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What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and Access Management

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is one of several means by which businesses can define and manage the various roles and respective access privileges of the business’s network users. An important part of this access management involves determining the situations and scenarios where these network users will be allowed (or restricted from) access to those privileges. IAM does this through electronically managing and setting the organizational policies that will govern the management process of both the digital identities of the users as well as the technology necessary for digital identity management. Network users in the IAM system may be customers, meaning that the business will require a framework for customer identity management. Or they may also include employees, in which case the system must incorporate employee identity management.

Objectives of Identity and Access Management

The chief objective of any Identity and Access Management system is to ensure that there is one and only one digital identity for each network user. After that digital identity has been created and registered into the system, it has to be monitored, appropriately altered and maintained through the entirety of the network user’s total time of access to the system, known as an “access life-cycle.”

Another important objective of an IAM system is to control user access to operational information and other forms of information that can be potentially of great importance to a business. Since an IAM system permits access control through assigning user roles, it allows system administrators to monitor and determine access to various systems or applications as the users’ roles within the enterprise system dictate.

To clarify, network access is a condition in which a user can carry out a particular action, such as interacting with, copying, or changing a given file. User roles are specified after determinations are made regarding the user’s authority, responsibility, and job competency as a part of the business’s organizational structure.

Numerous systems have incorporated IAM into their frameworks. Multi-factor authentication, access management, and single sign-on are just a few of the identity and access systems that have included IAM as a part of their tool suite. IAM is also very versatile in terms of its deployment: it can be set up on-location, provided by an external vendor as a cloud-subscription service, or placed into a hybrid cloud configuration.

How Identity and Access Management Works

In the past, an identity management system would consist of four components.

  1. An identity directory or repository of personal data that the management system would use to define each individual user.
  2. A number of related resources that could change information for each user, such as adding, deleting, or altering the user’s data.
  3. A system for controlling and tracking user access, including the enforcement of a system’s security policies and its defined access privileges.
  4. A system that’s designed to report and run audits on user actions and other desired information within the enterprise system.

Past authentication methods for the purposes of verifying a network user’s identity would include security tokens, passwords, digital certificates, and smart cards. Two-factor authentication methods would take something that the user knows (such as a password) and puts that information together with something that the user possesses (such as a smart card or security token) to prove your identity to the system.

All of these past authentication methods highlighted the fact that the traditional username and password combinations would not sufficiently secure user accounts anymore. Threats to account security, such as phishing and other hacking methods, have become much too sophisticated and efficient to rely on outdated methods of ensuring identity authenticity and authorized system access. The identity management systems of the present often use certain aspects of machine learning, AI, risk-based authentication, and biometrics.

IAM works through a suite of tools that can track user login times and dates, oversee the business’s database of network user identities and handle the overall process of granting and removing different levels of access privileges for each kind of user account. These capabilities imply that a system that wants to use IAM effectively must deliver a consolidated directory service with appropriate levels of administration and visibility into each and every part of an organization’s database.

IAM-compliant technologies will ease the process of creating user roles and setting up user accounts. A confined and controlled workflow would allow these processes to run smoothly with greatly decreased error-rates as well as significantly reduced chances for abuse by unauthorized users.

Uses for Identity and Access Management

IAM systems have many uses with regard to digital identity and user access management. These systems automate the processes of user account creation, the capture of the user’s information, maintain records of network user data, and even the management of network user identities and the various levels of access privileges that they possess within the enterprise. This comprehensive framework permits the IAM to ascertain that all of the levels of access privileges are being granted through the appropriate interpretation of access policies. IAM-compliant technologies also ensure that all people and services are adequately authorized, monitored, authenticated, and periodically audited.

Effectively utilized IAM systems grant very strong control over user account access privileges, and so they greatly lower the risks of account takeovers and data breaches from both internal and external sources.

An IAM system that is used in all aspects of a company’s business enterprise can enforce the same security policies to all of the company’s devices and platforms. Security-wise, an IAM platform can provide a means for enforcing policies pertaining to user validation, authentication, and user privileges and effectively combat against privilege creep.

Another use of IAM technologies is allowing external members of an organization (such as customers, vendors, contractors, and suppliers) access to the organization’s network through applications on smartphones, software-as-a-service applications, and other means without lowering the organization’s security posture or strength.

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