discovered privileged accounts that are no longer necessary should be deleted.

2. Strengthen the Authentication of Privileged Users

If privileged users hold the keys to the most critical systems and the most sensitive data, then the keys shouldn’t be easy to copy. That’s why organizations need to enforce password security best practices on privileged accounts, including:

  • Use strong, unique passwords for each account.
  • Don’t reuse passwords across multiple accounts.
  • Avoid writing down passwords or storing them as plain text files.

For extra security, organizations should also protect each privileged account with at least one extra lock by enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA). With MFA enabled, access to a privileged account requires not just a password but also a secondary form of authentication, such as a fingerprint, security token, or one-time code.

3. Limit Privileged Access as Much as Possible

Elevated privileges should be granted only when absolutely necessary, to resources that are actually needed, and for the minimum amount of time required, which is where just-in-time access and the principle of least privilege come in.

  • Just-in-time access: This security practice aims to reduce the amount of time that a user has elevated privileges by granting privileged access only when it is needed and revoking it immediately after use.
  • The principle of least privilege: By granting users the minimum amount of privileges necessary to perform their job functions, the principle of least privilege protects sensitive data from unauthorized and excessive access by outsiders and insiders alike.

4. Monitor and Record Privileged Account Activity

The monitoring and recording of privileged account activity is an essential pillar of any well-implemented PAM strategy. Organizations that have real-time visibility into the access and activity of their privileged accounts can detect potential abuse in a timely manner and respond to it before it causes harm.

Since it would be highly impractical—if not impossible—to review all privileged account activity manually, organizations should establish baselines and implement systems that enable automatic response to detected deviations.

5. Regularly Review Privileged Accounts

Finally, organizations should regularly review their privileged accounts to verify that all accounts are still needed and have appropriate privileges. This ongoing process should be done at least once a year, depending on the organization’s size and its security posture.

Any outdated or redundant accounts should be deactivated, and any inappropriate privileges should be revoked. Regular reviews of privileged accounts are also a fantastic opportunity for organizations to evaluate their overall PAM strategy, make any necessary updates, and ensure the strategy stays aligned with the evolving security landscape.

Get Started With Privileged Access Management

In conclusion, Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a critical aspect of cybersecurity because it deals with the protection of the most important accounts and, consequently, the systems and data such accounts can access and administer.

The good news for SMBs is that modern PAM solutions make it easy to implement the PAM best practices described in this article to protect the keys to their most valuable digital assets.

Get in touch with us at OSIbeyond to learn more about them and how they can be used to secure your organization’s privileged access. Our IT support & strategy services are tailored to meet the needs of small and medium-sized organizations in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Related Posts: