Whether you’re seeking a PAM (Privileged Access Management), SSO (Single Sign-On), or password management solution for your business, read this short guide to ensure you understand the underlying value of each tool and how each serves a particular role in your organization’s IAM (Identity and Access Management) strategy.


For a security-conscious business seeking IAM solutions, it’s important to recognize that there is no single business tool that will provide you with maximized mitigation of identity-related risks.

The IAM solution stack primarily spans three solution categories:

  1. PAM (Privileged Access Management)
  2. SSO (Single Sign-On)
  3. Password Manager

Let’s take a look at each tool individually so you can get a better sense of where they fit in your IAM toolbox.

Definition: PAM vs SSO vs Password Manager

What is PAM (Privileged Access Management)?

PAM is a secure way for organizations to authorize and monitor privileged users with access to sensitive accounts. PAM additionally helps defend against accidental or intentional misuse of privileged access.

What is SSO (Single Sign-On)?

SSO is a secure way for organizations to give users access to multiple applications with a single set of login credentials (i.e. username and password) per session. Once a user logs in, they are authenticated for all applications covered by the SSO for which they’ve been given access.

An SSO provides SAML authentication and communicates with Active Directory (AD). It is important to marry an SSO with 2FA (two-factor authentication) in order to add a second layer of security for sensitive accounts.

What is a Password Manager?

A password manager is a secure way for organizations to ensure users have strong passwords across all their accounts. Similar to an SSO, a user gains access to all their login credentials with one master password. However, unlike an SSO, a password manager works with all user accounts (including all cloud applications.) and isn’t session-based.

It is important to marry a password manager with 2FA in order to add a second layer of security for sensitive accounts.

Pros and Cons: PAM vs SSO vs Password Manager

What are the Pros and Cons of PAM?

Pros:

  • Sophisticated
  • Focused control
  • Granular auditing depth
  • Programmatic key management use case support, etc., for Privileged Accounts (i.e. access management over users with the greatest permission levels, key management and rotation for critical systems, etc.)

Cons:

  • Requires significant IT resources to setup, maintain, and monitor
  • Limited to IT team only
  • Limited to IT systems only
  • Only covers a small number of credentials

What are the Pros and Cons of SSO?

Pros:

  • SAML is the most common protocol used by SSO solutions. SAML-based authentication replaces Service Provider-specific (SP) password-based authentication with an IdP (Identity Provider) which manages session authentication and grants authenticated users access to integrated services (while respecting Security Group policies)
  • SAML-based authentication is very secure, but is completely dependent on Service Providers to support the SAML protocol
  • Controlled by IT, meaning SSO use for specified business accounts is mandatory

Cons:

  • Only ~10% of business applications/services support the SAML protocol, while the remaining 90% of business applications/services only support password-based authentication
  • Doesn’t cover all cloud applications
  • Doesn’t cover all employee accounts (i.e. personal accounts)

What are the Pros and Cons of a Password Manager

Pros:

  • Cost-efficient, effective solution for defending against password-related attacks
  • Practically all SSO implementations rely on password-based authentication (hence “single” sign-on)
  • Covers all employees
  • Covers all accounts (work and personal)
  • Easy setup and roll out, especially for non-technical employees.
  • Decreases password-related IT tickets.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t allow for privileged user or system monitoring
  • IT control is somewhat limited given the nature of the tool

What’s Best for my Business? PAM vs SSO vs Password Manager

Given the pros and cons of each of these tools, it’s easier to understand how each plays a part in your IAM strategy.

PAM vs SSO vs Password Manager

1) If your organization has deep pockets and seeks control and security of IT systems, a PAM solution is your best bet.

However, a PAM solution needs to be complemented with an SSO and password manager in order to secure your entire organization.

What’s the point of building a gate (for your privileged users/systems) if it isn’t part of a fence that protects your full attack surface?

If you’re security-sophisticated enough to rely on a PAM solution, then you understand the risks associated with not using an SSO and password manager to secure the hundreds of other cloud, work, and personal accounts that make up the majority of your organization’s attack surface.

2) If your organization operates on a tight budget and is looking to secure all user accounts and enable strong password behavior, a password manager is your best bet.

A password manager is the best first step towards securing your organization.

Not only does it cover every user account, it encourages and enables a lifestyle change for employees. Instead of using the same password everywhere, a password manager enables them to use unique, complex passwords for every account, whether it’s a cloud application, a business account, or a personal one; all they have to do is remember one master password.

Once your organization has successfully deployed and enjoyed the benefits of a password manager, it would be beneficial to look into an SSO solution, as an SSO is a perfect complement to a password manager.

3) If your organization is looking to secure specific cloud applications and business accounts for all users, an SSO is your best bet.

An SSO provides a layer of visibility and control over core products that are used by your employees for work purposes. Because every credential covered by an SSO is a work credential, and users must use those accounts to do their job, it is natural to see a high adoption rate among employees.

However, when organizations start looking at fully protecting their business from poor password behavior, they realize that an SSO falls short.

An SSO works by controlling and gating, because there is a known number of systems chosen by IT. On the contrary, systems outside of the SSO are infinite and chosen by the end-user. This creates an area of exposure dependent on the end-user to secure.

And that is why an SSO is complemented so perfectly by a password manager.

Why an SSO and Password Manager are Perfect Complements

The two main areas of risk that exist with an SSO are:

  1. Cloud Applications: SSOs don’t account for all cloud applications, as not all cloud applications integrate with an SSO. Given that your business likely uses tens, if not hundreds, of cloud applications it’s important to recognize the security gap that will exist.
  2. Credentials Used for Personal and Professional Use: SSOs don’t account for credentials that are used for both personal and professional use (like an Expedia account) and the multitude of personal accounts that, while not used for work, require a password. In the absence of using a password manager, every personal account means yet another reused password or credential that can be used to gain access to your organization’s network or data.

Yet, when organizations look for a solution they often make two mistakes:

  1. They focus entirely on control and distribution of passwords for known accounts. Instead they should be looking for a system that will ensure their end-users are creating and maintaining strong and unique passwords everywhere.
  2. They overemphasize the needs of IT and Policies and undervalue the needs and experience of non-IT staff.

The solution is simple: if your organization uses an SSO, or is looking to adopt an SSO solution as part of their IAM toolkit, it’s imperative to marry it with a password manager in order to secure all user accounts and cloud applications, and fortify the entirety of your network security.

The solution is simple: if your organization uses an SSO, or is looking to adopt an SSO solution as part of their IAM toolkit, it’s imperative to marry it with a password manager in order to secure all user accounts and cloud applications, and fortify the entirety of your network security.


A Full IAM Strategy Requires Three Tools: PAM, SSO, and a Password Manager

For many, that means starting with a low-cost, full-coverage solution like a password manager. This is a great first step in securing your organization.

For everyone else, don’t overlook the security gaps that exist if you simply invest in a PAM or SSO solution. The Verizon DBIR indicated that 81% of breaches leveraged a stolen and/or weak password.

Protect all of your user passwords, across all cloud applications and both business and work accounts, by investing in a password manager today.


Ready to get started with a password manager for your business?

Dashlane Business can help you secure all user accounts and cloud applications, and acts as a great first step for companies looking to protect their business, and a great complement for businesses who’ve already implemented a PAM or SSO solution.