Understanding the Difference Between IAM, CIAM, and PAM

man kneels down and performs maintenance on server rack

The cybersecurity sector has changed a great deal over the years, as traditional perimeters have disintegrated into nothingness amidst digital transformation and remote work initiatives. But there’s one thing which—rather amusingly—hasn’t changed. Namely, how much we seem to love jargon. 

Given the sheer number of devices present in the modern enterprise, many organizations have shifted towards identity-based security. This new field has unsurprisingly come hand in hand with its own alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations. Today, we’re going to explain and differentiate some of the most common. 

Let’s talk about the difference between IAM, CIAM, and PAM. 

What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)? 

Identity and Access Management (IAM) does exactly what you’d expect. It’s a framework of technologies, policies, and processes that leverages digital identities to facilitate and control access to business assets. As noted by Tech Target, IAM typically encompasses the following

  • How users are identified
  • How user roles are both identified and assigned
  • Managing both individuals and user roles
  • Assigning access levels to individuals or groups/roles
  • Ensuring sensitive data is kept safe. 

What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)? 

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is technically a subset of IAM aimed explicitly at the management of privileged accounts—basically, any user account with administrative permissions. PAM solutions typically follow a conceptual framework known as least privilege. Basically, the idea is that no user should have any permissions beyond what they absolutely require to do their job. 

IAM and PAM are not opposing technologies. Rather, they work far better when deployed alongside one another. In this scenario, an organization would use IAM for the general management of user access and roles, then use PAM for users that require elevated access privileges. 

What is Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) is basically the intersection of IAM and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). In addition to general identity management features, CIAM solutions typically also provide customer registration, consent and preference management, and self-service account management. The core goal of a CIAM platform is threefold.

First, it’s designed to keep customer data safe and secure while simultaneously giving customers greater ownership over their personal information. Second, it enables customer access to a business’s applications and services. Finally, it ensures that the overall customer experience remains as seamless as possible. 

Identity Management is the Future of Cybersecurity

Given the number of different services, endpoints, and devices now present in even a small or mid-sized business, identity-based authentication is fast becoming one of the only feasible ways to manage access to corporate assets and resources. Fortunately, most IAM solutions are designed with ease of use in mind for your security team as well as the end user. After all, if they weren’t intuitive, no one would bother using them.