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What is Identity and Access Management and Why It's Important for Modern Companies

As a business expands and scales, it adapts with applications to streamline its network and operations. This leads to an increase in users (employees) accessing various applications and platforms from many devices.

Where an employee may have once had one email password, now IT manages dozens of credentials for SaaS platforms on multiple devices. 

Since one security slip-up can harm a business considerably, identity access management solutions give IT the ability to manage access control and identity with the same speed and confidence for 10 employees as for 10,000. This frees them from time-consuming manual tasks – like password resets – and allows them to focus on more challenging, fulfilling projects to drive company growth.

In this article we'll discuss what Identity and Access Management is and why it's important for modern companies.

Identity and Access Management Definition

Identity and access management (IAM or IdAM), is a framework of policies and technologies for ensuring that the proper people in an enterprise have the appropriate access to technology resources.

IAM systems fall under the overarching umbrellas of IT security and data management. Identity and access management systems not only identify, authenticate, and authorize individuals who will be utilizing IT resources, but also the hardware and applications employees need to access.

Identity management is a foundational security component to help ensure users have the access they need, and that systems, data, and applications are inaccessible to unauthorized users.

Identity and access management organizational policies define:

  • How users are identified and the roles they are then assigned
  • The systems, information, and other areas protected by IAM
  • The correct levels of protection and access for sensitive data, systems, information, and locations
  • Adding, removing, and amending individuals in the IAM system
  • Adding, removing, and amending a role’s access rights in the IAM system

Before we explain IAM in more details, let's first define some common terms.

Identity

An identity is manifested in attributes such as name, email address, data of birth, phone number, social security number, job position, etc. These attributes are collected in databases during registration processes of various kinds.

Access

An identity is manifested in attributes such as name, email address, data of birth, phone number, social security number, job position, etc. These attributes are collected in databases during registration processes of various kinds.

Authentication and Authorization

In order to better understand IAM, it's important to differentiate these two terms.

Authentication - Verification that an entity is who/what it claims to be using a password, biometrics such as a fingerprint, or distinctive behavior such as a gesture pattern on a touchscreen.

Authorization - Managing authorization information that defines what operations an entity can perform in the context of a specific application. For example, one user might be authorized to enter a sales order, while a different user is authorized to approve the credit request for that order.

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How Identity and Access Management Works

In today’s complex compute environments, along with heightened security threats, a strong user name and password doesn’t cut it anymore. Today, identity management systems often incorporate elements of biometrics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and risk-based authentication.

With an IAM framework in place, information technology (IT) managers can control user access to critical information within their organizations. Identity and access management products offer role-based access control, which lets system administrators regulate access to systems or networks based on the roles of individual users within the enterprise.

In this context, access is the ability of an individual user to perform a specific task, such as view, create or modify a file. Roles are defined according to job competency, authority and responsibility within the enterprise.

There are many technologies to simplify password management and other aspects of IAM. A few common types of solutions that are used as part of an IAM program include:

Single Sign On (SSO): An access and login system that allows users to authenticate themselves once and then grants them access to all the software, systems, and data they need without having to log into each of those areas individually.

Multi-Factor Authentication: This system uses a combination of something the user knows (e.g. a password), something the user has (e.g. a security token), and something the user is (e.g. a fingerprint) to authenticate individuals and grant them access.

Privileged Access Management: This system typically integrates with the employee database and pre-defined job roles to establish and provide the access employees need to perform their roles.

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Top 5 Benefits of Identity and Access Management

Improved security

IAM solutions help identify and mitigate security risks. You can use IAM to identify policy violations or remove inappropriate access privileges, without having to search through multiple distributed systems. You can also leverage IAM to ensure that security measures are in place to meet regulatory and audit requirements.

Information sharing

IAM provides a common platform for access and identity management information. You can apply the same security pollies across all the operating platforms and devices used by the organization. IAM frameworks can help you enforce policies related to user authentication, privileges, and validation, and attend to “privilege creep”.

Ease of use

IAM simplifies signup, sign-in and user management processes for application owners, end-users and system administrators. IAM makes it simple to provide and manage access, and this promotes user satisfaction.

Identity and access management grants users access based on the roles and permissions assigned to them. But IAM also allows bespoke access based on a user’s history, the risks they present, and the context in which they’re requesting the access.

Productivity gains

IAM reduces the complexities of access by organizing all access policies into a unified system. It enables a centralized, consistent, and scalable way of managing users, and makes granting permissions simpler and adopting new applications faster.

Instead of constantly resetting passwords and providing access to every application, IT admins can utilize the automated provisioning and Lifecycle Management tools that comes with identity and access management solutions. In turn, users need not wait because they have instant access to everything they need as soon as they’re onboarded, depending on their role, rather than requesting different tools and resources ad hoc. This means fewer demands on IT and more productivity overall.

Reduced IT Costs

IAM services can lower operating costs. Using federated identity services means you no longer need local identities for external uses; this makes application administration easier. Cloud-based IAM services can reduce the need to buy and maintain on-premise infrastructure.

Conclusion

Business expansion usually leads to an increase in users and employees accessing various applications and platforms from many devices.

To avoid potential cybersecurity risks, companies can adopt Identity and Access Management - a framework that utilizes technologies such as Single Sign On (SSO), multi factor authentication, and privileged access management.

With an IAM framework in place, companies can control user access to critical information within their organizations.

If you have any questions about how to effectively adopt identity and access management for your business, contact us today to help you out with your performance and security needs.

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