Best Practices for Implementing Identity and Access Management

Data breaches are the most damaging cybersecurity threats. It can occur due to lost credentials, malware, insider threats, software security vulnerabilities, physical attacks, social engineering tactics, and even complex access controls. Among these causes, one stands out the most: lost credentials. In fact, it is the most common cause of data breaches and the statistics show that 35 percent of employees worldwide cause a data breach due to inadvertently exposing their credentials in the last year. 

With an identity and access management tool, organizations can halt the damaging effects of lost credentials due to lateral movement and ease access controls for improved security. For a better understanding, we will explain the features and working principles of IAM solutions and how to implement them to secure your business network. 

What Is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions offer organizations a framework to police access, assign privileges to users and authenticate the identity of authorized users within their business network. With IAM, administrators control who can access sensitive data, limit how the data can be used, and monitor the activity in the network. It also strengthens not only the infrastructure of the network but the perimeter as well.  Because IAM ensures that every user has secure access to only required company assets with the correct level of verification. So, unauthorized users are excluded from using company network assets.  By assigning privileges, lateral movements within the network are also restricted. Even in the event of a breach, the threat can be detected and eliminated immediately before causing greater harm to the business. 

Now, organizations can benefit from improved network security, enabling digital transformation, and achieving full compliance IAM tools provide. With the constant changes in compliance standards, organizations must manage access certifications to stay compliant and they can achieve this by implementing IAM. 

Best Practices 

1- Understand IAM Goals

There are some key practices to put into action for unlocking IAM’s full potential. One of which includes understanding the goals of IAM implementation. Organizations must determine the security concerns they want to solve with identity and access management and assess which resources their business relies on. For example, there can be security concerns about potential or existing threats of phishing. Some organizations may solely rely on cloud-based applications while others may utilize a mixture of resources containing hardware, remote devices, and the cloud. So, your project strategy should be comprehensive about security goals and solve concerns.

2- Map Your Workforce To Assign Privileges

Assigning privileges correctly is crucial to avoid lateral movement and illicit data usage. Every user and role inside a company network needs to be mapped out to fully picture which privileges to assign to employees as they need to access specific resources. That’s when IAM steps in to control access to required data and company assets. Sensitive data must be strictly available to only privileged or authorized users.  Also, note that access privileges must be proactively revised due to resignments, role changes, or new employment. As much as mapping your workforce is vital, so is mapping the databases, apps, and devices. This will set a foundation for your organization to manage access privileges. 

3- Implement Role-Based Access Controls (RBAC)

The prior practice of mapping out your workforce helps to implement role-based access roles for authorization levels. When creating individual access profiles, role-based rights will ease the process of assigning privileges. The last thing you want as an organization is to constantly update access privileges as it will cause an overload of work. Also, role-based access controls help improve flexibility by enabling privileges for defined periods.

4- Adopt Zero Trust Security Approach 

Adopting a Zero Trust Network Access approach is critical. Zero Trust embraces the principle of least access privilege and gives everyone the least amount of access to the company’s resources, applications, and data. Simply, Zero Trust principles and approach should be integrated into the IAM framework. This way, your workforce, contractors, or third-party partners will have the minimum amount of access to your company assets and resources. Also, implementing a Zero Trust approach will prevent anyone from moving laterally inside the network perimeter. If somebody tries to move laterally, this will trigger an alarm. So, integrating the Zero Trust approach will enable rapid response to cyber threats. 

5- Deploy Multi-Factor Authentication 

Authentication plays a crucial role in identity and access management. So, deploying robust authentication technologies is necessary to verify the identity of users and secure access to company assets. Organizations shouldn’t rely on just user credentials or passwords because cybercriminals can easily guess, crack, or steal user credentials. For this purpose, two-factor authentication is great but multi-factor authentication is even greater. 

Multi-factor authentication requires users to pass two or more verification methods before granting access to company assets. This process may include biometrics, one-time-only codes, or pins sent to the user through e-mail or SMS and vice versa. It can even ask you to verify your identity via social media accounts. So, MFA will halt the cybercriminals’ attempts at infiltration via stolen credentials.

6- Put Strong Password Policies 

Strict password policies are needed to avoid compromised user access. A password policy must include duration password durations, rules for creating a password, and sanctions. Organizations must enforce strong password policies especially if they are relying on single sign-on (SSO) tools. It is crucial that every user’s password is unique and difficult to guess to support IAM best practices. Even if your organization utilizes both multi-factor authentication and single sign-on for IAM implementation, password policies are important aspects of the security of business networks. 

7- Audit Orphaned Accounts Regularly 

Regularly auditing orphaned accounts is important. As employees leave the company or change roles within the company, their network identities don’t disappear. When orphaned accounts don’t neutralize, cybercriminals can obtain log-in credentials and use these accounts to access your resources and company assets. That’s why companies should conduct regular audits to discover and neutralize orphaned accounts. This way, companies can mitigate security risks, and improve security.    

8- Use Automation 

Integrating automation of identity access management functions reduce the workload on security teams and the costs. For new employees, pre-assigned roles and role-based privileges can be integrated automatically by IAM. So, administrators no longer need to tune access privileges. The same method can be used for offboarding as well as onboarding. The access privileges of orphaned accounts can be easily neutralized to prevent hackers from infiltrating business networks. Also, identity and access management automation can be extended to password management.

Final Remarks

Like any other security solution, IAM also proposes its challenges upon implementation. One of which is the interaction between identity access management (IAM) and single sign-on (SSO). IAM doesn’t always provide a seamless experience when using SSO. Especially, it can be burdensome if a user has multiple roles in an organization and has to access different company assets through specific access control requirements. Another challenge may arise due to the different cloud setups of multiple cloud providers companies use. Additionally, organizations must determine and tune the extent of permissions accurately and actively since the needs of each user vary. With automation and central visibility, companies can ease IAM implementation.