An Overview of IAM Security

by Jake Wengroff

Usernames and passwords had been the traditional way for users to gain access to devices and systems. However, as endpoints, applications and services proliferate, so does the need to create and remember additional passwords. This type of password management is not only efficient but also prone to vulnerabilities, as anyone who is able to gain access to a password could gain access to a device or account.

IT obviously needed a better way to manage the growing number of user accounts that were not tied to passwords, and this has led to the emergence of identity and access management (IAM).

IAM defines and manages user identities and access permissions, including those of customers as well as employees. With IAM technologies, IT managers can ensure that users are who they say they are, known as “authentication,” and that users can properly access the applications and resources they have permission to use, known as “authorization.”

IAM is not a single application or tool. Instead, it is a framework of processes, policies and systems that manage digital identities in a highly secure, streamlined manner.

5 Benefits of IAM Security

Here’s a rundown of the top five IAM benefits. More than an IT security process, IAM seeks to enhance the operational efficiency of an organization and even increase the user experience. This can lead to higher employee productivity, as there is less frustration and friction when employees forget or mistype passwords and need to contact IT to initiate password resets. Over time, enterprises can measure the success of IAM not only by the reduced number of security incidents but also by the reduction in IT help desk tickets requesting password assistance.

1. Enhance the User Experience

IAM systems enable users — employees, contractors, customers, suppliers, vendors and third parties — to access corporate systems, regardless of where they are, what time it is and even what devices they are using. This is because IAM can work across multiple operating systems, platforms and devices simultaneously.

Rather than requiring users to manage dozens of accounts for various corporate applications or resources, IT administrators can use IAM systems to create a unique digital identity for each user that includes a single set of credentials.

By using single sign-on (SSO) for authentication, users can access cloud-based, SaaS, web-based and virtual applications with their single, unique identity. SSO reduces friction and improves the overall user experience.

2. Minimizes Risk and Error for Security Teams

IAM systems improve the efficiency and effectiveness of security teams because it streamlines the access-granting process. IT administrators can use IAM to grant access rights based on predefined user roles. This not only reduces the chances of granting authorized access rights to users who should not have them, but it also significantly cuts down user onboarding and offboarding times.

To prevent resources from being accessed improperly, security administrators can apply the principle of least privilege to user roles. This ensures employees, contractors, guests and partners can be quickly and easily set up with only the minimum access needed to complete their job roles.

3. Improve Security Enterprisewide

With IAM systems, security administrators can enforce security policies across all company systems, platforms, applications and devices. This is imperative to enforcing authentication and other security measures as well as preventing privilege creep — that is, preventing users from gaining access to resources that they do not need.

With company-wide IAM policies, it is easier to identify violations, remove inappropriate access privileges and revoke access when needed. IAM policies also limit potential internal threats, since employees only have access to the systems — and even with that, the minimum level of access to that system — that they need to perform their specific job duties. With IAM, users on their own cannot escalate privileges without approval.

Many modern IAM systems use automation, AI and machine learning, and identity analytics capabilities that isolate anomalous or suspicious activity and then automatically block it. IAM can also provide a bird’s-eye or dashboard view into where and how all user credentials are being used, helping administrators identify what accounts or endpoints may have been accessed and compromised when a data breach occurs.

4. Help Companies Maintain Compliance

Many regulations, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) include mandates for data security, privacy and protection, and IAM can help organizations meet those mandates. To prove compliance, organizations must understand and be able to verify that their data is being properly protected, including who has access to it, how that access is protected, processes for revoking access and how passwords are managed.

IAM security also helps IT administrators in the event of a compliance audit. IAM helps organizations prove where and how user credentials are used to demonstrate that corporate information is protected with the proper controls. This is critical, not only for reporting to government or regulatory agencies but also when bidding on contracts for work with companies that must report on the security controls of the vendors with whom they choose to do business. A contract could hang in the balance if security protocols cannot be demonstrated, and IAM can help deliver that peace of mind.

5. Reduce Management and IT Costs

TechTarget cites that between 30% and 50% of help desk calls are for password resets, with the average password reset costing an organization $70. Because IAM systems simplify management for help desk employees and administrators, the time that was once spent on mundane tasks, such as helping users locked out of their accounts, can now be spent on more high-value, high-priority tasks.

Beyond helping prevent data breaches, consolidating user accounts into single identities can eliminate other enterprise expenditures. IAM can save costs associated with managing identities across multiple — often legacy — applications. Using cloud-based IAM services can also reduce or eliminate the need to buy and maintain on-premises IAM security.

Your Identity and Access Management Solution

The Migus Group can help you better understand IAM and how its implementation fits into the security policies across your organization.

A range of point solutions might already be in place to manage access. However, these solutions may not be configured optimally, or they may not be set up to accommodate any anticipated, near-term changes to the organization. These could include an upcoming merger, acquisition or divestiture; a surge in employees returning to work; the company’s expansion into a new region with an unknown security environment; and the like. While the current security posture can always be strengthened, building in anticipated changes to the organization’s operations and how those might affect security need to be considered.

Contact The Migus Group today to learn more.

Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, he covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and the Internet of Things.