Key Elements of Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management (IAM) is arguably one of IT’s most important functions. IAM is how you make sure people have access to what they need to do their jobs. At the same time, IAM balances that access with keeping assets secure.

As workplaces are only growing increasingly hybrid, making sure that you’re getting identity and access management right is critical.

The following is a guide to what IAM is and six key elements that it should include.

What is Identity and Access Management?

Gartner describes IAM as the security discipline making sure the right individuals gain access to the correct resources at the right time and for the right reasons.

To put it even simpler, it’s a grouping of IT-based solutions that ensure secure management and connection for users to IT resources. These IT resources can include networks, files, applications, and devices.

An identity can be configured for every user, and they’ll then have well-controlled access to what they need but restricted access to the assets not required for them to do their jobs.

Now that hybrid and remote work scenarios are the norms instead of an exception, IAM is no longer optional.

Identity compromise is the top cause of data breaches, making IAM quite possibly the number one tool for security.

No longer can an IT strategy be network-based due to remote work environments. Instead, the IT strategy has to be driven by people. The primary goal of modern IT departments is figuring out how to protect the identities of remote workers while making sure they’re able to securely access resources.

The benefits of IAM include bringing together security, access, and productivity. Employees use identity to obtain secure access to IT resources. It’s a smooth, efficient process for the user. They don’t have to remember or reuse a variety of passwords and log in to each resource being accessed. Employees are happier with a better login experience.

Then, from the IT perspective, there’s a unified place to control assets with centralized visibility.

Other benefits of IAM include:

  • We’ve touched on this, and it’s a big one, but IAM improves security. This is the biggest advantage any organization derives from IAM. There’s a control of user access to help eliminate identity theft, illegal access to sensitive information, and data breaches. IAM can help prevent the spread of compromised login credentials and protect against hacking, phishing, and ransomware.
  • IAM reduces the workload for IT teams. When there’s an update to a security policy, then all access privileges can be accordingly changed simultaneously. IAM often helps reduce the number of tickets help desks receive for password resets.
  • In terms of compliance, IAM can help quickly meet regulatory requirements.
  • IAM tends to improve productivity and collaboration without putting security in jeopardy.

Key Features of a Well-Implemented Approach to IAM

While every organization is going to do things in a way that works best for them, the following are six general features that you might see in an IAM strategy.

1. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication or MFA is a critical element of IAM. This makes logins as secure as possible by requiring additional information beyond a username or complex password for access authentication. MFA requires users to first put in information they know, such as a password, and a second factor like something they are or have.

Usernames and passwords can be easily compromised, while MFA is very difficult to corrupt.

2. Role-Based Access

Most IAM technology relies on the principle of role-based access control. This means the use of job roles for controlling access to particular systems and information. If a user joins the organization or changes roles, then their identity role should be accordingly updated, subsequently affecting their access rights.

3. Directory Services

In an IT infrastructure, everyone has their own individual identity. They need access to some things for their jobs, yet they don’t need access to others.

Directory services store users’ credentials, and they allow IT admins to organize identities into groups based on similar policies for conditional access.

A directory can also log interactions to make sure compliance is occurring. The directory of identities and resources is often considered the foundation of IAM because it’s what your infrastructure is built on.

4. Directory Extensions

After you have a strategy for directory services, another feature of an IAM approach is your use of directory extensions. Directory extensions are a way to fill gaps that can exist for traditional directory services.

Extensions promote the functionality of your existing directory so it can connect to applications, devices, and platforms it otherwise couldn’t.

5. Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management relates to role-based control, but it goes into it in a more in-depth way. Director services connect users to assets that make up an IT infrastructure, while privileged access management or PAM is what users can and can’t access within higher-value critical systems and applications.

For example, an account can have administrative privileges in something that another employee has no access to.

More organizational critical infrastructure is moving to the cloud via Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms, so PAM is especially important.

6. Single Sign-On (SSO)

Finally, after you develop directory services and privileged access management approaches, you can start to think about things that offer convenience for end-users. Single sign-on is one example of a way you can streamline access to apps and reduce the burden on admins and your end-users.
Your users probably need to access a wide range of apps as they work remotely.

They would need a unique username and password for each application, creating security and productivity issues.

SSO grew in Response to Those Issues

SSO connects a single identity which is managed by the directory service, to the web-based applications that the identity needs access to. Then, the user doesn’t have to create multiple identities.

For IT admins, the benefit of SSO is fewer password reset requests, and there’s a reduced chance that users will have weak passwords or reuse them across multiple accounts.

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