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What is Privileged Password Management?

Privileged password management is a technique/solution used to store, rotate, retrieve and delete privileged passwords. Privileged passwords are credentials that are used to protect accounts with elevated access across different applications and systems. Privileged password management is also referred to as enterprise password management, enterprise password security, sensitive credential management and privileged identity management.

Privileged password management may be driven by an all-in-one solution, or a group of tools and processes. A standalone solution usually includes modules to:

  • Receive and approve user requests for privileged password retrieval
  • Store privileged passwords in a secure location, like an encrypted database or a vault
  • Manage the lifecycle of privileged passwords: Regularly rotating passwords reduces the risk of compromise by limiting the window of opportunity for attackers to exploit them
  • Archive and audit session logs: Administrators can track who has access to privileged passwords, and when they used them
  • Record and replay privileged sessions: Allows administrators to examine what a user did after logging in

Various organizations may adopt their own approach to enforce privileged password management. For instance, they may use a specialized tool to store and track privileged passwords, follow a manual process to approve password retrieval requests and use a different tool for rotation. Some organizations may have a mechanism in place to replay privileged sessions, while others may rely on SSH logs for auditing and monitoring.

Why should you use privileged password management?

Modern infrastructures don’t have a security perimeter. End users are everywhere. Sensitive systems are spread across in-house and multi-cloud environments. Legitimate authentication requests may come in from anywhere.

In today’s cyber-vulnerable world, you need solutions like privileged password management to protect your valuable assets from unauthorized access and to:

1. Boost your security posture

Privileged password management ensures that only authorized users get access to sensitive applications and data, which reduces your attack surface. By automating the storage and rotation of sensitive credentials, it also decreases the chances of human error.

2. Achieve compliance

Privileged password management is crucial to achieve compliance with several regulatory frameworks, like Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Monitoring and auditing capabilities allow you to detect and flag any anomalous behavior.

3. Implement centralized authentication

With privileged credential management, you can configure and enforce authentication for all privileged accounts centrally. This means that you can implement access control for your databases, servers, applications and workstations with a single solution. A privileged password management solution can also be a part of a larger Identity and Access Management solution.

4. Provide accountability

Privileged password management tools provide accountability for actions taken using privileged accounts, which can help prevent insider threats.

5. Eliminate the need for embedded passwords

Rather than having passwords hardcoded/embedded into scripts or applications, privileged password management tools enable users to retrieve necessary passwords from a secure repository on an as-needed basis. This significantly reduces the risk of password compromise.

How privileged passwords work

Privileged passwords are used to access accounts with elevated privileges, such as root accounts, administrator accounts and service accounts. A privileged password management tool stores these passwords in a secure place, which is accessible only to authorized users with the appropriate permissions.

Here’s how a typical privileged password authentication flow works:

  • A user generates a request to retrieve a privileged password
  • The privileged password management tool receives the request and initiates an approval workflow. The workflow may include authenticating the user and verifying that they have the rights to access the password
  • If the workflow succeeds, the password is used to log the user into the desired system/application
  • After the user session concludes, the tool may enforce policies for rotation and expiration, ensuring that the same password isn’t used indefinitely

Privileged password management best practices

Follow these best practices to protect your privileged passwords and the sensitive assets they guard:

1. Start with discovery

To create a comprehensive password protection policy, the first step is to identify all privileged credentials. This includes admin accounts, root users, service accounts, API keys, SSH keys, Linux accounts, Windows accounts, Active Directory admin users and database accounts across your entire infrastructure. It's important to have a complete list of privileged accounts before beginning the process of securing and managing them.

2. Implement a strict password policy

To ensure strong password security, it's important to follow a strict policy for creating, rotating and expiring passwords (e.g., enforce the creation of long and complex passwords). Auto-rotate passwords after a configured period. Consider using Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security.

3. Utilize the principle of least privilege

Restrict access to privileged accounts and passwords to only those who require it. Use the principle of least privilege for role-based access control to ensure that users have access only to the systems and data they need to do their jobs.

4. Set up safe password storage

Choose a privileged password management solution that stores encrypted passwords in a specialized vault or repository. Additionally, it's recommended to limit administrator access to the solution to a small group of responsible individuals.

5. Monitor and audit activity

Use the tool’s internal auditing features or external auditing tools to monitor privileged password activity. Track who has accessed passwords and when and identify any unauthorized or suspicious activity.

6. Regularly review policies and procedures

Periodically review and update your privileged password management procedures to ensure that they remain effective and up to date.

Privileged password management vs. password management

Password management encompasses the overall management of all passwords, including user, admin and privileged passwords. Privileged password management is a specialized type of password management that focuses on protecting privileged passwords.

Password management and privileged password management both deal with managing passwords but have different goals and priorities. Having a well-defined privileged password policy as part of your general password policy is crucial to a strong security posture.

Are privileged passwords the same as password vaulting?

No, privileged passwords and password vaulting are not the same thing. Privileged passwords are sensitive credentials that are used to access accounts with elevated privileges. Password vaulting is a technique to store passwords in a secure software, sometimes known as a vault.

With that said, password vaulting is often used to securely store privileged passwords, like in a privileged password management solution.

Privileged password management vs. passwordless authentication

Privileged password management and passwordless authentication are two distinct approaches to authentication. Privileged password management secures passwords for privileged accounts, whereas passwordless authentication eliminates the need for passwords by relying on other factors to verify user identity.

Privileged password management encrypts privileged passwords and stores them in a secure place. Access to passwords is governed via user-defined approval workflows. On the other hand, passwordless authentication uses factors such as biometrics or security keys for login. The typical goal of passwordless authentication is to strike a balance between user convenience and security.


Privileged password management is a way to implement authentication and authorization of privileged credentials. It enhances your security outlook, protects you from data breaches and other threats and automates password lifecycle management to keep your organization safe and secure from both internal and external threats.

Try Safeguard for Privileged Passwords

Automate, secure and simplify granting privileged credentials. Safeguard for Privileged Passwords eliminates concerns about secured access, and its short admin-learning-curve accelerates adoption.