An introduction to identity and access management

  • What is identity and access management?

    With the significant growth in technology over the past decade, more companies than ever are now moving to the cloud. While the cloud has clear advantages, this also means that a large portion of their sensitive data is now online and requires protection. This is where an identity and access management solution comes in to the picture. An identity and access management (IAM) system plays a key role in efficiently managing access to data and systems by identifying users and only authorizing access to the right people for the right amount of time. Also known as identity management, the prime objective of IAM is to define and manage user roles and access privileges, preventing users from accessing anything they don't have authorization for. This can be achieved by implementing custom policies, access restrictions, and tools to fit your business requirements.

    IAM systems also simplify the roles of administrators by allowing them to efficiently onboard and off-board users, monitor and control the access privileges of every user in the organization, and track their access records—all from one place.

  • Setting up an identity and access management system

    Since IAM systems are so important to an increasing number of businesses, it is important to understand how they are implemented. The prerequisites for implementing an identity and access management system are:

    • Recognizing the problems your enterprise currently faces that can be addressed by an IAM system
    • Formulating essential access management policies and identifying the tools needed to achieve the goals of IAM
    • Maintaining and managing the data related to user identity
    • Granting and revoking user access based on business needs
    • Recording and monitoring which user performed what activity when
  • Importance of identity and access management

    Security is important for every organization and an IAM system can simplify this process. An ideal IAM system will help with:

    • Defining user access privileges for applications, data, and systems
    • Safeguarding access to critical accounts from unauthorized users and malicious attackers
    • Gaining complete visibility of all user activities and access privileges
    • Enhancing the user experience by providing easy access to multiple applications and services with a single set of credentials, which increases productivity
    • Reducing password fatigue, which is often the cause of data breaches
    • Adding additional layers of security with multi-factor authentication
    • Reducing IT and help desk costs by introducing self-service mechanisms, allowing users to submit access requests based on their profile
    • Simplifying admin roles by allowing admins to manage access controls from a central location
  • Stepping into the identity and access management world

    The efficiency offered by any IAM solution depends on the size, requirements, and criticality of data stored, accessed, and processed by the enterprise. The right solution will drastically increase your enterprise's security, enhance user experience by providing a flexible work environment, and increase your organization's growth. To achieve this, it's important to begin with the following key solutions to help improve your access and password management practices.

  • Single sign-on

    Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to access multiple websites and applications by authenticating just once with a single set of credentials. Users can easily log in to multiple cloud applications and websites without re-entering their password as long as they're authenticated themselves with their identity provider. This eliminates the need to create and manage access for multiple accounts and allows users to be more productive by focusing on the task at hand.

    SSO also avoids password fatigue and reuse, which are common factors that contribute to data breaches, by reducing the need to remember multiple passwords. Users are also likely to improve their password hygiene with fewer passwords to manage, significantly reducing the help desk costs incurred for every password reset.

  • Enterprise password management

    It's crucial to keep your passwords strong and secure as they're the first line of defense against any malicious attack. Bad password hygiene has often been a backdoor for cyber threats and data breaches. This makes password management an indispensable part of IAM. A good password manager generates complex passwords and remembers them for you, so all you need to remember is your single master password. They also simplify password sharing across teams and individuals, while tracking every action performed by the users in their vault. IAM can also make website authentication simple with one-click access, increasing the productivity of its users.

    The sensitive data stored in a password manager is encrypted, preventing it from being exposed in plain text during any potential breach threats. Additional layers of protection can be added with multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) can be achieved in various ways, including what a user knows (user's password), what the user has (security tokens, mobile devices), and who the user is (biometrics like fingerprint, facial recognition). MFA offers a choice of authentication factors, allowing users to use their preferred authentication method while staying compliant with security standards.

  • Laws governing IAM

    As data continues to grow exponentially in the cloud, a lot of sensitive information continues to require protection. To ensure security factors are taken into consideration by businesses around the globe, numerous data regulatory laws have been enacted. Some of the most notable regulations are summarized below:

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

    Since its implementation, GDPR has redefined the way enterprises across Europe, as well as those serving European residents, manage and process data. Companies found to breach GDPR are subject to fines of as much as 4% of their annual global turnover or €20 million, whichever is higher. Implementing an IAM solution can help keep you compliant, as most will address GDPR data protection requirements, which include:

    • Ensuring a user can only access the data they need
    • Only allowing restricted and authorized personnel to process personal data
    • Providing live audits of user access, detailing who was authenticated when and what data they accessed, forming the basis of identity governance
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

    Every organization that processes data related to protected health information (PHI) of patients in the United States needs to comply with HIPAA regulations to avoid being charged thousands of dollars in fines. A good IAM solution can help you address key requirements of HIPAA, such as streamlining all tasks related to access management and granting relevant access through single sign-on.

  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

    The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a US federal law which aims to protect the public, employees, and other stakeholders from fraudulent activities and accounting errors. This law applies to all firms in the US and international firms that provide accounting and auditing services to organizations and people in the US. A strong IAM system helps you comply with SOX requirements by using effective monitoring and password management tools, reducing the risks of unauthorized or malicious access to the systems.

  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

    The Gramm-Leach-Bliley-Act requires that all personal data about customers is protected, that customers receive clear communication about how their data is accessed by the organization, and that they are given the means to opt out from allowing their data to be shared with third-parties. Also known as The Financial Modernization Act, GLBA applies to all US financial institutions. With an effective IAM system, companies can monitor, manage, and restrict employees' access to sensitive data, and allow better password management options and multi-factor authentication to clients, to stay compliant with GLBA.

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

    The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is a set of regulations mandated internationally for companies that maintain and manage credit card details. These are implemented in order to reduce credit card fraud and protect cardholders' data. The PCI DSS requires proper user identification management for non-consumer users and administrators on all system components, something that can be addressed by implementing an IAM system with rigid access restriction policies.

  • Setting up an identity and access management system from scratch: where to begin?

    If you're a new business trying to set up your own identity and access management system, begin by analyzing your requirements. An ideal starting point would be controlling and managing access and passwords. Use tools that help you with instant provisioning and deprovisioning of user access to critical applications and accounts using SSO, as well as secure your passwords to manage accounts that are shared by multiple individuals. There are a range of solutions in the market that act as a two-in-one password management and single sign-on solution, allowing you to track access from a centralized location. This first step is an easy way to enhance your enterprise security.

    Get the key security aspects of identity and access management right by choosing the tools that fit your business needs. Start by trying out Zoho Vault, a powerful password manager that also offers single sign on (SSO) solutions for enterprises.

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