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The four pillars of IAM (Identity and Access Management)

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is an umbrella term that encompasses various approaches to prevent unauthorized access. The four pillars of IAM – Identity Governance and Administration (IGA), Access Management (AM), Privileged Access Management (PAM) and Active Directory Management (ADMgmt), are the foundation upon which an effective IAM strategy is built.

What is IAM?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a set of policies, processes and technologies used to manage and secure identities in an organization – including human and machine identities. Based on these identities IAM regulates access to an organization's resources. In short: making sure the right people have the right level of access to the right resources at the right time for the right reasons.

Effective IAM allows an organization to maintain the confidentiality, integrity and availability of its systems and data. It enables the adoption of a Zero Trust security framework, ensures compliance with regulatory requirements and mitigates the risk of cyber threats, such as ransomware and privilege escalation.

What are the four pillars of IAM?

IAM is an overarching framework built using four core pillars: IGA, AM, PAM and ADmgmt.

1. Identity Governance and Administration (IGA)

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) enables security administrators to efficiently manage user identities and access across the enterprise. It improves their visibility into identities and access privileges and helps them implement the necessary controls to prevent inappropriate or risky access.

A typical IGA implementation has the following features for Identity Administration:

  • Automated workflows for access request management
  • Automated workflows for provisioning and de-provisioning at the user and application level
  • Excellent integration through connectors to work with directories and other enterprise systems
  • Entitlement management for security admins to specify and verify what users are allowed to do

On the Identity Governance side IGA is expected to include:

  • Segregation of Duties (SoD) to avoid error and prevent fraud by limiting access and transaction rights granted to a single person
  • Access review workflows to streamline user access review and verification
  • Role-based Access Management to limit access to the necessary levels
  • Analytics and reporting tools to provide visibility to user activities and meet audit requirements

IGA ensures that users only have the access rights they need. This reduces the attack surface and lowers the risk of compromise. Additionally, IGA automates critical security operations, such as provisioning and deprovisioning of user access, which can decrease operational costs and minimize the risk of human error.

By granting and managing access privileges according to established policies, IGA allows organizations to meet their regulatory and compliance requirements. This helps organizations avoid costly fines and penalties for non-compliance.

2. Access Management (AM)

AM is a component of IAM that focuses on managing user access to applications, data and systems. AM solutions allow administrators to define authorization policies for all users, including internal users, third parties and privileged users. Although some IGA solutions may offer Access Management features, dedicated AM solutions typically provide a higher level of granularity and control.

A typical AM implementation may offer the following features:

  • Centralized definition and management of user roles and permissions
  • Support for multiple authentication protocols, such as OAuth, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and OpenID Connect
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) to assign access rights to users based on their job functions
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to strengthen authentication (e.g., one-time passwords (OTPs))
  • Temporary assignment of privileges under specific circumstances

AM makes it possible to enforce strict authorization policies across the infrastructure without hampering user experience. By granting access privileges based on job roles, AM ensures that users only have access to the data and systems necessary for their job functions.

By offering multi-protocol support, AM solutions allow organizations to secure legacy and modern applications spread across their hybrid infrastructures. A well-orchestrated Access Management framework can significantly boost an organization’s security posture.


Access Management (AM)

3. Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a set of tools and processes that are designed to enforce specialized access control for privileged accounts. These accounts have elevated privileges to sensitive systems and data, making them a prime target for cyberattacks. Examples of privileged accounts include network administrators, database administrators, root users and service accounts.

Typical PAM solutions have the following features:

  • Centralized storage and management of privileged accounts and credentials
  • Definition of fine-grained permissions for privileged accounts
  • The ability to set up customized approval workflows for access requests
  • Temporary assignment of privileges and automated password rotation
  • Session monitoring, recording and analysis for auditing and compliance purposes

PAM controls key aspects of secure access and simplifies the provisioning of administrator user accounts, elevated access rights and configuration for cloud applications. In terms of IT security, PAM reduces an organization’s attack surface across networks, servers and identities. It also decreases the probability of data breaches by internal and external cybersecurity threats.

PAM also allows organizations to enforce the principle of least privilege (i.e., each user has the bare-minimum privileges they need to do their job). Time-bound, just-in-time assignment of permissions reduces the threat of privilege escalation attacks.


Privileged Access Management (PAM)

4. Active Directory Management (ADMgmt)

Active Directory Management (ADMgmt) is a critical component of IAM, specifically for organizations that use Microsoft Active Directory to manage identities and access. It deals with managing AD components to ensure proper security and access control.   

Most ADMgmt solutions provide the following features:

  • The ability to integrate an AD server with cloud identity providers and other IAM components, such as PAM
  • Provisioning of AD users and groups with the required permissions
  • Monitoring and auditing changes to the AD environment
  • Reporting of any security-critical events for compliance and regulatory purposes
  • Enforcing role-based access control over AD authentication
  • Offer a protection layer against typical Active Directory weaknesses like hardcoded credentials, LLMNR, Kerberoasting, etc.

ADMgmt solutions enable organizations to efficiently and securely manage AD identities and grant access to resources based on the principle of least privilege. They facilitate the implementation of standardized authentication for both legacy and modern applications, further strengthening an organization's security posture.

Integrating an AD server with other IAM solutions empowers organizations to add modern security features to existing AD implementations. For instance, integrating an AD server with a PAM solution enables better governance of AD privileged accounts.


Active Directory Management (ADMgmt)

What is a Unified Identity Platform?

A Unified Identity Platform is built using all four IAM pillars. It combines the features of IGA, AM, PAM and ADMgmt to offer organizations an all-in-one solution for access control, PAM, lifecycle management, AD governance and much more.

Rather than integrating disparate solutions for each IAM pillar, investing in a unified platform that provides all core features out of the box is a more viable approach.


Adopting a comprehensive IAM strategy that incorporates all four pillars is an essential step for organizations looking to protect their digital assets. If you are looking to close security gaps and build a fault-tolerant identity system, a cloud-based, Unified Identity Platform is definitely worth serious consideration.

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