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What is a Privileged Access Management (PAM) Tool?

A Privileged Access Management (PAM) tool is a cybersecurity solution used to secure privileged users and sessions. Privileged users, such as administrators and root users, wield elevated control over network resources, like databases and applications.

While this elevated control is necessary for maintaining and managing these resources, it also presents a substantial security risk. PAM tools are designed to mitigate this risk by offering specialized, dedicated security controls for privileged accounts and sessions.

PAM tools can discover and inventory all privileged identities, use encryption to protect privileged credentials, grant temporary privileged access and detect any suspicious activities (e.g. data exfiltration). In the following sections, we will discuss the different categories of PAM tools.

Core PAM tool categories

The three core categories of PAM tools are: Privileged Access and Session Management (PASM), Privileged Elevation and Delegation Management (PEDM), and Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM).

1. Privileged Access and Session Management (PASM)

Privileged Access and Session Management (PASM) is a core category of PAM that primarily focuses on securing privileged credentials and sessions. PASM tools:

  • Store all privileged identities in a central vault. Access to the vault is typically governed by strong cryptographic techniques.
  • Ensure that privileged sessions operate within a controlled environment, preventing lateral movement or unauthorized access to critical systems.
  • Offer the ability to monitor and record privileged sessions. This enables administrators to closely track security-critical activities and detect any suspicious behavior.
  • Can force-terminate a session if any anomalous behavior is detected. This feature can stop malicious actors in their tracks.
2. Privileged Elevation and Delegation Management (PEDM)

Privileged Elevation and Delegation Management (PEDM) is another core PAM category that addresses the nuanced challenges of elevating and delegating privileged access within an organization. PEDM tools:

  • Allow administrators to define fine-grained access privileges. For example, an administrator may grant host-level elevated privileges to a user, permitting them to run root commands, but only on a specific host. This level of granularity embodies the essence of the principle of least privilege.
  • Support temporary privilege assignment. This ensures that privileges are automatically revoked when they are no longer needed, significantly decreasing the attack surface of an organization.
  • Can securely delegate administrative tasks to non-administrative staff. The PEDM tool ensures that these delegated tasks are executed in a controlled and auditable environment.
  • Offer a Just-in-Time (JIT) approach for granting additional roles and access rights. This ensures that administrators can request and receive temporary privileges precisely when needed, reducing the potential for privilege misuse.
3. Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM)

In today’s remote-first world, Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM) has emerged as another core category of PAM tools. RPAM tools are specifically designed to manage privileged access to remote systems and applications. RPAM tools:

  • Provide a secure gateway for remote users to access critical systems without requiring a VPN. This access is often governed by Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and tightly monitored to prevent unauthorized activities.
  • Encrypt remote sessions. This helps in protecting data in transit and preventing eavesdropping.
  • Allow administrators to monitor, record and replay remote privileged sessions. These are all essential features for activity tracking, forensic analysis and compliance reporting.
  • Often include features for endpoint security, which ensures that user devices meet security standards before being allowed on a network.

JIT Privilege — the pseudo PAM category

Just-in-Time (JIT) privilege is not strictly a core PAM category, but rather an invented concept that is often presented as such. JIT Privilege tools focus on granting temporary elevated privileges, on an as-needed basis, for a specific task or purpose. Here’s how they work:

  1. Administrators set up automated-approval workflows to temporarily grant elevated privileges to authorized users.
  2. Users request privileges using the JIT privilege tool, which triggers an automated approval workflow.
  3. The tool uses the workflow to verify the request, prompting the user for a justification and other relevant information.
  4. Depending on the outcome of the previous step, the request is either accepted or denied.

While these concepts align with the overarching principles of PAM, JIT privilege is not a distinct category of PAM tools. A JIT privilege tool is also not a replacement for a comprehensive PAM solution.

Adjacent PAM tool categories

In addition to the core categories of PAM tools and products, there are a few other categories that are closely related to PAM. These include:

a. Secrets management

Secrets management tools allow organizations to manage sensitive data, such as passwords, PINs, API keys and certificates. Typical features of these tools are the ability to

  • Encrypt sensitive data at rest. This ensures that even if unauthorized access occurs, the data remains protected and unreadable.
  • Automatically rotate cryptographic keys and other credentials at scheduled intervals. This reduces the risk associated with static or compromised credentials.
  • Seamlessly integrate with other security solutions, including PAM tools. This is true for many secrets managent tools, like AWS Secret Manager, but not all. This enables organizations to enforce consistent security policies across their infrastructure.
b. Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) tools focus on managing permissions in cloud environments. Some standout CIEM features are:

  • A centralized view of identities and access rights across the entire cloud infrastructure. This makes it easy to align with the principle of least privilege.
  • Continuous monitoring of cloud access in real-time. This is crucial for detecting and responding to potential security threats promptly.
  • A centralized dashboard to manage all cloud entitlements. This makes it easy to formulate and enforce a consistent cloud security policy.

Even though CIEM and secrets management solutions are not strictly PAM tools, they can be used to support PAM initiatives as part of a comprehensive IAM policy.


Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a multi-dimensional concept, spanning various use cases. Achieving comprehensive security often demands a strategic mix of PAM tools, across core, pseudo and adjacent categories.

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