For most businesses, a poor IAM strategy is the main reason behind cyber security breaches. In other words, a flawed approach to managing users’ identities and providing access to critical company resources leads to lots of compromised credentials. Meanwhile, lame credentials are one of the most significant sources of vulnerabilities to cyberattacks.
At the same time, cybersecurity breaches and their associated costs increased at a fast and increasing pace in the last few years. This post highlights the importance of establishing a robust identity and access management strategy for any company dealing with sensitive data.
What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)
To understand what an identity and management access strategy is, let’s take a look at what would be a poor IAM system.
A weak IAM strategy usually starts with multiple entry points to critical business resources spread through several devices and locations. Such resources – mostly databases and software tools – are also spread across a variety of devices, systems, and locations.
Every user in the company needs to access a specific set of those resources at different authorization levels. The complexity of dealing with miscellaneous authentication systems and authorization roles leads to faulty password management and manual unstructured authorization procedures.
To make things worse, when something goes wrong there is almost no information on users’ activities to uncover what happened and determine who is responsible for the issue.
On top of that, as businesses become more digitalized, the systems and resources needed by the staff tend to increase in number and complexity. In most cases, they include a wide variety of resources. They go all the way from on-premises legacy systems to the most modern cloud-based solutions.
All this complexity means that, sooner or later, businesses from all industries will need to face the need for a robust IAM strategy.
This article goes through the top 5 reasons all businesses should consider implementing a robust and centralized identity and access management strategy.
Before that, it explains why IAM is important and lists the minimal set of features an IAM framework must have to solve all issues related to identity and access management.
Why is IAM important?
The strong trend of software companies towards SaaS, most of them using cloud-based solutions, is a substantial element among those creating identity and access management issues.
Sure, those systems have vastly alleviated IT teams from the many hurdles of on-premises solutions. They also facilitate remote and hybrid work, performed from multiple devices and locations.
The trend towards remote and hybrid work supported by cloud-based solutions was suddenly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. For many businesses – even as the world enters a more controlled phase of the pandemic – there is no turning back from this new reality. This can be easily inferred by the countless news about workers negotiating more flexible working hours, including hybrid and full remote work.
Furthermore, the corporate world witnesses the expansion of non-human users accessing companies’ resources. Examples of non-human users are IoT devices and autonomous agents with embedded AI.
In summary, there are too many (types of) users demanding easy and safe access to too many resources spread over different devices, locations, and times. In their turn, those demands also come from all kinds of devices, locations, and times.
All this complexity simply can not be properly managed without a robust centralized identity and access management strategy.
Minimal features for a robust IAM strategy
The core of any identity and access management strategy is a centralized database with all information related to users’ identities. Such a database is known as the identity directory.
To guarantee the robustness of any IAM framework, all services related to identity and access management must rely only on this centralized directory. Such services must include at least authentication, authorization, automation, and reporting tools.
Most modern providers of identity directories offer cloud-based solutions, such as JumpCloud.
Authentication services make sure that all people accessing the system are who they claim to be. Currently, IAM strategies rely on a combination of SSO and MFA tools.
An SSO system centralizes identity management for different secured resources, allowing users to access all of them with a unique set of credentials. SSOs also grant access to users from any device, anywhere, anytime.
However, having a unique access point for all resources can also become a weakness. A security breach giving access to several systems at the same time has a much larger potential for damage than one in a single, isolated system. That’s why an SSO usually comes in tandem with a multifactor authentication system (MFA).
An MFA system includes three or more layers of access verification. Ideally, each layer is based on a factor that varies in nature from the other layers.
Every resource secured by the company’s IAM strategy can be set to have a different number of authentication layers. The goal is to balance resource safety and the burden imposed on the user.
A super strong MFA scheme could be seen in the following graph:
Once a user is authenticated by the system, she may be given immediate access to all the resources she needs to do her work.
Most IAM strategies follow a zero-trust policy. This means users should be able to access only the strict set of resources directly related to their tasks. And for each resource, only the minimum level of access required should be granted.
Authorization tools are based on a mix of users’ roles, resource attributes, internal policies, and industry security standards.
In businesses dealing with highly sensitive data – such as those in the financial or health industries – the IAM framework may include an entirely separate system to provide privileged account management (PAM).
Automated User Management
The centralization of the identity directory and authorization services provided by the IAM framework supports the automation of user management.
An important example of automated user management is the ability to quickly onboard new employees and offboard removed ones. The IAM tools also allow to quickly and automatically change any employee between positions and departments, keeping their authorization consistent with their new roles and tasks.
The centralized nature of a robust identity and access strategy makes it easy to create detailed automated reports on users’ activities. A well-oiled IAM framework will register every user access, including details such as device, time, duration, location, and resources actually used in each session.
Top 5 reasons you need an IAM strategy in your business
From the features for a robust identity and access management strategy described above, it is possible to spot several arguments for implementing an IAM framework in any business.
Here you have a selected list of the top 5 reasons why you need an IAM strategy: improved overall security, improved productivity, centralized management of security policies and industry standards, onboarding/offboarding automation, and automated reports on users’ activities.
1) Improved Overall Security
The main concern raising the need for an IAM strategy is usually cyber security. This does not come without reason. Cyber attacks have been increasing quickly in the last few years. In 2021 alone, they have grown 15% compared to 2020, according to a report released by ThoughtLab on cyber security solutions.
In addition, a recent study conducted by Positive Technologies found that 71% of security breaches occurred due to compromised credentials. This study considered several types of industries.
It would be easy to point out to the employees as being ‘lazy’ with their passwords. But in practice, anyone who has ever needed to access dozens of different secured resources knows the crude reality. At some point, people working under pressure end up resorting to risky shortcuts like easy-to-remember and/or repeated passwords, among others.
SSO and MFA tools provided by the IAM framework solve this issue beautifully with added benefits. Some of those benefits are greater productivity and more control over users’ activities.
2) Improved Productivity
A robust IAM strategy directly impacts the productivity not only of the IT team but also that of regular employees.
Identity and access managed through SSO, MFA, and automated authorization tends to significantly reduce the number of support tickets related to credentials and access rights. Automations like these release precious time for the IT team.
In addition, the IT team may use the IAM tools to automate repetitive and critical tasks, especially those related to user management and reports.
An IAM framework in place also enhances regular employees’ productivity. The centralized authentication and authorization via SSO guarantees seamless access to the right resources from any device, location, and time. They don’t need to remember dozens of (potentially unsafe) passwords anymore and find fewer access issues to send to the IT support team.
Finally, although the “zero-trust” policy’s main goal is to guarantee the safety of critical resources, it also promotes employee productivity. Feeling safer to do their jobs, they can work with more confidence, objectivity, and speed.
3) Centralized Management of Security Policies and Industry Standards
Internal security policies play a central role in a business’ identity and access management strategy. Because this management is now centralized and automated, those rules can be directly enforced on the unique entry point offered by SSO.
The same is true for specific industry security standards. Such rules are practically impossible to guarantee in a decentralized, unmanaged system.
4) Onboarding and Offboarding Automation
Fast, automated onboarding provided by the IAM strategy is an initial boost for the productivity of the new employees, their teams, and the IT team.
On the other side, automated offboarding procedures tackle a more sensitive issue related to cyber security. Those procedures guarantee that ex-employees don’t keep access to the company resources. Another concern is to avoid the spread of zombie accounts.
Zombie accounts are easily left behind by manual authorization routines. They are common in companies that don’t have a robust IAM strategy running. Zombie accounts constitute wide open doors to cyberattacks, but a well-configured set of IAM automated procedures minimizes such threats.
5) Automated Reporting of Users’ Activities
A survey sponsored by IBM and conducted by the Ponemon Institute reports that it takes 287 days (or 9.6 months!) on average for a company to spot and fix a data breach.
This astonishing result comes largely from the lack of information on users’ activities inside the system. The centralization provided by an IAM strategy is able to supply the IT team with detailed automated reports. Such reports comprise a treasure trove of data for security teams to deal faster with data breaches.
After some time, the mass of generated data may feed AI algorithms for early detection of security risks.
Define a modern IAM strategy for your business
Now you know the main reasons why you need an IAM strategy to secure your business. You’re also aware of the risks of not having a proper identity and access management framework implanted.
Your next step is to evaluate your current situation and real needs in terms of IAM.
Probably your IT team is already overloaded. Maybe they don’t have all the knowledge and experience needed to make the best choices and implement a robust IAM strategy.
In any case, if you want to know more about the best IAM strategy for your business, you may book a free consultation with ElephantHop’s experts.
Next in this 2-part series: Now that we’ve discussed why it’s important to have an IAM strategy we’ll next discuss how to develop your IAM strategy and provide a framework to help you get started.