The ABCs of Identity & Access Management

According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Report, 61% of cyberattacks surveyed involved privileged credentials; privilege abuse was the cause of 70% of attacks involving misuse of credentials. Furthermore, the human factor remained one of the weakest points in cyber security as 82% of breaches involved a human element, including social attacks, errors, and misuse. Phishing attacks are the primary tactic used by malicious attackers.

Identity and access management (IAM) refers to the mechanisms and procedures which administrate and control digital identities. IAM deals with how users and their roles are identified, including defining, assigning, and updating user access levels. Examples of this are what is visible to a user and what kind of action they can take: create, delete, edit, transfer, etc.   

This article will discuss the importance of IAM, its main components, functionalities, features, and benefits, and how to start implementing it in an enterprise. 

Why is IAM so Important?

IAM is a framework that helps companies manage what stands between users and the most crucial assets of any organization. Identifying users and managing their access rights is vital to any security program. It helps prevent and mitigate some of the most common weaknesses and threats, such as compromising user credentials, cracking weak passwords, and other typical entry points used by cyber-criminals. 

As cyber-attacks grow in number and sophistication, and mandatory regulations evolve correspondingly, IAM and its automation become extremely important. Moreover, as more and more advanced complex tools, practices, and technologies enter the arena, the use of manual and error-prone mechanisms and procedures is no longer an option. Using advanced automated IAM solutions strengthen your cyber-security, and increase compliance while optimizing resource spending, thus saving time and money. 

What are The Common Components of IAM? 

The Typical IAM Components Are:

  • Users: an IAM user is an identity with an associated credential and access rights. Users can be actual people or an application that is a user.
  • Groups: this is a collection of IAM users with the same access type.
  • Policies: IAM policies set permission and control access rights. A typical policy will contain information such as  –
  1. Who has access rights?
  2. What actions can a user take?
  3. When can they use the access rights and permissions?
  • Roles: a set of permissions defining what actions are allowed and denied by an entity.

What are the Common Functionalities/ Features of IAM?

Manage User Identities’ Databases, Provisioning/ Deprovisioning Users:

One of the basic functions of IAM systems is to create, modify, and delete users by being the sole directory or by integrating and synchronizing with one or more other directories.

The process of creating identities, defining their access rights, and adding/ removing them to/ from an ID repository is called Provisioning/ Deprovisioning. Identity management systems usually enable provisioning via policies based on role-based access control (RBAC). In other words, provisioning is the process of specifying which tools and access levels to grant a user, such as an editor, viewer, or administrator.

Users’ Authentication Via Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Risk-Based Authentication (RBA) 

Authenticate users by confirming they are who they claim to be. Secure authentication is currently done by multi-factor authentication (MFA). This means using more than one factor, such as a username and password, and then requiring at least one more step. For example, receiving a code sent via text message to a smartphone, inserting a smart card/ USB device, conducting a biometric authentication, etc. 

Risk-based authentication, also known as adaptive authentication, adjusts authentication requirements based on the user’s current situation. One of the most common examples is when users attempt to connect from a new, unknown location/ IP address. In such cases, the users may be required to conduct additional authentication steps.

Access Management – Authorizing Users:

 Access management refers to the processes and tools that administrate, govern, and monitor network access. It is done by elements such as authentication and authorization, trust and security auditing, etc. It ensures a user is given the level and type of access they’re entitled to according to their roles based on the IAM policies.

Single Sign-On (SSO):

IAM solutions having single sign-on (SSO) allows users to authenticate their identity with one portal instead of many different resources. This will enable them to use a single username and password to access a system without using different credentials. Once authenticated, the IAM system acts as the source of identity truth for the other systems/ applications to which the user has access, thus allowing the user to move between them seamlessly.

An Auditing and Reporting System:

This feature refers to the IMA solutions tool systems that generate reports after most actions taken on the platform, for example, login time, systems accessed, type of authentication, etc. The reporting is done to ensure compliance and help analyze and assess security risks.

What are The Benefits of IAM?

Using IAM tools has many benefits:

Strengthening Cyber-Security:

Properly managing identities and access brings more significant and better control of user access to all of your systems, data, and processes. By improving user access, businesses can dramatically reduce the organization’s risk of external and internal data breaches, thus increasing its cyber-security robustness. 

Increase Efficiency and Productivity:

Automated IAM systems increase an organization’s operational efficiency by saving time, money, and increasing employee attentiveness.

Improve Compliance by Reporting, Standardization, and Enforcing Policies:

One of the most important features of automatic IAM systems is reporting and auditing. Together with the ability to implement security standards and procedures and security policy adherence, these improve the organization’s security compliance to regulations and external auditing as data needed can be made available on demand.

Enhancing User Experience:

Since IAM employs single sign-on (SSO) methods that allow the user to authenticate their identity only once, there’s no need to remember multiple complex usernames and passwords to access multiple systems. Users need only provide usernames and passwords at the first stage and then freely and seamlessly switch between systems and applications

How to Implement IAM in an Enterprise:

After understanding the importance of IAM, its components, functionalities, features, and benefits, it is time to discuss the implementation process. 

1. Create a Clear Vision of Responsibilities, Involve all Relevant Stakeholders, and Document Everything:

The  IAM system and its implementation will impact everyone across your business activities, beginning with your employees, in every department on all levels, your contractors, suppliers, partners, and eventually customers. 

It is, therefore, essential to select a person or an entity/ team that will lead the whole process from beginning to end and make sure they involve, collaborate, and synchronize the process with all relevant stakeholders in and outside your organization. Be sure that everyone understands what their responsibilities are and what is expected from them.

Another essential condition to successful IAM implementation is constant, clear, transparent, meticulous, and detailed documentation of every step of the process by all involved stakeholders.

2. Preparation and Planning: Map and Study your Current Situation and Needs:

 The first step before starting to implement IAM involves careful study and planning:

  • Conduct a thorough survey of your enterprise’s current situation – what existing data security protocols are in place.
  • Map and compile a list of all networks, software, applications, and other systems and their components that need IAM protocols.
  • Make sure you understand how the environments differ between these components. For example, what are the differences between cloud vs. on-premises systems.
  • Prioritize all your needs.  

3. Create Access Policies and Select a Digital Authentication Method

  • Create access policies best suited for your needs.
  • Select one or more digital authentication methods, for example:
    • Passwords
    • Single Sign-On (SSO)
    • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
    • Behavioral Authentication (using AI to analyze users’ typical keystrokes, mouse movements, etc.)
    • Biometrics

4. Evaluate and Select IAM Tools:

Study and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of available Identity & Access Management tools, products, and services that run on your own local installation or identity-as-a-service (IDaaS) cloud-based solutions. Select the one that is best suited to your needs. 

5. Start Implementing the IAM Policy Gradually WhileTraining and Educating your Employees:

Implementing IAM is an intricate process involving all stakeholders and creating policies for hundreds/ thousands or more of users, devices, and systems. It is therefore advisable to start the process gradually, beginning with areas of the highest priority, according to parameters such as known vulnerabilities, local compliance regulations, important service portals, etc. 

When launching and gradually implementing IAM, ensure you never lose sight of your most important cybersecurity asset – your employees.

Project your Data with Cyber Awareness Training

In this article, you’ve learned the basics of IAM, such as its importance, features and benefits, the importance of awareness and ways to best implement it in your organization. It is important to remember that Identity & Access Management is a means to an end. The end goals are to enhance your compliance and strengthen your cyber-security. Advanced cyber-awareness training tools are essential for adequately implementing IAM and enhancing your organization’s cyber security robustness. 

Contact CybeReady to start training your employees with smart, automated customized tools. 


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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Cyber Security Awareness Training Blog | CybeReady authored by Daniella Balaban. Read the original post at: