Gartner defines Identity and Access Management (IAM) as “the discipline that enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons.”
IAM is a structure of business procedures, regulations, and technologies that supports digital identity management. These identities are assigned to both human and machine entities. Machine identities may be assigned to computers, cellphones, routers, servers, IoT sensors, applications, APIs, and containers. Human identities may be assigned to consumers, partners, and employees.
With an IAM framework in place, IT managers are able to regulate access to sensitive company data. Single sign-on, two-factor authentication, multifactor authentication, privileged access management, and certificate management are IAM framework technologies. In addition to the capacity to securely store identity and profile data, these systems also enable data governance capabilities to ensure that only necessary and relevant data is exchanged.
IAM systems can be deployed on-premises, by a third-party provider via a cloud-based subscription model, or in a hybrid configuration.
How identity and access management works
IAM, at its most foundational level, includes the following elements:
- how individuals are identified in a system
- how roles are identified in a system and how they are assigned to individuals
- how individuals are provisioned, removed, and updated in relation to their roles in a system
- how levels of access are assigned to individuals or groups of individuals
- how sensitive data within the system is protected and the system itself is secured.
Why is identity access management important?
Organizational and regulatory demand to safeguard access to corporate resources is increasing pressure on business executives and IT teams. GDPR in the European Union and the Presidential Executive Order on improving the Cybersecurity of US Critical Infrastructure are two examples of this trend.
As a result, organizations can no longer allocate and track user credentials using manual and prone-to-error processes. The same is true for machine identities. IAM addresses the urgent need to guarantee proper access in increasingly diverse technological contexts and to satisfy ever-tougher regulatory requirements.
IAM is an important project for any business. The ever-expanding features of IAM solutions, including biometrics, behavior analytics, and AI, are well adapted to the demands of the modern security landscape, which includes multi-cloud and hybrid computing environments, hybrid work norms, and dispersed data and resources. For instance, IAM's stringent access controls in widely dispersed and dynamic contexts are compatible with the industry's shift to zero-trust models as well as the security specifications for IoT, modern apps, and APIs.
IAM is a technology that businesses of all sizes can use, contrary to the perception of some security professionals who may believe it is only for larger enterprises with higher budgets. Enterprises with well-developed IAM capabilities can lower their identity management expenses while, more crucially, supporting new business activities with a great deal of agility.
Benefits of IAM
The benefits of using a robust IAM solution can be grouped into two categories: security and productivity.
One common weakness in conventional security is the password. If a user's password is compromised, your company is open to attack. Again, the same is true for machine identities, where the focus is more on crypytographic keys and digital certificates. IAM services eliminate potential points of failure and provide tools to support them and spot errors as they happen.
- All people, services and machines are correctly authenticated, approved, and audited, and access privileges are distributed in accordance with the established access security policy.
- Businesses that handle identities correctly have more control over access, which lowers the danger of internal and external data breaches.
- The adoption of an IAM framework can make it simpler to enforce rules surrounding user authentication, validation, and privileges and handle issues with privilege creep.
Productivity and efficiency
Once they have authenticated their identity through your IAM portal, your employee no longer needs to be concerned about having the appropriate access level or password to carry out their job. Every employee not only has access to the ideal set of tools for their position, but their access can also be handled as a group or role rather than individually, lessening the stress on your IT staff.
- Businesses that use IAM solutions and adhere to best practices might earn competitive benefits. IAM technologies, for instance, enable a company to grant access to its network to remote employees and third-party partners, contractors, and clients across mobile applications, on-premises applications, and SaaS without compromising security.
- By saving time, money, and effort over manually managing network access, automated IAM solutions enable businesses to function more effectively. Better collaboration, more productivity, greater efficiency, and lower operational expenses are all made possible as a result.
IAM and compliance
Security is also a subject of law and regulations. It is tempting to believe that increased security consists solely of adding additional security processes, but security also requires demonstrating that these processes and technology create a safer environment.
IAM complies with this criterion by adhering to the concepts of least privilege and separation of roles. IAM enables enterprises to comply with regulatory, risk management, and compliance standards using a combination of pre-determined and real-time access control.
Modern IAM technologies can confirm an organization's compliance with essential regulations, such as HIPAA, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, NIST recommendations, and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among others.
Types of digital authentication
With IAM, businesses can deploy a variety of digital authentication techniques to verify digital identity and grant machines and humans access to corporate resources.
Strong and unique passwords
The password is the most prevalent form of digital authentication. To increase the security of passwords, several businesses require longer or more complicated passwords that combine letters, symbols, and numbers. Unless users can automatically aggregate their collection of passwords behind a single sign-on entry point, remembering unique passwords is often difficult.
MFA is an authentication method that requires two or more independent means to identify a person. Examples include smartphone-generated codes, Captcha tests, and biometrics such as fingerprints or facial recognition.
Methods and technology for MFA authentication boost user confidence by adding many layers of protection. MFA may be an effective security against the majority of account hacks, but it has its own weaknesses. Some MFA methods are vulnerable to phishing and SIM swapping attacks. In some instances, operational restrictions (no mobile policy) or a lack of internet connectivity may preclude the use of a smartphone app to produce an authentication code.
Using digital certificates, certificate-based authentication systems identify users, machines, and devices. Digital certificates are electronic documents modeled after driver's licenses and passports.
The certificate comprises the digital identity of a user, including a public key, as well as the certification authority's digital signature. Digital certificates are issued exclusively by a Certificate Authority and serve to validate the ownership of a public key.
When users log into a server, they supply their digital certificates. The server validates the digital signature and the authenticity of the Certificate Authority. Using cryptography, the server then verifies that the user's private key corresponds to the certificate.
Biometrics are utilized by modern IAM systems for more precise authentication. For example, they collect fingerprints, irises, faces, palms, gaits, voices, and, in certain instances, DNA. It has been discovered that biometrics and behavior-based analytics are more effective than passwords. When collecting and utilizing biometric traits, businesses must address the ethics of data security, transparency, user consent, and biometric data privacy.
Context-based authentication restricts access depending on other characteristics, such as user behavior, the device utilized, and geographical location. Access is based on the derived risk score, offering a more secure access decision than traditional authentication, which determines access based solely on the possession of valid credentials.
Risk score-based authentication will restrict access if the user does not comply with the company's security policies and is considerably more likely to respond effectively to unique threats that traditional authentication security approaches may overlook.
Fast Identity Online (FIDO) authentication is a collection of open technological specifications that describe user authentication systems that rely less on passwords.
FIDO employs asymmetric cryptography to ensure that all confidential secrets and cryptographic key material remain on the client’s device and are never communicated to the authenticating service. The protocols do not reveal critical user data that can be utilized to track a user across services. Other sensitive information, such as biometric prints and PINs, never leaves the user's device to prevent it from being intercepted or compromised.
Implementing identity access management
IAM plays a number of crucial roles at various points in an organization's security stack, but it is rarely viewed as such because these roles are dispersed among several groups, such as development teams, IT infrastructure, operations management, legal departments, etc.
IAM approaches are only the beginning of access security management. They require businesses to specify their access policies, detailing precisely who has access to which data resources and apps and under what conditions.
Many businesses' access control policies have changed over time, resulting in overlapping rules and job descriptions that are typically out of date and sometimes wrongly issued. In order to avoid migrating a mess, they must clean up their identities and revoke any excess privileges that users do not require. This requires spending more time on design up front.
Second, IAM must integrate with all business components, including analytics, business intelligence, customer and partner portals, and marketing solutions. Otherwise, IAM becomes rapidly irrelevant. Gartner suggests that IAM use the same continuous value delivery methodology utilized by many DevOps cloud teams for software delivery.
Lastly, IAM must be tightly integrated with adaptive authentication and MFA solutions. Authentication was once considered a simple yes/no decision at the time of login, such as when logging into a VPN. To prevent account takeovers and covert phishing assaults, the IAM of today need more detail. Gartner suggests deploying adaptive MFA to all users and having an evolving authorization strategy that permits remote access in a secure manner. This promotes both trust and usability, and according to Gartner's planning guide, "adaptive access is just the beginning of smarter authentication solutions. Most of these products do not have fraud detection based on passive biometric collections or support digital signatures and identity orchestrations. These protections are needed thanks to new and more sophisticated account takeover attack methods.”
Machine identity management
In conventional computer and business environments, digital identities and certificates were exclusively used to verify human identity. But as technology progresses and business models adapt to the global shifting environment, the use of machine identities has evolved, and they now radically outnumber human identities in large organizations—by a factor of 47-1.
IAM should also authenticate non-human entities, such as application keys, APIs, and secrets, agents, and containers, in addition to safeguarding users. Gartner suggests that these assets be treated as "first-class citizens" and that they should be managed effectively by cross-functional teams that include all stakeholders. For the protection of vital company resources and data, machine identities are becoming more essential than human identities.
Organizations rely on cryptographic keys and digital certificates to function as machine identities in order to authenticate and authorize machines to access corporate resources. As the number of machines expands, the number of machine identifiers skyrockets, making the management of certificates connected with these devices both vital and challenging.
The importance of machine identity management in the framework of an IAM strategy
Machine identity management assists companies in determining the level of confidence they may place in the identity of their machines, particularly when these machines interact with other machines. To achieve this objective, machine identity management controls the lifecycle of machine credentials. These machine identities may comprise credentials including secrets, cryptographic keys, X.509 and code signing certificates, and SSH keys.
Managing machine identities and their connected certificates has become an essential business process to reduce risks and threats. Certificate lifecycle management is also an important component of a Zero Trust approach to cybersecurity. Organizations are leveraging Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to make sure they are managing their certificates across their entire lifecycle, making PKI an important component of IAM and Zero Trust. NIST notes in their publication SP 800-207 on Zero Trust Architecture that PKI “is responsible for generating and logging certificates issued by the enterprise to resources, subjects, services and applications.”
Compromised machine identities pose severe risks for businesses. They can become attack vectors for adversaries to invade corporate networks, hide their activity and escape security controls to gain access to data and systems. Hence, it is no wonder that Gartner has named machine identity management a foundational IAM technology for securing organizations and enforcing a Zero Trust strategy.
As organizations recognize the difficulties associated with managing their machine identities, it is imperative that they consider implementing an automated certificate management platform. Such a technology will allow businesses to control the identities of their machines over their full lifecycles without human mistake. These kinds of tools can minimize staff time and operational expenses, as well as boost availability, capability, and scalability. In doing so, they can prevent a certificate outage, decreasing the danger of a cyber-attack and protecting the brand reputation of their company.
To understand what it takes to manage machine identities, download our Machine Identity Management for dummies Guide.