April 29, 2021

Many organizations, particularly in highly regulated industries, view identity access within their IT systems from a compliance lens. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) govern protected information—from personally identifiable health information to personal information and financial records. All require systems and processes to prove governance and have reporting requirements and fines for breaches and mishandling of protected information. Thus, there is great reputational/public relations and financial incentive to comply. 

Top view of successful businessman standing near the entrance of labyrinthHowever, organizations that focus solely on compliance and governance are missing the point. And that is the inherent risk of identity access—access to highly valuable and protected data.

Generally, organizations understand the importance of protecting the data of vulnerable groups like patients, children, or prisoners. Yet, we still see widespread breaches of this data through hacking or misuse. 

Customer data also needs to be protected for a variety of reasons from corporate, customer, and competitor standpoints. Companies with very specific intellectual property want to protect their data. With or without governmental regulations, the risks of hacking, employee misuse, and data spill still exist. 

Taking a risk-based approach to identity analytics and governance helps each organization determine its own acceptable level of risk which may be less than those imposed by laws. In other words, complying with governmental regulations may not be an acceptable minimum standard of protection for many organizations to stay in business, maintain a competitive edge, and remain profitable. That’s where a risk-based approach comes in.

1. Identity Access Risks

Identity access management (IAM) controls who has access to what information within an organization. For instance, identity access on an individual level protects employees from seeing one another’s payroll and HR information. But at an organization level, it can also limit what information groups of employees may have access to based on their roles. For instance, while it may be necessary for salespeople to process credit card information for customers, it may not be necessary for employees in other areas of the business whose jobs don’t involve accepting payments to access that information. Similarly, an employee who generates invoices should not also have access to approve payments. 

A risk-based approach would also prevent sales employees from seeing or sharing sales data and customer lists for more than their areas of responsibility or the entire organization. And product designs and intellectual property like patents would not be accessible outside of certain roles like engineers and designers. 

2. Automated Risk Governance Reduces Risks

In the past, small organizations may have manually managed identity access through IT, network administrators. However, time and again, incidents have proven that an automated risk-based approach to identity access and analytics is a best practice that greatly reduces risks.

Vulnerable, default, or stolen user credentials pose significant risks to organizations. Identity governance and administration (IGA) enables centralized system visibility that displays the access levels of all system users at a glance in real-time. That visibility for authorized users makes possible the monitoring of these access levels for policy violations, improper/unauthorized access, weak controls, and other vulnerabilities before any damage results.

IGA not only prevents employees from accessing (and potentially misusing) information they don’t need to do their jobs, it also reduces the risk of orphaned accounts when employees move on to other roles or leave the organization. These orphaned accounts can be exploited by hackers or even other employees. And if employees need temporary access to data or systems, that access should be terminated by a set date. 

Automating IAM with IGA provides additional efficiencies that mitigate risk. System failures, system inaccessibility may affect access, and access rights can be overwritten. IAM is not once and done but an ongoing process requiring continuous maintenance. IGA automates many IAM processes. For example, with IGA an organization can more easily streamline certification processes for who gets access and how they get access. Recertification campaigns can determine if people still need access to data and can revoke that access if it’s no longer appropriate. These certification processes aid in complying with industry standards and regulations by allowing organizations to define IAM policies, meet audit and compliance requirements, and enforce the same standards throughout the organization. Automating these processes ensures they happen when they need to and generates appropriate activity logs. Automation is unaffected by vacation time, leaves, or busy schedules.

3. IGA as an HR Function

Since most of the organization changes requiring a change in access (account creation, password management, provisioning, and de-provisioning of laptops) are initiated by HR as employees join, leave, or move into new roles, IGA should also be an HR responsibility rather than an IT role. An automated solution relieves the IT and information security teams of the mundane tasks of ensuring secure user access, freeing those resources for other business-critical tasks, and ensuring that IGA resides where most changes can be readily confirmed.

The Right Access to the Right Resources: Mitigate Your Risk

Regulations like HIPAA, SOX, and GDPR exist because of the high incidence of intentional and unintentional misuse and mishandling of confidential information. While these laws compound the financial and procedural burdens of organizations to protect data, the repercussions of mishandling or misusing private information on their own should be enough to motivate organizations to reduce their identity access risks. Automation of IGA can significantly increase data and information security within any organization and help organizations more easily comply with regulatory reporting requirements. Taking a risk-based approach to identity governance lowers overall operational costs and increases efficiency, two hallmarks of business success while protecting assets that may not even be covered by data security regulations like intellectual property and information competitors could easily exploit. 

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