Why Identity and Access Management is Crucial for Your Organization

With the rapid pace of technological advancement, the risk of cyberattacks is growing at an alarming rate. In today's digital landscape, securing sensitive data, systems, and applications is more vital than ever before. Yet, managing access rights to organizational systems and preventing unauthorized access pose a significant challenge for companies of all sizes and across all industries. This is precisely where identity and access management (IAM) comes in.

What Is Identity and Access Management?

IAM is a process that involves managing and controlling access to sensitive data and systems by ensuring that the right people have access to the right resources at the right time.

In simple terms, IAM is responsible for managing user identities, granting or revoking access permissions, and monitoring activity to detect and prevent security breaches. For example, a financial analyst may have access to specific financial data, while an IT administrator may have access to IT systems and infrastructure.

Why Is Identity and Access Management Crucial for Organizations?

Failing to implement IAM may result in a higher risk of data breaches, unauthorized access to sensitive information, and non-compliance with regulatory standards. Shockingly, the average cost of a data breach was $9.44 million in 2022, according to IBM. This represents a 4.3% increase from $9.05 million in 2021, just a year prior.

This may be attributed to the rise of remote working and the proliferation of cloud-based technologies. With more devices and employees connecting to the internet, it becomes more challenging for organizations to protect data. According to Verizon, there are 180 different action varieties that an attacker can use to breach an organization’s security — the use of stolen credentials is among the top five.

Fortunately, IAM solutions have proven to be effective in mitigating the risk of this attack vector. The use of IAM solutions has been shown to reduce the cost of data breaches by as much as $224,396 per incident, according to IBM. Of course, financial losses are only part of the story. The reputational damage that can be incurred through a data breach is difficult to quantify, but it’s certainly no less costly. From lost sales to negative publicity and brand damage, organizations must remain on high alert for identity-related weak points in their security posture.

Benefits of Implementing an Identity and Access Management Solution

Implementing an IAM solution can provide organizations with a range of benefits, including enhanced security, improved regulatory compliance, and increased operational efficiency. How, exactly? Let's take a closer look:

  1. Enhanced security through controlled access: A comprehensive IAM solution can help organizations maintain a high level of security by restricting access rights to only authorized users. This allows enterprises to prevent data breaches and cyberattacks before they occur, as well as minimize the damage caused if they do happen.

    IAM solutions can also help organizations reduce the risk of a data breach by providing real-time monitoring and detection of potential security breaches. For instance, they can monitor activity on company systems and networks to identify suspicious behavior, such as failed login attempts or account creation. These solutions can also provide alerts when a particular user accesses data above their authorization level, indicating that there may be unauthorized activity.

  2. Improved regulatory compliance: IAM solutions can help organizations ensure compliance with regulatory standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), ISO/IEC 27001, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Natural Environment Research (Nerc), and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX).

    Compliance is achieved by enabling organizations to track and audit access to sensitive data, identifying users responsible for a security incident, and ensuring that policies are being followed by employees. For example, by enforcing the use of strong passwords and two-factor authentication, organizations can ensure that users are logging in from a trusted device.

  3. Increased operational efficiency: IAM solutions can automate time-consuming manual processes related to access management, such as user provisioning, deprovisioning, and password resets. This reduces the workload on IT personnel and improves overall productivity.

By automating these processes, organizations can focus on their core business functions, improve their overall business operations, and reduce the risk of errors or oversights.

Key Components of Identity and Access Management Solutions

IAM solutions are comprised of a number of different components that work together to deliver the full value of the framework. These include:

  • Authentication: The process of verifying the digital identity of an individual or system, often by providing some form of credential. Authentication is the first step in establishing identity, and it ensures that only authorized individuals or systems are granted access to business applications and data. Authentication can also ensure that a single person cannot pose as multiple users within an organization’s digital environment. 

  • Authorization: The step that determines what an authenticated digital identity is permitted to do within a given environment. Authorization ensures users have the appropriate permissions for their roles and responsibilities within an organization. It can help prevent malicious attacks by ensuring that only authorized individuals or systems are granted access privilege to business applications and data.

  • User management: The process of creating, updating, and deleting users within a system. User management is often closely linked to authentication and authorization as it’s used to determine the identity of individuals within a given environment. This mostly happens when individuals join a company and need access to its systems. It also can happen when a user’s role changes within an organization.

  • Central user repository: A database that stores information about all users in an organization. The central user repository is often leveraged to manage and track users. The information can include user accounts, contact information, roles, permissions, and other details that are relevant to the organization.

Best Practices and Use Cases of Identity and Access Management

IAM is a critical component of any business, especially as it grows in size and complexity. But how do you use it to its full potential? Here are some of the best practices and use cases for IAM.

  • Conduct a risk audit: This is the first step in any IAM implementation. Conducting a risk audit helps identify areas where access management can be improved and what risks need to be addressed. It also gives you an understanding of what data has been exposed or lost through improper access control, thereby allowing you to take action.

  • Develop a plan: Once you have identified the risks, it's time to develop a plan. An IAM strategy will help you decide what access control technologies are needed, where they should be deployed within the organization, and how they'll be used. It should also include a roadmap for implementing your chosen solutions.

  • Monitor continuously and identify areas for improvement: Once you have implemented your IAM strategy, it's important to continue monitoring your environment for changes that could impact security. You'll need to review access-related incidents and determine whether any of them could have been prevented by stronger controls. If so, you can use this information to develop new policies and procedures or update existing ones.

  • Adopt industry-leading cybersecurity frameworks: IAM should be a part of a larger, holistic cybersecurity strategy that includes tools and processes to prevent, detect, and respond to security incidents. To do this, you'll need to adopt industry-leading frameworks, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

  • Train employees: Employees are oftentimes the weakest link in an organization's cybersecurity defenses. They may not understand the risks they're taking or how to protect against them. To prevent this, you should provide employees with cybersecurity training that helps them understand the risks and take action to secure their devices and accounts. This should include information on how to identify phishing emails, avoid using weak passwords, and reporting suspicious activity. In addition, you can also use reports generated by your IAM system to identify any areas where training is required.

Now, let's go over how an IAM strategy can help protect your organization from cyberattacks. Here are some of the most common scenarios:

  1. Managing user identity and access across multiple systems and applications: One of the biggest challenges you'll face is managing user access across multiple systems. The more systems and applications you have in your network, the harder it is to keep track of who has access to what. This is especially important for organizations that have a large number of users, such as in the case of large enterprises and government agencies. To ensure that all users have appropriate access to only what they need, you need to implement a strong identity and access management system.

    One way to simplify this process is to establish single sign-on (SSO), which allows users to access multiple applications and systems using a single set of login credentials. This can be a significant time-saver for users who no longer need to remember multiple passwords or go through multiple login screens. SSO can also improve security by allowing administrators to enforce stronger password policies and monitor user activity across multiple systems.

  2. Securing access to sensitive and personal information: Data security is a major concern for organizations and individuals alike. To ensure that your users' personal information remains secure, you need to implement strong access controls and encryption. This is crucial for organizations that deal with sensitive data, such as healthcare companies and financial institutions. In addition, if devices are lost or stolen you need to ensure that they cannot be accessed by unauthorized users.

    Success is possible through multi-factor authentication (MFA), which involves using multiple factors to verify a user's identity before granting access to a system or application. This can include something the user knows (like a password), something the user has (like a security token), or something the user is (like a fingerprint or facial recognition). In addition, these protocols enable passwordless authentication.

  3. Privileged Access Management (PAM): PAM is the process of managing access to privileged accounts within an organization, such as administrative or root accounts. These accounts have elevated access privilege, which can be used to make significant changes to systems and data, so it’s important to ensure that they’re properly secured and monitored. PAM solutions typically involve strict access controls, monitoring of privileged account activity, and auditing of all changes made by privileged users.

    A common way to do this using an IAM tool is to opt-in for role-based access control (RBAC) which is a method of assigning access permissions based on a user's role within an organization. This allows administrators to manage access at a high level rather than assigning individual access permissions to each user. For example, an HR manager may have access to all employee data while a salesperson may only have access to their own sales reports.

  4. User provisioning: Creating and managing user accounts and access permissions within an organization's systems and applications can be time-consuming. This involves assigning and revoking access privileges, setting up user profiles, and ensuring that all users have the appropriate level of access to the resources they need to do their jobs. User provisioning is often performed manually, but many organizations are now moving toward automated provisioning tools that streamline the process and reduce the risk of human error.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of an Identity and Access Management Solution

As with any investment, it's vital to ensure your IAM solution is achieving its intended goals and providing a strong defense against cyber threats. Here are some key steps you can take to ensure your IAM tool is working as it should:

  1. Define key performance indicators (KPIs): The first step in measuring the effectiveness of an IAM solution is to identify the KPIs that are most relevant to your organization. These may include metrics such as the number of successful and unsuccessful login attempts, the number of security incidents, the average time to provision and deprovision users, and the time it takes to detect and respond to security incidents.

  2. Collect and analyze data: Once you have defined your KPIs, you need to collect and analyze the data needed to measure them. This may involve data on user activity, access requests and security alerts.

  3. Monitor access activity: Monitor access activity on your systems and networks to identify suspicious behavior such as failed login attempts or account creation. These solutions can also provide alerts when a particular user accesses data above their authorization level, indicating that there may be unauthorized activity.

  4. Conduct regular audits: Conduct regular audits of your IAM solution to ensure that it's functioning as intended and providing the level of security you require. Audits can help you identify gaps in your IAM strategy and provide insights into how to improve it.

  5. Continuously improve: Based on the data and insights gathered from the KPIs and audits, continually look for ways to improve your IAM strategy. You may need to adjust your policies, procedures, and tools to address new or emerging security threats.

  6. Report on metrics: Finally, report on the KPIs and metrics that you have identified to relevant stakeholders, such as executive management, IT, and security teams. Doing so creates accountability and ensures that everyone is aware of the effectiveness of the IAM solution and any areas that need further adjustments.

Integrating Identity and Access Management into Your Cybersecurity Strategy with Trace3

At Trace3, we understand the challenges that organizations face when it comes to cybersecurity. We are here to help. Our team of experts can provide guidance to fine-tune your core infrastructure and solutions. We've got you covered whether you need design, implementation, or ongoing management.

Our experienced IAM consultants can assist you in deploying IAM maturity accelerators to help your team improve security performance and give you peace of mind. These accelerators include automated lifecycle management, privileged access management, SSO and identity federation, adaptive multi-factor authentication, web and API access security, and identity data protection.

We're passionate about empowering organizations to embrace new technologies while ensuring their security. Let us help you stay ahead of the curve and achieve your business objectives. Connect with us today.

Jason B

Jason is a leader in IAM with 22 years of professional experience including program management, technology engineering, and business process integration.  Trace3 responsibilities include supporting new and existing client relationships, advancing the practice’s IAM service line offering and building out the go-to-market strategy.

Jason previously served as Managing Director of IAM at Morgan Franklin Consulting. In addition, he was the Practice Director for Fishtech Group, a data-driven cybersecurity solutions provider, where he focused on delivery and leadership of technology services, program and project management, strategic solutions and development, and business support in the Identity and Access Management Security space. 

Jason also was the Senior Manager of Identity and Access Management for United Airlines where he managed strategy, resource allocation, work stream, program budget, and program deliverables for the airline’s IAM program. While at United, he played a key role in merging and integrating two major carriers’ HR technology, and he led the consolidation strategy of user identities of both organizations into one single source of truth. Jason was also the Senior Manager of Identity and Access and SAP Security at Grainger Inc. While at Grainger, Jason developed a strategy, roadmap, and an execution plan for the environment’s legacy outdated IAM platforms into a modern and streamlined IAM technology stack (SSOT). 

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