Introduction: What is Identity Management?
Identity Management (IdM) refers to policies and procedures used to manage user identities across an organization. It is often used interchangeably with Identity and Access Management (IAM). However, identity management prioritizes user identity, roles, permissions, and the groups a user belongs to.
Given how rampant cyber-attacks have become, an organization must scrutinize the people with access to technology resources. This is to authenticate users and determine whether they can access specific systems.
Hence, identity management involves an organization-wide framework for the identification, authentication, and authorization of people or groups of people to have access to systems, applications, or networks. This is done using attributes such as user access rights, user provisioning, and restrictions based on established identities.
An organization will protect sensitive business information from prying eyes by only allowing access to resources a user needs to function efficiently. This, in turn, will prevent internal and external threats, making IdM an essential component of an organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure.
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Why Is Identity Management Important?
About 80% of data breaches are due to identity management issues, such as stolen/weak credentials. The primary purpose of IAM is to ensure that only authenticated users have access to the systems, networks, and software applications they are allowed.
Identity management systems prevent unauthorized access to an organization’s IT environment, help prevent exfiltration of protected data, and alert authorities when access attempts occur from unknown personnel or programs.
But it's not only software and data that are protected. Identity management solutions protect hardware resources, such as storage devices, servers, and networks, to prevent ransomware attacks.
IdM can set the level of permission a user has on a certain technology system. That a user is authorized to access a system doesn’t mean they can’t be restricted from some of its other components.
In addition, identity management helps when onboarding new employees, clients, partners, and stakeholders. By extension, IdM systems also help offboard those who can no longer access company resources.
Lastly, implementing IdM helps companies comply with regulatory requirements such as HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. It provides audit trails of all user actions to demonstrate that no user has violated their access rights or misused digital resources.
Ten Critical Components of Identity Management Systems
Identity management systems help enterprises manage the job of granting the right users access to the proper application and system resources.
While many best-in-class IdM software are available today, you should look for critical components that make each one stand out. The elements you prioritize should also be based on your organization’s current needs.
Here are the vital components you should look for in IdM systems:
1. Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) requires a user to provide two or more verification variables to gain access to a resource. MFA is a critical component of any effective IAM policy and is typically linked to a Zero Trust implementation.
Rather than providing just a username and password, which are often compromised, a user must have extra evidence that only the authentic user possesses besides their credentials. This piece of evidence must fall into one of three categories:
- Something they have
- Something they know
- Something they are
MFA is typically a part of passwordless authentication measures. Other types include facial recognition, fingerprint ID, and one-time codes sent through SMS or email.
2. Single Sign-on (SSO)
SSO enables users to authenticate once and be automatically authenticated when accessing multiple target systems. With SSO, target systems and applications retain their credential stores and provide sign-on prompts to client devices.
Single Sign-on saves time and reduces the threat to company information because employees only need to log in once daily.
3. Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Privileged Access Management (PAM) secures identities with exclusive access or capabilities beyond those of a regular user. It’s critical to protect such accounts due to their additional capabilities and exposure to confidential information.
4. Role-Based User Provisioning
User Provisioning involves managing digital identities organization-wide and beyond. It involves the types of users, the resources users need, levels of access, account creation, deletion, etc.
User provisioning also enables the centralized management and automation of business resources through role-based account creation and user workflow access rights.
5. Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)
IAM typically focuses on managing what an organization’s employees have access to. Still, it can also be used to manage customer experience.
CIAM authenticates customer identities in public-facing applications, especially those that require account registrations. This includes password and consent management, self-registration, social identity registration, profile generation, and management, authorization into applications, etc.
6. Federated Identity
Also known as single login, Federated Identity Management is an arrangement between multiple companies that enables their users to access all their networks using the same identification data.
For this to work, partners must have mutual trust. Each trust domain is responsible for its identity management. However, all domains are linked via a third-party identity provider or broker that stores users’ access credentials.
7. User Repository
This is a centralized repository of user account information that various systems can access. It provides a central control mechanism for user accounts.
8. Authorization Management
This component manages user access to systems, networks, and applications based on user, role, or group.
9. Compliance Auditing
It’s crucial to record user access to resources for compliance and security purposes. This critical component allows companies to demonstrate to compliance regulations that there have been no violations or misuse of access rights and digital resources.
10. User Management Workflow
This component provides the ability to define a user management process which includes different levels of delegation, review, and approval.
Identity Governance in Identity Management and Access Control
Identity governance and administration (IGA) is a key aspect of identity management. It covers the policies and processes that govern how roles and user access should be managed across a business environment.
IGA enables the organization to define, enforce, and audit IAM policy, map IAM functions to compliance requirements, and audit user access for compliance reporting.
Since regulatory bodies require organizations to log access to management data, IGA allows companies to comply with these regulations.
Identity governance includes user administration, identity intelligence, privileged identity management, and role-based identity administration.
Tips to Build an Identity and Access Management Strategy
Planning to develop an identity management strategy? Here are some tips to get you ahead:
1. Have a Clear Objective
Although the primary goal of IdM is clear, other objectives your strategy can achieve include onboarding and offboarding, access levels and permissions, and meeting compliance requirements. It’s essential to know the reasons why you’re building an identity management strategy.
This will help you link business goals with your IAM program and build future IT capabilities based on your strategy.
2. Conduct an Application Inventory
This requires a thorough evaluation of applications based on three access patterns:
- Standard web applications that can communicate through modern identity protocols such as OpenID, OAuth, and Security Assertion Markup Language.
- Nonstandard web applications that cannot communicate through modern identity protocols and require proxies.
- Legacy applications for a thick client, mainframe, or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol-based applications.
This allows you to choose the appropriate IAM tools and provides a blueprint for application integrations.
3. Consider a Zero-Trust Policy
Zero Trust is a crucial element in identity management that requires internal and external users to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated before being given or keeping access to organization applications and data.
Implementing a Zero Trust model assumes every access attempt is a threat until verified. Internal and external network access requests must be thoroughly vetted for ransomware or unusual activity before granting permission.
4. Have a Strong Password Policy
Enforce an organization-wide password policy that users create strong passwords for access. This policy must ensure employees' passwords are regularly updated and that they do not use sequential or repetitive characters.
5. Enforce MFA and Passwordless Authentication
Multi-factor Authentication is an essential component of identity and access management. Enable MFA for all users, including administrators and C-level executives. When building your IAM strategy, ensure you implement passwordless login, which can be email-based, biometrics-based, or SMS-based.
6. Implement Single Sign-On
Organizations must implement Single Sign-On (SSO) for their devices, apps, and services. This ensures users can use a single set of credentials to access the resources they require, whether in the cloud or on-premises.
7. Protect Privileged Accounts
You must protect privileged accounts from being compromised by cybercriminals. This is critical for safeguarding sensitive business assets. Limiting the number of users who have privileged access to the organization's critical assets reduces the risk of unauthorized access to a sensitive resource.
8. Perform Regular Identity and Access Audits
Identity management is a continuous process. Organizations must conduct regular access audits to review currently granted access and verify if they are still required.
Identity management must form part of a comprehensive cybersecurity architecture. It helps organizations protect themselves from the commonest type of data breaches – stolen/weak credentials – whether internal or external.
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