Identity crisis: 5 answers to critical identity access management questions

Aug 29, 2023

Key takeaways

An effective IAM program allows you to centralize the managing, monitoring and securing of digital access.

Key digital identity trends may impact your future IAM strategy.

There are several pitfalls to avoid in order to ensure IAM program success.

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The clear and present danger of a cybersecurity incident has middle market organizations and their IT teams leveraging every security technology at their disposal. Protecting sensitive data across the attack surface is an essential element of this effort, helping companies gain customer trust, empower employees and steer clear of regulatory scrutiny.

Identity and access management (IAM) plays a central role in enhancing cybersecurity. By maintaining and securing access to data, systems and processes, IAM tools allow you to reduce the risk of bad actors getting in while improving user access.

How can you make the most out of these tools? Here are the answers to five of the most pressing identity and access management questions.

Why is IAM important?

IAM gives you the processes and technology you need to ensure your users—and only your users—are able to access sensitive information and systems. IAM lets you:

  • Protect against unauthorized access. By verifying the identity of users and controlling their access, IAM helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information.
  • Enhance security and efficiency. IAM helps you reduce the risk of security incidents while improving the efficiency of your operations.
  • Ensure compliance. IAM helps you meet regulatory requirements related to information security, such as privacy and data protection laws.
  • Improve incident response. With a robust IAM system in place, you can quickly identify and respond to security incidents so you can minimize damage and prevent further breaches.
  • Support data governance. IAM helps you manage and control access to sensitive information, ensuring that only authorized users have access and that they use the data according to your organization's policies.

When is the right time to incorporate IAM into my organization’s cybersecurity strategy?

IAM shouldn’t be treated as a cybersecurity afterthought. In fact, it should be the foundation of your organization’s security. By managing access for individuals, systems and devices, IAM allows you to verify who is accessing your systems and why, while making it easier to grant and revoke access privileges as needed.

IAM is especially critical for organizations undergoing digital transformation. As you connect more and more digital assets, web properties and apps together, the risk that a hacker will use a breach in one system to access the rest of your data also increases. With an effective IAM program in place, you can centralize the managing, monitoring and securing of access so that the entire digital footprint of your organization is protected.

How do regulations affect my IAM strategy?

Different organizations may be subject to a variety of regulations that require specific protection for data governance and digital identity control.

For example, health care organizations must comply with HIPAA’s requirement to protect access to patient health information, while the finance industry has similar regulations that protect investors. Meanwhile, organizations across the board must comply with general privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA).

While your IAM strategy will depend on your industry’s existing requirements, keep in mind that data privacy regulations will only continue to become more stringent as regulators seek to protect consumers. This means your IAM strategy should include the ability to scale, adapt and grow as new regulations come online.

What are the key digital identity trends to watch?

There are several digital identity trends that may impact your future IAM strategy:

  • Decentralized or self-sovereign identity: While still a few years away, this promising technology uses decentralized blockchain technologies to store and manage digital identities so organizations can provide access more easily and securely. This allows users to share only the data they need, such as a birthdate, rather than their complete identity.
  • Infrastructure as code: IaC uses code to manage and provision infrastructure, which often requires accounts and access to sensitive data and systems. IAM helps organizations track all the accounts that the code creates to ensure they have appropriate permissions and are deactivated when no longer needed.
  • Verifiable credentials: Verifiable credentials are digital proofs issued by a trusted authority that can be cryptographically verified. They represent qualifications or assertions about an individual, organization, or machine, such as identity information or licenses. For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) could deliver a digital driver's license as a verifiable credential by issuing a credential that contains essential information like the driver's name and license class. The driver holds this digital credential in a digital wallet on their device, which they can share as needed. When the driver needs to rent a car, they share this credential with the rental company, which would cryptographically verify its authenticity and integrity to confirm with the DMV that the credential hasn't been tampered with.
  • Artificial intelligence: AI is being incorporated across the IAM product space to make device identity more efficient, make provisioning less error-prone and help IT more quickly identify a breach or unauthorized access attempt. However, it may also be exploited by cybercriminals to more effectively probe an attack surface for weakness or to hide their tracks.

What pitfalls should my organization look out for?

In their rush to implement IAM, some organizations may overlook several key areas that can affect program success, such as:

  • User provisioning and de-provisioning. Not regularly reviewing and updating user permissions can lead to stale accounts with access to sensitive information and systems.
  • Access reviews and audits. Not reviewing and auditing the access rights of users can leave systems and data vulnerable to breaches and unauthorized access.
  • Privileged access management. Not implementing proper controls and monitoring for privileged users who have access to sensitive information and systems can lead to unauthorized access and breaches.
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA). Not implementing MFA for critical systems and sensitive information increases the risk of unauthorized access and breaches.
  • Integration with other security systems. Not integrating IAM systems with other security systems, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and data encryption systems, can leave gaps in security posture.
  • Training and awareness. Not educating and training employees on best practices for identity and access management, such as strong password management and reporting suspicious activity, can lead to a lack of user engagement and understanding of the importance of IAM.

As cybercriminals increasingly target and extort middle market companies, the need to protect your precious data is more urgent than ever. By asking the right questions, your IAM provider can provide guidance and solutions to plan, build and run your IAM program so that you meet your security goals quickly, efficiently and effectively.

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