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Mar 30, 2021

Benefits and Security Concerns of Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management (IAM) grows ever more popular with every passing day, as internet users look to streamline their experience by accessing various pages through a single account. It isn’t unusual for someone to access a wide swathe of applications using only their Google or Facebook account, bringing worlds together under a single username and password. IAM is one of the most powerful tools in the digital world but that power brings great responsibility, by which we mean immense security concerns. Either way, IAM is something that is becoming more and more influential in our lives; the time to brush up on your knowledge is now. 

What is IAM?

Identity and Access Management is an increasingly common term heard in HighTech circles, but what exactly is it? In a nutshell, Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a term that describes internal processes that focus on managing user accounts and network resources, but it is about much more than the sum of those parts. While IAM is obviously about one’s online identity and their ability to access it, it is also about improving user experience and streamlining online existence. More and more people across the digital world are access different platforms from a single account, be it Google or Facebook, and there needs to be some form of control or security that comes with it.

Also known as Identity Management, IAM helps users and companies manage digital identities, allowing people to be accurately represented online while ensuring that people can access the right resource at the right time, doing so securely in the process. IAM helps with password management, regulation compliance, authentication, and more. In short, IAM is exactly what it says on the tin and a whole lot more along the way.

How does it work? IAM systems perform three key tasks, each vital for a secure and efficient online experience. These are to identify, authenticate and authorize, ensuring that only the right person has access to the right resources. A vast range of pieces must be in place for this to work smoothly, from secure databases to specially-designed tools for creating and modifying access privileges, as well simple history systems and up-to-date data logs. There are numerous layers to each of the three tasks, and we’ll get to those in time. 

For IAM to be implemented efficiently, centralized technology is usually used to replace existing access and sign-on systems, utilizing the concentrated nature of a central directory to grant access rights to users based on role and/or attributes. 

Okay, but why do I need Identity and Access Management?

The benefits of IAM are numerous and will be detailed in time, but there remains a skeptical group who don’t quite see why they require IAM in the first place. What is the point of it? Why should my company worry itself over things like multiple-factor authentication or single sign-on options?

IAM is becoming an increasingly vital part of any security plan, tied as it is to productivity and efficiency in an ever-more digital world. Even the slightest dent in a company’s security shield with regards to user credentials could be catastrophic, leading to company-wide disaster as the entire network comes under attack. A digital world doesn’t mean the end of business crime, of course, and ransomware, phishing, and other malware attacks are growing more common all the while. IAM must be utilized, from a basic security point of view. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that IAM can also help with productivity. Centralizing the processes can help ease the safeguarding of user credentials and access, freeing up more time for productivity, no matter the environment. The modern world is more flexible than any previous when it comes to the variety of workspaces, and IAM allows this to happen in complete security. 

The rigors of regulation compliance

As with any innovation and development in the tangled world of security frameworks, questions about regulation compliance will inevitably rear their head when discussing the pros and cons of IAM. What does IAM mean for compliance management? Not a quarter seems to pass without news of new acronym-based regulation, be it GDPR, CCPA, or any of the others. Ensuring your company is in line with these changes isn’t optional; it is mandatory.

Identity management can go a long way to helping businesses and organizations in the eternal battle with staying abreast of changing regulations. The automation of user access has alleviated the burden of such mundane tasks. IAM can help businesses achieve the holy grail of easier regulation compliance, a veritable godsend for companies in all spheres of industry. IAM’s well-defined user access protocols and layers of security cover everything from notifying users of data breaches to evolving privileges. 

The major benefits of IAM

Okay, the murky waters of regulation compliance and convincing the skeptics dealt with, the time has come to dive into the many benefits of identity and access management. This list could go on and on but we’ll keep it down to five major plus points for the sake of brevity. 

First of all, IAM allows for easy access, no matter where you are. The digital world does not stop or sleep, and the ubiquity of connection means people now need to access their online identities from the office, the home, public transport, and everywhere in between. This means that people need to quickly access any particular platform without the rigamarole of frustrating and time-consuming barriers. IAM opens this gate, but only for the right person in the right context, saving a vast amount of time and work in the process.

As mentioned previously, IAM has also proven to be a great boost for productivity. It stands to reason that quicker access to platforms will lead to more work getting done, as mental and physical downtime is replaced by a smoother flow from preparation to execution. IAM also allows businesses to fully embrace and engage with what seems to be a constant conveyer belt of innovation and development. Keeping a finger on the pulse of tomorrow has never been easier. 

Access and productivity are two of the more attractive benefits of identity and access management, but it is the water-tight security that IAM offers that represents its greatest attribute. IAM allows companies to put unbeatable security authentication procedures in place to completely minimize the risk of a security breach. Every single identity entering a system is verified down to the most minor of details, ensuring that only those with the right privileges can access the necessary levels of the system. IAM doesn’t rest on its laurels either, constantly monitoring and analyzing this to ensure elite security at all times. 

IAM also bridges gaps between users and increases the coverage of potential connectivity, without compromising security at any point. It is this possible range of scalability that often proves to be the most exciting string on IAM’s bow, offering organizations an endless list of possibilities for the future. IAM keeps companies at the forefront of change before it even happens. 

Often the most overlooked benefit of IAM is the positive impact it has on user experience. Being faced with remembering passwords and usernames is a digital albatross that can create unnecessary tension and anxiety, as the fear of getting something wrong looms large over the nervous or the inexperienced. IAM helps people to create an identity that provides access to a wide range of systems, notably across different social media networks and applications. Single sign-on (SSO) allows for simple and easy access to internal and external applications, enhancing user experience in the process.

User experience, security, productivity, connectivity, and simplified access are just five of IAM’s major benefits, to which can be added competitive advantage, increased scope for collaboration, freeing up IT teams, and a whole lot more. 

Security concerns and challenges

While one could be forgiven for thinking that there are only upsides of identity and access management, there remain many challenges and potential obstacles to its implementation. According to one report by Dimensional Research, 59% of professionals asked said that their biggest concern regarding IAM was data protection, with only 15% expressing total confidence that potential hacking wouldn’t be an issue. 

Such fears are understandable. By their very definition, IAM systems can access the most important aspects of a particular business, and an IAM system failure could be wildly catastrophic, be it through disillusioned employees sharing sensitive data or the far-reaching tentacles of the dark web. Other potential issues arise over integrating IAM with legacy infrastructure and the difficulties of moving to the cloud.

Of course, the eagle-eyed reader will be able to identify that these potential challenges are not the making of IAM itself, more obstacles that could arise through incorrect implementation. No great innovation or development came about without significant push-back and identity and access management is no different. 

IAM tools worth knowing

A wide range of tools falls under the IAM umbrella. One of the most notable among them is Identity as a Service (IDaaS), which itself covers solutions that can bridge the gap from portal to web and native mobile applications. A cloud-based tool, IDaaS allows organizations to use single sign-on authentication in providing secure access to their applications. 

IDaaS is one thing, but the growing influence of API (application programming interface) security likely trumps it in value and importance. This tool sets IAM for use in things as ubiquitous and influential as commerce, cloud integration, and more. The development of APIs has opened many doors in business and technology but also presented many security backdoors, most of which are dealt with by API security. This ensures that the right person is using the right system, shutting the door tight on any potential unwanted visitors. This is extended with Identity Analytics (IA), another IAM tool that focuses its efforts on detecting unorthodox and questionable behaviors using machine learning and statistical algorithms. IA allows organizations to sift through the gloom and easily identify who can access what and when. 

With this comes identity management and governance (IMG), which creates automated (and, vitally, repeatable) ways to monitor and control the identity life cycle, an absolute must when it comes to regulatory compliance. IMG is an absolute must, as it provides users with smooth access to the resources they require without burdening individual identities with the time-consuming necessity of staying ahead of regulations. 

Finally, risk-based authentication (RBA) analyses specific profiles that are requesting access to systems, evaluating the potential risk and the suitability of the combination. If red flags are brought up, the system can respond with the necessary action, be it requesting multiple factor authentication (ie; username, password plus security key) or a simple single factor (the standard username and password). RBA sizes up the identity trying to gain access to a particular resource and makes a decision accordingly. 

Examples of security frameworks

The discussion around security and IAM continues on and on, but several innovative security frameworks have grown around the development of the trend. Such companies seem to sprout up daily, but a handful has stuck around and made substantial reputations for themselves.

Established in 2013, Auth0 sets its stall out with the quite excellent tagline ‘Security for access for everyone, but not just anyone. Auth0 is best described as a flexible, drop-in solution to add authorization services to applications, a company that takes building such things out of the hands of businesses and ensures quality in the process. San Francisco-based Okta predates Auth0 by four years, a built-for cloud service that connects any individual with any application on any device, and ahead of its time company that was valued at over $6 billion as recently as 2017. 

Another notable name is Azure Active Directory, a cloud-based enterprise from Microsoft that forms the backbone of the Office 365 system, a built-in solution that helps manage identities and configure applications. Azure AD B2C is a directory service offered within the system, connecting business and customer (hence the abbreviation) through standards-based authentication protocols. Finally, AWS Cognito is Amazon’s stab at the form, providing authentication, authorization, and user management for web and mobile apps where users can either sign-in directly or through a third party, gaining access to other AWS services in the process. 

Far from being just another digital acronym to remember, IAM is increasingly vital in a constantly evolving world. How we are represented online is more important with every passing day, enhanced by security demands and a desire for a more streamlined user experience. Identity ad access management is all of this and much, much more. 

 

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