July 26, 2021

Why IAM Is Critical to Your Business

Get the inner workings, benefits, and compliance drivers of IAM. This summary from our recent webinar explains the “Identity is the New Perimeter” Approach to Identity and Access Management, a best practice with cloud computing and remote work.

Laying the Foundation: What is IAM

IAM is a framework of business processes, policies, and technologies that facilitate the management of electronic or digital identities. Access management gives authorized users access to the right services while preventing access to unauthorized users. It hinges on the concept of providing the right access at the right time. IAM often encompasses anyone or any system that is authorized to handle company data, both people and systems. IAM is for employees and third parties such as vendors, contractors, and customers.

As described in our previous blog post:

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 organizational 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 required for employees in other business areas 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.

IAM’s Role in Layered Security

Before the rise of cloud computing and the spike in remote work during the COVID pandemic, perimeter defense was the primary cybersecurity tactic used to keep digital assets safe. Firewalls protected organizations from cyberattacks. With cloud computing, DevOps, the IoT, and employees accessing systems with an array of devices from all over the world, the perimeter is now almost impossible to define and protect. Identity Access Management (IAM) has quickly become one of the most critical components of an organization’s security program.

How Does IAM Work

To illustrate, when an employee decides to work from a busy coffee shop using their WiFi, the employee is working outside of the company’s network and therefore “outside the network perimeter.” IAM with context-aware access control can push that remote worker to multi-factor authentication (MFA) or deny access altogether if the company’s policy so dictates.

This so-called step-up authentication is the perfect application for remote workers, as in the coffee shop example. Organizations can define scenarios that would require authentication above and beyond the normal within-perimeter state and is known as context-aware access control. With this type of access control, a company may use situation information (such as identity, geolocation, time of day, type of endpoint device, IP address, and behavioral risk) to improve information security decisions regarding access control. For example, if a company has no international employees, it may restrict access to only US-based IP addresses.

What is Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management (PAM) is another crucial component or building block of IAM. Privileged access accounts can be compared to a master key. They have access to systems and data most other accounts do not and can perform actions others cannot, like resetting passwords and changing or deleting data. If cybersecurity penetration testers gain access to a privileged access account, it’s game over. Worse yet, if a cybercriminal gains access through a privileged account, an organization may be facing ransomware, malware and may not know it for a long time. Privileged service accounts granted to systems or applications rather than users may have passwords that haven’t been changed in years and can be particularly dangerous without privileged access management.

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA)

The third building block of IAM is IGA. IGA assures that IAM policies are in line with business objectives. IGA tools produce analytics and data often required to satisfy audit requirements. Thus IGA has many compliance benefits. Having these services doesn’t guarantee compliance but can help meet compliance requirements when properly deployed.

For instance, IGA includes policies that help an organization control variables on a fine grain basis. Organizations can document what they are doing and how they’re doing it through centralized policies, have systems in place to manage attributes, and reuse attributes as an organization grows. What an organization pays in complexity with IGA, they gain in scalability. IGA may be daunting for smaller organizations, but larger organizations will achieve productivity with this solution, particularly in heavily regulated or high-risk industries.

The Benefits of IAM

IAM has many benefits beyond security; it reduces risk by controlling access. It can increase productivity with user task automation. And it can improve the overall user experience, cut onboarding time and reduce help desk calls.

To watch the entire webinar recording with a discussion of individual tools and their benefits, download the playback here. 

Webinar Playback: Understanding IAM + Why Its Critical to Your Business

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