11 Nov Identity and Access management – its importance, the main components and benefits.
How important is IAM in Cyber Security?
Organisations are increasingly turning to Identity and Access management best practices and technology to protect their data, digital assets and stakeholders. Hackers use compromised usernames and passwords to gain entry into networks and systems – this is done through a myriad of ways, including malware, phishing and ransomware attacks.
Identity Access Management, or simply IAM, ensures that data across your organisation is solely accessible to the right people. A good definition is provided by Gartner, whereby the IAM programme is described as “…enables the right individuals to access the right resources at the right times for the right reasons.”.
IAM is a framework which includes policies, processes and technologies that enable organisations to manage users’ digital identities and control their (users) access to critical information. Users are assigned roles and each role would have a level of access to the different resources, systems, data and networks. IAM is crucial for remote working and the shift onto the cloud.
How does IAM boost an organisation’s security?
The overarching objective of IAM is to assign a digital identity to users and devices, so that access levels and privileges can be maintained, managed, modified (if need be) and monitored.
An IAM system generally has the following responsibilities:-
- To Verify and authenticate users according to their user role. In addition, individuals are also verified and authenticated on contextual information, namely geography, time and trusted networks;
- To capture and record, in a log, all Login events;
- To Manage access privileges (add/assign/remove) of users;
- To Offer visibility of business users and their respective roles (in an identity database);
- Enable admins to manage user access and authority levels across all the organisation.
IAM frameworks are critical to organisations because they help control the access to critical data via role-based access control. System administrators can regulate systems, applications and networks based on user roles. Each user role will have a defined level of authority and responsibility.
It is of paramount importance that when employees leave an organisation, the IAM automatically de-provisions the user to prevent security risks. Pertaining to user account management, a vulnerability which is often encountered during pen tests and assessments, is that former employees’ accounts are forgotten entirely and left active in the system, after they leave. With dynamic environments that usually have rather high attrition rates, it is key to automate this deprovisioning process as much as possible.
Device identification; not only human identity verification
Digital identities are not solely for humans, but also for devices and applications. This aids in establishing further trust in that deeper context is gotten regarding whether a user is truly who they are saying they are.
What constitutes IAM?
The main systems and components making up an IAM solution include:
Single sign-on (SSO), which enhances user experience in the form of access control that enables the user to authenticate with more than one system of application using one set of credentials. This also decreases password fatigue.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA);, which requires the user to verify his identity using various factors, namely: something the user knows (password), something the user has (a key code) and something specific to the user such as biometric information.
Privileges access management, whereby higher permission levels are assigned to accounts that access critical resources. They are given administrator-level controls. These tend to be cybercriminals’ favourite targets.
Risk-based authentication – The authentication solution takes into account contextual features when a user tries to log into an application. The most common contextual features, to assess risk level, are the current device, IP address, geographical location and the network. Some systems are configured in a way that in such instances the user is prompted to submit an additional authentication factor – to safeguard against malicious activity.
Data Governance is key to manage the availability, integrity, usability and security of data. Data policies and standards about data usage, ensure data is consistent, trustworthy and not get misused.
Zero trust approach is the approach adopted by many organisations worldwide nowadays, moving away from the traditional idea of trusting everyone connected to the network or behind a firewall. The use of the cloud and mobile devices, expanded the digital surface, therefore this approach is even more important.
Main Benefits of IAM
An identity management system will bring an array of advantages to the organisation from secure access to networks and systems (including on the cloud) to reducing risk and meeting compliance requirements.
Operational efficiency is boosted since IAM automates and streamlines access management. This is very useful, when regulated organisations need to provide specific reporting to regulatory authorities.
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