The Critical Elements of a Scalable PAM Solution

An organization’s security posture benefits from the ability to manage and track access to privileged accounts. Privileged users—as well as those impersonating them—can present major security threats. A Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution offers an answer. It enables security teams to stay on top of privileged account access. To work, however, it must be a scalable PAM solution. The PAM solution must scale flexibly in a growing organization or suffer from being disused, to the detriment of security overall. What does it take to build a scalable PAM solution? This article explores the answer to that question.

First: What is PAM?

PAM is an information security discipline related to controlling and tracking user access to administrative control interfaces. A privileged user is one who can log into the administrative back end of a system and execute administrative actions over it. For example, an admin who is assigned access privileges to an email server can reconfigure the server, uninstall the email software, modify user accounts, delete users, and so forth. He or she might be able to read email messages as well.

Privileged users have unrestricted access to all critical systems and data throughout an organization.

A PAM solution consists of software tools that give higher-level administrators (Super Admins) the ability to grant and revoke administrative access privileges. A PAM solution like the WALLIX PAM enables a Super Admin to assign email server admin access privileges to a user. In the WALLIX use case, the newly-minted email admin gets his or her access rights from the WALLIX system. The Super Admin can take away those privileges at any time. WALLIX also makes it possible for the Super Admin or others, like auditors or security analysts, to monitor the email admin’s privileged sessions.

Why Is PAM Essential for Cyber Security?

As one might imagine, privileged access in the wrong hands can be catastrophic in security terms. Malicious actors often impersonate privileged users or engage in “privilege escalation” attacks, where they gain access to a network as a regular user but then “upgrade” themselves so they can get unauthorized access to protected data assets. Insiders and third parties (e.g. consultants) also form potential privileged access threats. This can be the result of malfeasance, negligence, or just a simple mistake. Similarly, former employees who retain privileged access credentials pose a threat.

A PAM solution is essential to mitigate such privileged access risks. It gives the security team control over privileged access, but it also provides something that’s becoming a non-negotiable aspect of cyber defense: the ability to know what happened, and who did what, in the wake of a security incident. With ransomware attacks, for example, SecOps must receive the best possible information about who entered their network and infected specific systems and data repositories. Without this knowledge, responding to the attack and remediating the damage will take much longer and be far more complicated. PAM helps them get on top of an incident quickly.

The Need for Scalability in a PAM Solution

A PAM solution will only be effective if it is used. This may sound obvious, but in reality, PAM solutions can easily fall into disuse if they are not easy to use or not readily adaptable to IT changes. Also, a PAM solution must be able to scale up and out if it is to deliver on its potential over the long term.

Anyone who has spent time working in enterprise IT knows that organizational structures and system architectures are not static. Companies merge and spin-off divisions, restructuring the IT department, infrastructure, and application topology in the process. People come and go. Applications get sunsetted or upgraded. New paradigms invade, often for the good, but causing disruption in their wakes.

The technology environment for a single organization is constantly evolving, and a robust PAM solution can easily handle and manage those changes.

The proliferation of REST-based APIs, for example, has greatly expanded application integration capabilities. This may be good for business, but it presents a security challenge, especially if the PAM solution cannot grow and flex with the evolution of the enterprise.

How WALLIX facilitates a Scalable PAM Solution

For our purposes, the concept of a scalable PAM solution will refer to more than just the ability to expand in capacity and load-handling level. A better definition of scalability includes the solution’s general adaptability to an ever-changing environment.

WALLIX offers a number of distinctive features and engineering choices that make it particularly well-suited to the need for scalability and flexibility:

  • Agentless Architecture – Unlike some PAM solutions on the market, which require a dedicated software agent on each privileged account, WALLIX offers a lightweight, agentless architecture. This design contributes to scalability by making WALLIX easy to install, update and change as enterprise architectures evolve over time.
  • Scalable Architecture – WALLIX is built using a three-layer design. The WALLIX Bastion Farm rests atop the Bastion Cluster, which itself runs on a bounce server cluster. This approach makes WALLIX highly scalable in both horizontal and vertical scenarios.
  • Compatibility with Multiple Protocols – By supporting the major communications protocols (HTTP, HTTPS, RDP/TSE, SSH, VNC, Telnet, and SFTP), WALLIX reduces barriers to implementation and modification as protocol use evolves in an organization.
  • Multiple Hosting Options – WALLIX is available to be hosted on-premises, in the cloud, or on a dedicated appliance. By giving SecOps teams flexible hosting options, WALLIX makes it relatively simple to keep up with growth and change in privileged account deployments.
  • Standards-Based Integration – WALLIX uses the popular, standards-based RESTful API for its extensive integrations with third-party systems. These include synchronization with Identity Access Management (IAM) solutions. The flexibility inherent in RESTful APIs reduces obstacles to integration, which can slow down the scaling process.
  • High Availability (HA)/Load Balancing – With architecture for HA and load balancing, WALLIX provides a way to guarantee service levels regardless of the scale and scope of the deployment.

To learn about the scalable PAM solution from WALLIX, get in touch.