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IAM vs PAM - Key Differences and How they relate

Identity Access Management (IAM) and Privilege Access Management (PAM) are the very crucial parts upon which an organization relies to protect its digital assets. But both IAM and PAM are access control strategies; they serve dissimilar goals and point in different directions. This article seeks to explore the main differences between IAM and PAM and how one is related to the other in ensuring tight security measures within organizations.


Identity Access Management (IAM) involves the administration of digital identities along with access to resources across an entity's IT infrastructure. IAM is defined as a wide set of policies, processes, and technologies, all centered on ensuring that the right individuals are able to obtain access to the right resources at the right time.

The functions of IAM include user authentication, authorization, the life cycle of identity, and provisioning. IAM solutions seek to serve all people who interact with an organization: employees, partners, contractors, customers, and volunteers.

IAM focuses mainly on being able to get access to control policies and identity governance, which is central in keeping the organization comfortable with security, compliance, and operational efficiency.


Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a highly specialized sub-discipline of access management dealing solely with securing privileged accounts and access to critical systems and data. Privileged accounts refer to those accounts that provide a user powers over some resources without limitation in any form, and they are mostly designed for the system administrators and IT personnel.

PAM solutions, on the other hand, zero in on the different levels of privileges while mitigating associated risks, such as insider threats or credential theft, which might lead to changes that are against authorization and configurations.

Key capabilities include password vaulting, session monitoring, privilege elevation, and access control. Further, PAM enforces strong controls and monitoring mechanisms to assure reduced misuse of privilege access and applies the principle of least privilege to enhance security posture and reduce attack surface.

Difference between IAM and PAM

  1. Scope: This is a solution that focuses on identity administration and access control of resources for each individual user in an organization; this also comprises normal users together with employees, partners, and customers. The functions handled are from user provisioning to authentication and authorization. In particular, PAM solutions deal with privileged accounts and access to critical systems and data. These are specially designed to provide special security mechanisms to users who have privilege, like system administrators or IT personnel.

  2. Functionality: IAM systems provide organization-wide user authentication, authorization, and identity lifecycle management. Their strong bias is toward the methods of user access to resources based on the appropriateness of access given the role and the responsibilities and therefore very often have a strong influence with single sign-on features. PAM solutions, meanwhile, take care of securing, controlling, and monitoring privileged access. Their offers included functionaries like password vaulting, session monitoring, and privilege elevation for some, so that that could be out of the reach of any privileged mischief user.

  3. User Types: IAM covers normal users and privileged users within the organization, ensuring all users have maintained right access rights at security and compliance, while PAM concerns itself with lifting access rights for administering organizational tasks and managing critical systems. It helps in decreasing the risk of privilege misuse and insider threats connected to privileges linked to accounts.

  4. Risk Management: IAM helps to reduce security risks, thanks to enforcement of access control policy enforcement, compliance enforcement, and enabled identity governance in user access. However, this may not attain an identical control and monitoring level of privileged accounts, as it is with PAM solutions. While PAM solutions tend to focus on vulnerabilities, for instance, known well-exploited vulnerabilities bearing unique risks such as exfiltration of credentials and insider and outside threats, besides system and configuration changes. This will provide the capability to allow, at a granular level, control, monitor, and auditing, serving as a point of reduction in security breaches.

  5. Integration: IAM solutions integrate with a broad set of enterprise applications, directories, and cloud services to ensure that organizational user identity and access rights are managed. It ensures smooth running, securing, and compliant at the same time in regard to all accesses to the resources. PAM solutions also integrate with IAM systems; the emphasis will, however, be mostly put on the integration with infrastructure elements such as servers, databases, and network devices. They establish secure connections to privileged accounts and systems for monitoring and management purposes.

Relationship between IAM and PAM:

However, if IAM and PAM have completely different purposes, yet they are directly related and often cooperate with each other to bring complete managerial access and security in an organization.

  1. Complementary Capabilities: IAM and PAM are related in that they have complementary capabilities lying between dealing with different angles to access management. IAM takes care of identity and access rights for any user, while on the other hand, PAM takes care of privileged access and accounts.

  2. Integration: combines IAM and PAM for comprehensive end-to-end management of access. IAM solutions deliver provisioning services for users and authentication, while PAM solutions leverage these identities during enforcement of access control and monitoring of privileged activity. This can ensure the fact that it is really management of privileged access, managed within the broader context of identity governance and compliance.

  3. Access Control Policies: IAM solutions define access control policies of right access to the resources to users based on roles, groups, and attributes. PAM solutions extend these policies to privileged accounts, enforcing further controls and restrictions to additionally bring down the risk of unauthorized access. This is a way of aligning the same security measures across all types of users between IAM and PAM.

  4. Identity Federation: The mechanisms of Identity Federation that IAM solutions enable are the ones that PAM supports to extend access controls and privileges over more than a single security domain or organization. This supports sharing resources and working together without obstacles since security always remains in check for compliance. Identity federation integrated with PAM will smoothen the process of access management with privileged users in a federated environment.

  5. Auditing and Compliance: IAM and PAM solutions entail complete auditing and reporting; they include the tracking of user access, activity monitoring, and generation of reports to help in maintaining compliance. If IAM and PAM audit logs are consolidated into a single stream, then it is able to provide an integrated view of the access-related events, along with the capability to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements and organizational policies.


IAM and Privileged Access Management are the most important in the secure organization's infrastructure. Each has a unique role in access to resources and managing risk mitigation. Although they have some variance in focus area and functionalities, these are so closely related in an organizational setup that both need to be integrated in order to achieve complete access management and security posture.

Alignment of IAM and PAM strategies helps an organization ensure the protection of sensitive assets, remain away from unauthorized access, and guarantee the organization's compliance with regulatory requirements.


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