What’s the Difference Between IAM, IGA, and PAM?

The identity security landscape has transformed considerably within the last two decades. And for good reason. Mitigating identity-related access risks has become essential as companies face threats every day, from virtually everywhere.

The focus on managing the access of people, digital identities, and privileged accounts has increased significantly to address these risks, and has put Identity and Access Management (IAM), Identity Governance and Administration (IGA), and Privileged Access Management (PAM) in the forefront of identity programs within companies today.

But what really is the difference between these three interrelated areas and how can organizations leverage them within their own identity strategies and programs? This blog will examine the relationship between IAM, IGA, and PAM, and provide practical insights for leveraging them appropriately in your organization.

What Is Identity and Access Management (IAM)? 

Identity and Access Management is an essential part of overall IT security that manages digital identities and user access to data, systems, and resources within an organization. IAM security includes the policies, programs, and technologies that reduce identity-related access risks within a business.

Gartner defines IAM simply as ‘the discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons.’ As a critical security function, IAM enables companies to not just respond to changes in the business, but also become more proactive in anticipating identity-related access risks that result from the dynamic business environment.

According to the 2020 Identity and Access Management Report, 90 percent of organizations confirm that IAM is very to extremely important as part of their cybersecurity and risk management posture—up four percent from 2019. This confirmation of IAM as a strategic imperative means it should be viewed from a cross-functional perspective of stakeholders—from business leaders, IT and security teams, customers, auditors, employees, contractors and non-employees, vendors and partners.

A solid approach to IAM enables organizations to mitigate risks, improve compliance, and increase efficiencies across the enterprise. That’s why overseeing appropriate access through the right IAM framework goes a long way towards bolstering risk management within the organization and closing the gap on overall IAM risk.

What Is Identity Governance and Administration (IGA)?

IGA is both a policy framework and set of security solutions that enable organizations to more effectively mitigate identity-related access risks within their business. IGA automates the creation, management, and certification of user accounts, roles, and access rights for individual users in an organization. This means companies can streamline user provisioning, password management, policy management, access governance, and access reviews within their business.

Another definition of identity governance, as defined by Tech Target, is the ‘policy-based centralized orchestration of user identity management and access control,’ indicating the function ‘helps support enterprise IT security and regulatory compliance.’ Put into simpler terms, IGA means leveraging the most intelligent and efficient path to mitigating identity risk in your business. 

Considered part of Identity and Access Management, Identity Governance and Administration offers organizations increased visibility into the identities and access privileges of users, so they can better manage who has access to what systems, and when. Identity governance empowers organizations to do more with less, enhance their security posture, and meet increasing auditor demands, while also scaling for growth.

What Does IGA Do?

Identity Governance and Administration provides automation capabilities for creating and managing user accounts, roles, and access rights for individual users within organizations. With IGA, organizations can easily leverage a more secure, strategic, and streamlined approach for provisioning and deprovisioning, user lifecycle management, compliance and governance, password management, access certifications, and risk insight. Identity governance also enables companies to:

  • Improve organizational security and reduce identity-related risk
  • Leverage role-based access for intelligent, visible role management
  • Streamline certification processes to comply with increasing auditor demands
  • Ensure compliance with government regulations and industry standards
  • Boost operational efficiencies to empower the business to do more with less

How Do IGA and IAM Differ From Each Other?

While they may sound very similar, Gartner takes care to distinguish between the function, extent, and purpose of IGA and IAM. Specifically, it notes, ‘IGA differs from IAM in that it allows organizations to not only define and enforce IAM policy, but also connect IAM functions to meet audit and compliance requirements.’ This means Identity Governance and Administration has the distinct purpose to ensure IAM policies are connected and enforced.

What Is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?

Now that we’ve examined IAM and IGA, let’s take a look at Privileged Access Management. PAM is considered a critical security control that enables organizations to simplify how they define, monitor, and manage privileged access across their IT systems, applications, and infrastructure.

Because administrator accounts have elevated privileges that can access valuable data and execute applications or transactions—often with little or no tracking control—it can be very difficult to manage privileged accounts. PAM solutions centralize management of administrator profiles and ensure least privileged access is enforced to give users only the access they need.

Of each of the three areas discussed here, PAM is the most narrowly defined, but has the significant responsibility for mitigating identity-related access risks related to privileged access. While IAM and IGA focus on wider levels of user access for resources, systems, and applications across the organization, PAM primarily defines and controls access for privileged users. Let’s take a look now at some types of privileged accounts.  

What Are Privileged Accounts?

Privileged accounts are typically shared accounts that inherently possess elevated access to data or services. In more vivid terms, these accounts are considered elevated accounts within your IT environment that hold the 'keys to the kingdom.' Examples of elevated privileges include the ability to change system configuration, to install or remove software, or to add, remove or modify user accounts. Elevated privileges can also just simply be access to sensitive data. Below are three specific types of privileged accounts:

  • Root/Administrator Accounts: These accounts possess full authority to systems and have no restriction for accessing services or data residing on a server. They are considered the most valuable targets for threat actors.
  • System Accounts: These accounts are used for running operating system services and can modify the relevant files and configurations. They are typically provisioned with the operating system.
  • Service/Application Accounts: These accounts are used for running processes and applications through automated, often unattended tasks. They frequently own or have access to data, resources, or configurations not available to non-privileged users.

Each organization should determine what is classified as privileged data, where it is, and who has access to it. Control of privileged accounts is a major factor in compliance across regulations in every industry. Because of their elevated access, privileged accounts have more significant risks than non-privileged accounts and have more potential for exploit or abuse. Privileged accounts, which can number in the hundreds in some enterprises, are frequently not tied to specific individuals, so the accounts can be used to do virtually anything, with little or no possibility of detection. 

What Are PASM and PEDM?

As Privileged Access Management has evolved, Gartner has established two further classifications to highlight different mechanisms of PAM solutions. These include Privileged Account and Session Management (PASM) and Privilege Elevation and Delegation Management (PEDM). Both PASM and PEDM use the principle of least privilege, which mandates that users only have the access necessary to their job functions, but have different mechanisms in how the target account is protected and accessed.

PASM solutions are often referred to as password vaulting. Privileged account credentials are securely created and distributed exclusively by the solution. When users need access to a specific server, they request access from the vault, and are given a temporary account with full administrative privileges. This account is only valid for a single session. Additionally, the session activity is monitored and recorded.

Leading PEDM solutions distribute access privilege based on job roles. Instead of using temporary privileged accounts, PEDM tools assign permanent privilege to standard accounts. PEDM tools define who can have access to each part of a system as well as what they can do with that access. This approach scales much better, centralizes management, and enhances overall security.


Ready for Identity Solutions That Move You Forward?

There is too much at stake for organizations today to ignore the importance of implementing intelligent Identity Governance and Administration and Privileged Access Management solutions as part of a larger IAM framework. Investing in IGA and PAM solutions that mitigate identity-related access risks enable organizations to significantly decrease their risk of attack, support streamlined regulatory certification and compliance, and increase operational efficiencies.

Making sure you provide appropriate access goes a long way in mitigating risk and improving the overall security posture of your organization. Don’t wait until you are reacting to a security incident. See how our IGA and PAM solutions are the foundation for a solid Identity and Access Management program in your organization.

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