Let’s Demystify Where Privileged Access Is for Non-IT Users, Machines, and All

Technology is evolutionary for businesses and the processes that drive them. Changes are always happening, and the need for dynamic, secure access to data, networks and systems has increased exponentially over the years.

For organizations that have already begun or are continuously moving towards digital transformations and cloud adoption, Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a term that’s becoming more and more important.

But while Privileged Access Management is increasingly relevant, the specifics of what it entails can be hard for non-IT professionals to understand. What’s more difficult yet is grasping where privileged access comes into play and how it affects everyday users.

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What Is Privileged Access Management?

Privileged Access Management, or PAM, refers to the process of managing, monitoring and controlling access to privileged accounts within an organization. Privileged accounts are those with elevated access rights that provide users with the ability to modify settings, access sensitive data, and execute critical commands.

These accounts are often targeted by cybercriminals because they give them unrestricted access to an organization’s most valuable digital assets through corporate networks like Active Directory and Samba.

Privileged Access Management includes processes, policies, and technologies aimed at preventing unauthorized access to privileged accounts. It also involves monitoring the use of privileged accounts and ensuring that only authorized users are using them.

Many organizations invest in PAM solutions specifically designed to help them manage privileged access, automating processes like:

  • Privileged account discovery and management
  • Password management and rotation
  • Least privilege access controls
  • Session recording and activity monitoring
  • Automated workflows for access requests and approvals
  • Integration with IT service management tools

Overall, privileged access management helps organizations minimize their attack surface and limit the risk of malicious actors gaining access to their most important systems, networks and data.

Types of Privileged Accounts

Privileged accounts can be divided into three main categories:

Privileged User Accounts

Behind every digital system, there is a select group of individuals who hold the keys to the kingdom. These would be considered privileged user accounts. These accounts grant users access to resources and functionality that an average user doesn’t have.


An admin accountor, or root account on UNIX/Linux systems, is typically the most powerful type of privileged account, as it grants full control of a system or network. Admins can create, modify, and delete user accounts, access confidential data, and perform any action on the system. This level of access must be tightly controlled.

Local Administrator

Local administrator and NT Authority/System privileged accounts are accounts with administrative rights and permissions on a local machine, rather than a network or domain level. Typically, these accounts are used to manage the machine where they are granted access.

Emergency Break Glass Accounts

Emergency break glass accounts, sometimes known as Firecall accounts, are used in emergency situations when regular accounts and processes are not available. This type of account is intended for use in highly secure environments, and access should be granted only to trusted personnel with a legitimate need.

SSH Keys

SSH keys are used to enable secure communication between two devices that are exchanging data. They are commonly used for remote access, automation, and other similar purposes. SSH keys can provide privileged access, so it’s essential to control their distribution and usage.

Privileged Business Users

In some cases, businesses grant privileged access to non-IT users. Often, these users require elevated privileges due to their role or responsibilities within the organization. However, it’s crucial to monitor and control their access to limit potential risks, such as data leaks or malicious activities.

Privileged Machine Accounts

Machines and non-human-operated systems also require privileged access in order to execute certain functions. These types of accounts include:

Service Accounts

A service account is a non-human account that is used by services or applications to interact with other services or applications. They are often used to run scheduled tasks, workflows, or other automated processes.


SSH keys are used for secure remote logins to machines. The keys act like a password for remote logins and enable machines to communicate securely with each other.

Application Accounts

These accounts are used by applications to interact with other applications. They often have elevated privileges to run and access data on other applications in order to carry out a task or function.


A secret is a secure token or password used to access and authenticate with other applications or systems. Secrets are often used in DevOps environments to securely store and retrieve secrets such as passwords or access keys.

Non-Privileged Accounts

Non-privileged accounts are standard user accounts that do not have full administrative access to a system. These accounts are usually set up for regular employees or guests who only require basic access to perform their duties.

Standard User Accounts

Standard user accounts are the most basic type of non-privileged account. They are created for regular employees who need to access specific resources or carry out routine tasks within the system. These accounts are limited to read, write, and execute permissions on files and folders, and they cannot install or remove software or hardware components.

Guest Accounts

Guest accounts are another type of non-privileged account that is commonly used to provide temporary access to the system. These accounts are often created for visitors, contractors, or vendors who need to access specific resources or applications within the system for a limited time.

How to Define Privileged Accounts

Defining privileged accounts is one of the most important steps in securing your company’s network. These accounts are vital to managing the security of your company’s infrastructure, and it is critical that you classify them correctly.

Here are some helpful steps you can follow to define privileged accounts in your organization:

Create and Define Roles for Users

The first step you should take is creating and defining roles for any users who will be accessing your company’s IT systems. Differentiating access levels between administrative and non-administrative roles is vital.

Administrative roles should only be reserved for individuals who require high-level access to your company’s most critical systems, while non-administrative roles are for those who don’t need elevated privileges day-to-day.

When designing these roles, it’s essential to consider various factors such as the level of knowledge, responsibility, and job function of each user. Every role you create should have a detailed description that outlines the user’s responsibilities and access privileges.

Assign Priority to Systems and Services That Will Need to Be Recovered After an Attack

The second step to defining privileged accounts is assigning priority to the systems and services that will need to be restored in the event of a data breach. This is especially true for any systems with sensitive data, such as financial records and customer information.

Being able to quickly restore these types of systems can help minimize the damage caused by an attack and speed up your company’s recovery process.

Secure Third-Party Vendor Access

Using third-party vendors can help you secure your privileged accounts. A reliable vendor will offer identity management and access control solutions that allow you to secure and monitor user sessions.

Properly vetting and using reliable third-party vendors can ensure that your privileged accounts are managed correctly and in accordance with industry best practices.

Privileged Access Tips

While the concept of privileged access may seem intimidating, it’s important to remember that there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your privileged accounts remain secure and minimize the chances of a data breach.

Create a Formal Company Policy

A formal policy outlining your organization’s privileged access practices is essential. This policy should define the roles and responsibilities of employees with privileged access, establish guidelines for system access, and set expectations for proper behavior.

A defined policy helps ensure that employees understand their roles and their conduct aligns with the organization’s objectives.

Educate Your Employees

Employees should clearly understand the importance of privileged access management and the potential risks associated with it. Regular cybersecurity training sessions keep them informed of best practices.

The training should focus on privilege escalation, password management, and secure communication practices. Employees should be encouraged to report concerns immediately to avoid security breaches.

Enforce the Principle of Least Privilege

The principle of least privilege means granting individuals the minimum required access to complete their work. This practice reduces the risk of privilege escalation and unauthorized access.

Identifying who needs privileged access in your organization, and granting access only on a “need-to-know” basis, will help ensure security. While this may seem to be a bit “disruptive” to an organization’s productivity, it’s essential for the protection of their data and creating the right balance of convenience and security is essential.

Inventory Your Resources

A detailed inventory of your organization’s resources can help you establish a baseline, track changes, and identify areas that might need additional protection.

Conduct periodic audits to ensure that your inventory is up-to-date and accurately reflects your assets. Having a comprehensive inventory of your network assets, users, and systems will help you identify potential risks and take steps to improve security long-term.

Vault Secrets

Storing passwords and other sensitive information in a secure vault can help reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Privileged account vaults provide a secure and centralized way to store, manage, and rotate privileged credentials.

By encrypting the data and using strong authentication methods, you can ensure that only those who need access to sensitive information can gain access.

Audit Privileged Activity

Regular auditing helps identify potential security breaches, determine the root causes, and develop appropriate responses. Auditing also helps you identify risks and potential areas of improvement while also allowing you to monitor privileged activity in real time.

Don’t Be Intimidated By Privileged Access Management

Now that you know the basics of privileged access management, you can start implementing a strategy to ensure your organization’s data remains secure. Although there are various measures that need to be taken, the most important thing is to develop a policy and start making security a priority.

With the right policies in place, you can ensure that your organization’s privileged access is managed the way it should be.

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