Identity Access Management—Why It Matters

Robert Di Girolamo

Many organizations are faced with the challenge of providing their employees with the right level of access to the right resources at the right time. Workforces have evolved to a mobile first strategy, and supporting user access from numerous locations and devices can introduce new sets of risks if not managed appropriately. Today, organizations need to adopt governance practices and solutions to help manage these risks and address operational inefficiencies. This demand can be met by properly implementing an effective identity and access management program. Identity and access management (IAM) is defined as:

The framework for business processes that facilitates the management of electronic or digital identities. The framework includes the organizational policies for managing digital identity as well as the technologies needed to support identity management.

Related: Access and Security – They can go Hand-in-Hand

What Is Identity Access Management?

Identity and access management for an organization is primarily about defining and managing the roles and access privileges of users. IAM solutions should have functionality to support a user repository, role definition and authorization engine, authentication system with single sign-on capabilities, password management, account provisioning/de-provisioning, and audit. All IAM solutions and frameworks start with an identity store or repository. The IAM user repository can be downstream of a system like Active Directory, or the IAM directory store can stand alone and be the single source of truth for employees in the organization. The role definition engine will then be configured to assign roles and privileges to users in the repository. The user profile in conjunction with the role definition engine is where you start to shape what the employee should have access to, and what they should not.

Single sign-on is a federated identity service that permits a user to use one set of login credentials to gain access to multiple systems and applications. This way, users do not need to provide their credentials multiple times when they switch between systems. Based on a user’s profile and role definition, once they are logged into a system, they are only given the access allowed to them. For example, if a healthcare professional needs to look up patient information, they must first present the appropriate credentials to the system. Next, the system looks up the information it was provided and ensures the user’s information is current. Once the credentials are verified, the requester will be granted access to the file or resource based on the authorization the user has been granted. Finally, a key and very important element to an IAM system is the ability to audit user actions and their access for compliance or investigatory purposes.

Why Is Identity Access Management Important?

An IAM system can provide assurances and help keep track of employee activity. Having the ability to know that only certain employees can view programs and applications will strengthen both security and operational programs for an organization. Parameters can also be set in the system to detect any suspicious user activity, communication, or issues that might otherwise go undetected. User information, whether it is passwords or email addresses, can quickly become a complex issue to track without a proper control system in place. IAM helps protect against security incidents by allowing administrators to automate numerous user account related tasks. This includes the ability to have automated workflow for on-boarding of employees, granting access to systems and applications they are authorized access to, based on their role. It also includes “one button” control to remove employee access from all systems they were granted access to through the IAM platform.

IAM solutions help organizations meet industry compliance requirements and help them save costs by minimizing the time needed to deal with user account related issues. Identity and access management standardizes and even automates critical aspects of managing identities, authentication, and authorization, saving time and money while reducing risk to the business.

The varying aspects of protection offered by IAM solutions are key to building a strong information security program. These are just some of the areas security professionals must consider while developing strong identity and access control systems to protect their organizations. The ability to be able to control and audit who comes in and out of your organization’s network is vital to operationally supporting and securing an environment.

Rob Di Girolamo is a Project Manager, Security Consulting and Professional Services, at Connection with more than ten years of experience. In his free time, he enjoys nature and outdoor photography, live music, and spending quality time with his family.