What to Know About Identity and Access Management in 2022

As businesses plan, cybersecurity will undoubtedly be a key priority. Specifically, identity and access management will be at the forefront

Updated on May 15, 2023
What to Know About Identity and Access Management in 2022

As businesses plan and strategize for the new year, cybersecurity will undoubtedly be a key priority. Specifically, identity and access management will be at the forefront because of the growing prevalence of the remote and hybrid workforce.

With that in mind, the following is a guide to what to know about identity and access management for the new year and in general. 

What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

In the most general sense, IAM is how you manage who has access to which devices, applications, networks, and files. Then, more specifically, there’s IAM security, see more below. 

With IAM, the objective is to ensure the right people have access to the right resources at the right time for the right reasons. 

As technology and work environments grow increasingly heterogeneous and dispersed, this becomes more and more pertinent. 

An IAM strategy seeks to define and manage roles and access privileges of individual entities on a network, including users and devices. There is access to cloud and on-premises applications. Users can include partners, employees and customers. Devices can consist of everything from computers and smartphones to routers and servers. 

There should be one digital identity per item or individual. 

After establishing that singular digital identity, it has to maintain and monitor through the access lifecycle. 

Contexts that become relevant include onboarding systems and users, authorization of permissions, and offboarding both users and devices in a timely way. 

IAM isn’t one particular technology. Instead, it’s a set of processes, technologies, and policies that let an organization manage digital identities. IAM also allows for the control of user access to critical information. 

The benefits of IAM include better security, improved user experience and productivity, better business outcomes, and more visibility in a remote, mobile and cloud work environment. 

Identity has been a growing issue and priority because of COVID. The pandemic nearly eliminated any relevance of physical boundaries. More businesses have remote users, and external users have increasing access to internal systems. 

Digital transformation accelerated by leaps and bounds over the past few years, and identity has become pivotal to that transformation. 

How Does IAM Work? Identity and Access Management

In the past, there were a few core components of an identity management system. First, there was a directory or identity repository of the data used by the system to define a user. Then, a tool to add, change or delete data. The third element was a system to regulate and enforce access, and the fourth was a system of auditing and reporting. 

In the past, the regulation of user access relied on verification such as passwords or software tokens. With the increasingly complex environment and the growing security threats, a strong username and password aren’t sufficient. 

With IAM, there is a verification and authentication of individuals based on a combination of roles and contextual information. Contextual information might include geography or time of day, for example. 

Then, there’s a capturing and recording of user login events and visibility of the user identity database. There’s the management of assigning and removing user access privileges. 

System administrators can manage and restrict user access and simultaneously monitor changes in privileges. 

The following are some of the terms to be aware of as far as IAM. 

  • Access management refers to the technologies and processes for controlling and monitoring network access. Access management features can include authorization, authentication, and trust auditing. 
  • Microsoft developed active Directory or AD as a way to have a user-identity directory service for Windows domain networks. AD is included in the Windows Server operating system and is widely in use. 
  • Biometric authentication is a way to authenticate users relying on their unique characteristics. Authentication technologies can include facial recognition and fingerprint sensors. 
  • Credentials are what identify a user so that they can access a network. Biometric information, a password or a public key infrastructure certificate are categorized as credentials. 
  • Digital identity is a user’s description and access privileges. 
  • Identity as a Service or IDaaS is a cloud-based approach to identity and access management
  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol or LDAP is an open-standards protocol for the management and access of a distributed directory service like Active Directory. 
  • Privileged account management references managing and auditing accounts and data access based on user privilege. A privileged user is typically one with administrative system access. As an example, privileged users might be able to set up or delete user accounts or roles. 

What About Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is inevitably the future of cybersecurity, and it’s a framework that utilizes IAM to a high degree. 

Zero Trust is an approach to cybersecurity where every device or individual trying to access a private network, whether in or outside of it, has to be identified and properly authorized. This is different from other security models with an automatic trust of devices and individuals already within a network. 

As you might guess from the name, Zero Trust means nothing is trust inherently at any time, and everything is verified. 

In a traditional IT security model, there’s an effort to protect networks from external threats, but there’s inherent trust for devices and individuals within the network. However, that’s a flawed premise because it doesn’t consider the potential for insider threats in the network. 

A traditional model is one in which not only are the risks greater overall, but the scale of an attack could be more significant.

What Comprises Identity and Access Management?

Some of the elements that are most commonly part of IAM and deployed accordingly include:

  • Single sign-on: This form of access control lets users authenticate with multiple systems or applications with one set of credentials. The site or application a user is trying to access relies on a thirdparty for verification. There are numerous benefits of SSO such as a better user experience, reduced likelihood of password fatigue, and better identity protection. SSO can’t be in use on its own however for effective identity and access management. 
  • Multi-factor authentication: SSO and MFA together are significantly more powerful in terms of security. MFA verifies a user’s identity with requirements for multiple credentials. MFA involves using something you know, which is most often a password. Then, there’s either something a user has or something specific to a user. A user might have a code or token sent by SMS or email or a hardware token. Something specific to a user is most often biometric information. 
  • Privileged access management: Putting in place, privileged access management can protect against insider and external attacks. There are higher permission levels assign to accounts with access to critical resources. 

Extra IAM Comprises

  • Risk-based authentication: This refers to contextual assessments when a user attempts to log in. For example, contextual features of an attempted log-in might include IP address or network. Then, based on the assessment of these features, a user might need to submit another factor for authentication, or they could be denied access. 
  • Federated identity management: This is a process of sharing authentication. Businesses share digital identities with partners that are trusted. 
  • Zero Trust: We talked about this above, and again, it works hand-in-hand with IAM strategies. IAM is required for true Zero Trust because it allows an organization to assess and verify the users accessing resources continuously. 
  • Least privilege access: The principle of least privilege is big in terms of Zero Trust and IAM. The idea is that duties are segregated, and every user gets a role with the least privileged access. Least privilege access means every user or device in a network can access only the absolute bare minimum of what they need to do their jobs and nothing else. Then, if a user’s credentials are compromised by an external attack, there’s access only to the environment of that device or use. 

Challenges and Risks of IAM

IAM will end up being necessary for organizations, but they also need to be clear on the challenges and risks of implementing it. For example, IAM doesn’t cover everything. IAM systems can’t necessarily detect changes in access rights automatically. 

Also, IAM is just the start of a security stack. Your organization needs to define your access policies, or IAM will be ineffective in terms of security. You need to outline who has access to what and the conditions they have access to. 

Your access control policies have likely evolved over time, but that can mean that you’re not handling provisioning correctly. You’re going to have to audit your identities and revoke privileges that aren’t needed, so it’s an upfront investment of time and other resources. 

IAM also needs to connect with the other parts of your business, like business intelligence and marketing. Otherwise, your IAM will be obsolete. 

Finally, you also have to ensure that IAM is closely tied with your MFA tools and adaptive authentication, which is why you should look for comprehensive solutions that will simplify implementation for you.