Identity and access management (IAM) is an organizational process for making sure employees are given the appropriate level of access to the resources they need. It covers the products, policies and procedures that are used to manage user identities and regulate organization-wide user access. IAM systems allow your organization to manage employee apps without the need to log into each app as an administrator, as well as enable the management of a variety of identities, including people, software, and hardware like IoT devices and robotics.
With the rapid growth of digital business in recent years the importance of IAM is becoming increasingly clear to IT leaders; in fact, Gartner predicts that the access management market will reach $19 billion in 2024, increasing from $13.7 billion in 2021. With an IAM framework in place, it is easier for IT managers to control who within their organization is given access to critical information. Two-factor authentication, multifactor authentication, single sign-on, and privileged access management are all systems used for identity and access management. These technologies allow organizations to store identity and user profile data securely, as well as provide data governance functions that ensure the effective and efficient use of information by sharing only data that is necessary and relevant..
Identity and access management was traditional managed using a server located within an organization’s physical premises. Today, most IAM servers are managed in the cloud, which is often easier to manage, cost-effective and more scalable.
When users access a specific system or application – or any other corporate resource – a username and password tied to the necessary access level is often the base layer of security needed. When the number of IT services available was modest in size, this was a viable option. However, today users find themselves managing dozens or even hundreds of usernames and passwords, often resorting to keeping written reminders or reusing the same passwords to mitigate the risk of ending up locked out of their accounts. These unsafe password behaviors are highly unsecure and potentially dangerous, so IT professionals needed to find safer methods to keep on top of the growing number of user accounts.
Identity and access management is a way of solving this problem. In fact, in a study conducted by LastPass they found that 98% of the organizations surveyed were dependent on IAM solutions to secure their businesses during the current work from anywhere era that came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most businesses these days are in agreement that IAM is critical to securing their remote workforce.
How Identity and Access Management Works
Identity and access management is a term that does not stand for a clearly defined system. A range of different functionalities are covered by IAM solutions, but the precise scope of features will differ from one product to the next. IAM solutions give companies the capability to manage users and permissions for various systems and applications, all within one central platform. Automation is a key component for IAM and is achieved through standardizing processes and workflows across multiple user accounts.
The core properties of an IAM system include the ability to identify, authenticate and authorize. The systems will grant access to the desired resources only to the correct people, excluding access to any who are not authorized.
An IAM framework includes certain core components, including:
- A database that holds all users’ identities and access privileges
- IAM tools that allow you to create, monitor, modify, and delete access privileges
- A system that allows for auditing login and access history
The list of access privileges needs to be kept up to date, altering as new users start, old users leave or in response to a role change. IAM functions typically fall under IT departments in charge of handling cybersecurity and data management.
Benefits Of Implementing An Identity And Access Management Solution
In your network, who has access to what? If this is not a simple to answer question, there is a chance that the level of data security in your company is lacking. The most significant threat to your organization’s sensitive data not the infamous hacker, hidden away and hatching plans to poke holes in your defenses; instead, the greatest danger comes from within. Its your employees, coworkers, contractors and – more often than not – it is entirely unintentional. Simply having too many access points can make it so that generally trustworthy employees become a weak point in your armor.
Identity and access management solutions are not only helpful for users, security and IT admins, they are beneficial for enterprises as a whole. There are a range of benefits to having a good IAM framework in place, including:
Making The Lives Of End-Users Simpler
With an IAM system enabled, access to corporate systems is granted to users––including employees, contractors, third-parties, vendors, customers, guests and partners–– regardless of their location, the time, or even the device they are using. IT administrators can negate the need for users to manage multiple accounts for all corporate applications or resources by using IAM systems to form a unique digital identity for every one of their users, which includes a single set of credentials. This streamlined access management reduces the likelihood of employees ending up locked out of their accounts for long stretches of time, waiting for assistance to reset their passwords or to be provided access, and could help to boost productivity.
With the use of a method of authentication like single sign-on, users can use their unique digital identity to gain access to cloud-based, web-based, SaaS, and virtual applications. SSO helps by easing the friction of the authentication process and contributes to the improvement of user experiences.
Improved Password Safety
IAM systems not only allow for a far smoother sign-on process and boost employee productivity, they also contribute to the eradication of outdated and unsecure password practices like reusing passwords or sharing passwords between users unsecurely.
One of the most common causes of data breaches is compromised user credentials, with as much as 81% of hacking related breaches resulting from compromised passwords. This is not particularly surprising, considering that at least 60% of people are regularly reusing passwords across multiple sites despite the known risks of doing so (read more about these risks in our blog: 5 Reasons You Should Never Reuse Passwords). With the password management features offered by many IAM systems, security admins can more easily encourage password best practices––strong authentication measures, frequent password updates and minimum character lengths––to boost security and prevent common risky password security mistakes.
Stronger Data Security
IAM solutions help organizations to identify and mitigate security risks. With IAM policies applied across the whole company it becomes easier to identify policy violations and cut off access to certain privileges, without the need to search through multiple distributed systems. IAM can also be leveraged to make sure that any security measures that are in place are meeting regulatory and audit requirements. These policies also reduce the threat of internal attacks, as employees are only granted access to systems up to a certain level necessary to performing their role and are unable to escalate privileges without approval or a role change. An IAM can help avoid the spread of compromised login credentials, block unauthorized entry to the organization’s network and offer protection against a range of cyber-attacks including ransomware, hacking and phishing.
Increasingly, IAM systems are making use of automation, identity analytics capabilities and AI and machine learning, which allows them to identify and prevent unusual activity. Also, by using an IAM system, IT departments can keep track of how and where user’s credentials are being used, so admins can more easily identify which data may have been compromised in the event of a data breach.
Simplified Security Processes
Having a good IAM system in place for your organization comes with the advantage of boosting the efficiency and effectiveness of your security team by making their lives simpler. Whenever there is an update to an existing security policy, all access privileges can be changed in one sweep across the organization. If your IT administrators can use IAM to allow or deny access, based on predefined user roles already organized neatly in a database, this not only makes the whole process more secure by reducing the likelihood of granting unauthorized access to the wrong users, it also cuts down considerably the amount of time needed to onboard and offboard users.
To prevent any unauthorized individuals from accessing certain resources, security admins can apply to user roles the principle of ‘least privilege’. This means that users are provided with the minimum level of access or permissions required to perform their job functions, which helps by ensuring that employees, contractors, partners and guests can be easily and quickly set up with access to just the resources they need, without compromising data security.
Federated identity management – which SSO is a subset of – works by linking user identities across multiple organizations. With federated identity management, companies and partners can make a noticeable reduction to overhead costs, through sharing a single application for all user identities.
Maintain And Demonstrate Regulatory Compliance
Security is also a matter of law, regulation and contracts. A number of regulations have data security, privacy and protection mandates in place that relate directly to IAM, including HIPAA, GDPR, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and PCI DSS. In order to demonstrate compliance, organizations need to understand and be able to verify protections for their data, including who has been granted access to it, what protections are in place to regulate that access, the process to revoking access and how the management of passwords works.
In the event of a compliance audit, IAM systems also help IT admins to demonstrate that the proper controls are in place to protect corporate information, and to prove how and in what situations user credentials are used.
Management And IT Costs Are Reduced
Gartner estimates that up to 50% of helpdesk calls are password related, typically from users looking to reset their passwords. For a large organization, staffing and infrastructure to handle password-related support costs could equate to over $1 million a year, according to Forrester Research. An IAM system makes managing help desk employees and administrators simpler and significantly reduces the amount of time spent on minor security tasks like helping users who have been locked out of their account gain back access. Instead, that time can go to more important tasks.
Consolidating user accounts into singular identities can come with the added benefit of negating other enterprise expenditures. For example, the cost of managing identities across multiple (often legacy) applications can be reduced using federated identities. With the use of a cloud based IAM service you can also reduce or even eliminate the cost of purchasing and maintaining on-premises IAM systems.
IAM technologies work by simplifying the process of user provisioning and account setup. These systems are designed to decrease the amount of time needed to complete these processes with a controlled workflow that reduces error and makes the window for potential abuse smaller, while allowing automated account fulfillment. An IAM system should also make it simple for administrators to quickly view and make changes to the ever-evolving access roles and rights.
A robust IAM system boosts security by maintaining consistent application of user access policies and rules across the setting or enterprise. They also boost business productivity through automation and governance, ensuring a simpler administrations process for the admins and reducing the amount of back-and-forth communication – and resulting frictions – that often occur between users and admins.
It is worth noting that even with a robust and reliable identity and access management solution, simple mistakes like risky employee behaviors can still lead to cracks in your defenses. This is why basic cybersecurity practices – for example, using authorized devices only to access sensitive files, never sharing or reusing your passwords, using security networks etc. – are every bit as relevant and useful even with an identity and access management solution in place.