Identity & Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) are often misunderstood having similar features – both dealing with users, access and roles. They also refer to safeguarding data by protecting who has access to the systems, and what they are allowed to do on sensitive systems.

Despite these fact, they are actually quite different…

The role of PAM is to protect users with privileged access to sensitive data. IAM takes care of business’ everyday users or customers, controlling the access and experience that those users are granted within an application.

Usually it is recommended PAM solution to be primarily implemented, followed by a complimentary IAM solution. The reason is that PAM solutions take security and compliance a step further and help IT teams to get control over privileged users and accounts. Of course, there are organizations that implement Privileged Access Management and Identity and Access Management independently. In this way they miss some key values that could come from their integration such as getting control over user access, permissions and rights to address a security, and compliance.

Let’s now go back to the differences between PAM and IAM:  For example, IAM allows you to provide a salesperson with access to their email account, and provides higher level access for certain individuals to log into sensitive systems such as finance and HR.

In contrast, PAM tools are able to manage passwords and authentication and enable servers and databases to securely communicate. These privileged accounts are defined as highly sensitive because they give access to administrative capabilities such as network and server settings. 

IAM systems are great at establishing and removing the access to accounts but they lack the visibility and reporting when privileged access is performed on applications and databases. The ability to audit and monitor the actions of system administrators is a critical security capability required by regulations and reviewed periodically by auditors. And this is what PAM does – provides auditing and monitoring what a system administrator is doing in a specific system, a visibility on how identities are being used, and logging session reports.

IAM and PAM could be integrated and that process provides multiple benefits: PAM delivers data to IAM regarding who can have access to which role-based accounts and then IAM delivers data to PAM defining who should have access to privileged tasks.