Identity and access management is a critical IT initiative that requires strategic business planning and specialized technical capabilities. Modern IAM tools reduce digital risk by allowing users to control their identities and enabling them to share only the data they need with the right people.
This eliminates the points of failure found in traditional security and provides a foundation for regulatory compliance. But IAM isn’t without its risks.
The basic function of identity access management operations is to allow only the right people and devices to access company systems. This requires authentication and authorization. Authentication verifies the identity of users, while authorization determines what they can see, edit or use from those systems.
There are many ways to verify identity, but generally speaking, there are three types of factors: something the user knows (passwords, mother’s maiden name, social security number), something the user has (like a smartphone or a key fob) and something the user is (like a thumbprint). Some companies also use single sign-on (SSO), which allows employees to log into multiple applications with one set of credentials.
Other techniques include risk-based authentication, which uses algorithms to measure the risks of specific user actions and then blocks or reports those with high-risk scores. IAM tools also support biometrics, which eliminates the need to remember passwords and can prevent hackers from guessing them or gaining access using a user’s photo.
With the rise of remote work and mobile devices, IAM is more critical than ever. But with that flexibility comes larger attack surfaces, and IAM tools must keep up with the changing needs of employees and systems. Otherwise, IAM teams are left with the daunting task of manually adjusting access privileges for hundreds or even thousands of employees, which can take too long and leave security gaps.
More than verifying the identity of users is needed; it is also important to authorize their access to certain tools and data. This is a key element of IAM, which focuses on providing the right people and systems with the right privileges to get work done while preventing unauthorized access and keeping security risks at bay.
For example, if you want your pet sitter to enter your house and feed your pets (authentication), you must give them permission to do so, which means that your IAM system can check whether they have the right credentials when they log into your workplace systems. You may use a variety of methods for authorization, including token-based and role-based authorization control (RBAC).
RBAC is a time-saving approach to access management that uses one or more “factors” to determine what a user can do within an enterprise system. These elements can be something the user does—like a fingerprint or iris scan—something they have (like a mobile device or security token), and something they know (like a password or PIN). The most secure approaches to IAM take a combination of these factors into account when granting and revoking access. As a result, it is more challenging for attackers to steal a user’s login information. It also provides a more streamlined way to manage access, which helps reduce the likelihood that employees will adopt risky workarounds like sharing passwords or using unsecure networks.
A core function of IAM is access control, which defines what a user or device can do, and when and where they can do it. This includes a variety of security policies that can grant or deny access, limit access with session controls, or even block it. A more sophisticated IAM solution might also allow businesses to get more granular with permissions. For example, a policy might set rules for which employees can create or alter data and what applications they can transmit it internally or externally.
To access a system or network, a person must prove their identity. That’s often done using two-factor authentication, which requires something a person knows (like a password) and something they have (like a physical token or smartphone software app). Some IAM systems offer single sign-on so that users can verify their identity once to gain access to multiple systems rather than logging into each one separately.
As organizations increasingly allow employees to work on their preferred devices wherever they are, identity and access management solutions are needed. These solutions help ensure that users are who they say they are and that access privileges are limited to what is necessary for each person’s role. The goal is to minimize the attack surface and reduce cybersecurity risks.
IAM systems also help to mitigate insider threats, which account for a growing percentage of data breaches. By ensuring that each person has only the tools they need and that those tools don’t enable them to escalate their privileges without supervision, an IAM system can limit the damage these malicious insiders cause.
By streamlining IT department processes like resetting passwords and unlocking accounts and by monitoring access logs to identify anomalies, IAM solutions can save organizations time and money. By automating some tasks that IT departments typically handle, IAM solutions can free up resources to devote to more important projects. These important projects are made possible by the automation provided by IAM solutions that verify identities, limit privileged access and assume breaches.
Lynn Martelli is an editor at Readability. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and has worked as an editor for over 10 years. Lynn has edited a wide variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and more. In her free time, Lynn enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.