When an organization has multiple employees, they need access to internal resources, like data, files and apps. The managers of this organization must ensure that they give workers quick and safe access to these resources, with both efficiency and security in mind. 

In the old days, most workers would simply access these resources on-site, and the organization would protect everything behind an IT firewall. So, the employees could simply arrive for work and log in, and everything would be accessible within that controlled environment. 

Yet the world is not so simple any longer. Many employees now require access from a remote location. They may be working from home following the changes brought in by the pandemic or may be assigned to a different location as part of their work schedule. This makes it difficult for the organization to control secure access without a system known as identity and access management (IAM). When the system is properly deployed, users can access relevant functions and sensitive data with a high degree of control. 

How to Successfully Grant Access

Of course, it may be necessary to grant secure access to people other than company employees. This may include vendors, contractors or business partners and requires an extra level of control. Also, employees may work on their personally owned devices, which needs to be carefully managed as part of IAM. 

So, when IAM is correctly set up, everyone will have access to the applications, data, databases or emails they need and no more. This will allow them to do their job while the bad actors (hackers) are kept out. Further, a well-managed IAM system will do all this in the background with minimal interference. 

What Are the Components of an IAM System?

There are several different components of a successful IAM system: 

  • The software must identify individuals during the authentication stage. Thus, each person will have a digital identity with various assigned access levels. Typically, this will be through a username and password that should only be known by the user. However, the same goal may be accomplished through biometrics (fingerprints or face or retina recognition), PINs (personal identification numbers) or software-based tokens. 
  • Each role should be carefully described, identified within the system and assigned to the individual in question. 
  • Change must be managed accordingly so that individuals can be added or removed or their details updated when needed. This includes identification and the nature of their roles within the system. 
  • Different levels of access need to be given to individuals or groups, with increasing complexity. 
  • The system must protect any sensitive data and be secure at all costs. 

IAM Key Concepts: Authentication and Authorization

Authentication verifies the identity of a service or user, whereas authorization determines their access rights. 

Authentication is increasingly complex due to the ever-growing threats from hackers and other malicious actors. So, using passwords alone during an authentication process may no longer be safe. Today, it may be possible to compromise credentials using a stuffing cyber attack, where usernames and passwords are stolen from one company and used to access another. Unfortunately, many compromised credentials are circulating on the dark web, and cybercriminals use relentless and efficient tools during these stuffing attacks. 

One of today’s best tools for the verification of identity is multifactor authentication, which may involve a biometric scan or a simple code sent to a personal device outside the organization. 

It’s important to remember that a well-configured IAM system will grant only an appropriate level of access. Therefore, a username and password or multifactor authentication will only give the appropriate slice of access and not an untethered view of the entire system. 

What Does IAM Do?

To manage the identity of a user, an IAM system can call on a stand-alone directory or integrate with others. This means it can have full authority when it comes to creating, modifying and deleting users. Alternatively, it may be able to synchronize with other directories to double-check the details first. 

The system will also provision and deprovision users. This is the terminology used when granting or revoking access, and the IT department must set the rules when the IAM system is deployed. Each department head must be able to provision the users according to their role. There will likely be multiple different roles, and a user will be assigned to one or more of these rather than specifying a person’s access individually. 

When the employee is terminated or may move to a completely different department, the access can be deprovisioned too. The IAM system will allow the organization to remove access quickly to avoid the risk of any security breach. 

Authentication may involve standard or multifactor authentication or an increased level of security known as adaptive authentication. This type of process will change the requirements on the fly and make it far harder for a hacker to get access. So, the system may add additional steps based on the type of device used or the user’s geographical location when they attempt to access it. If this is the case, they may be required to register any unregistered device first or provide the answer to a personalized security question instead. 

The system will also generate reports that will outline the majority of actions taken on the platform. These will include the type of authentication, the login time and location, the systems accessed, etc. 

What Is the Difference Between Identity Management and Access Management?

Identity management stores information about each individual and always confirms that they are who they say they are upon presentation. Some of the data held within the identity management database will include job titles, employment details and other security information. 

Access management will use this information to give an individual access to particular software suites and actual resources. It will also outline what the individual is allowed to do once they access those assets. 

Why Is IAM So Important?

The very concept of cloud computing means that data is held in a remote location and can be accessed through the internet. Security is critical, as a user can connect to the internet from virtually anywhere and may no longer need to use an office device. This is why the system has to identify the user specifically rather than by the location of their device to see if access will be granted and, if so, to which resource. 

Some IAM Technologies and Tools

IAM solutions will integrate with various technologies to help facilitate authentication and authorization. 

For example, they can use Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), which notifies other apps that the user is verified. This language can work across different operating systems. Solutions can also work with OpenID Connect (OIDC), which is a tool that sends out tokens containing encrypted information about the user. 

System for Cross-Domain Identity Management (SCIM) helps organizations manage user identities in a standardized way. It works across multiple apps and solutions but is largely used for CRUD (create, read, update, and delete) operations on users and groups in external systems such as directories. This includes provisioning new users and groups, updating their information and memberships, deprovisioning these as well.

What Are the Benefits of IAM Systems?

When correctly deployed, an IAM system can give the correct access to the right people based on their individual roles. These roles can be assigned with customized settings or a fixed set of permissions. 

One of the most important benefits of these systems is their relative lack of complexity. This means that employees can be as productive as possible and go about their daily work with minimal frustration. 

Deploying an IAM System

If you’re interested in deploying an IAM system for your organization, you should work with Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Entra. These products allow multi-cloud identity and access management and have comprehensive capabilities to prevent the vast majority of cybersecurity attacks. 

You may also choose to work with an IT company that has in-depth knowledge of these Microsoft IAM systems. Softlanding is a Microsoft Solutions partner and will be delighted to discuss your needs.

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Softlanding is a long-established IT services provider of transformation, professional services and managed IT services that helps organizations boost innovation and drive business value. We are a multi-award-winning Microsoft Gold Partner with 13 Gold Competencies and we use our experience and expertise to be a trusted advisor to our clients. Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, we have staff and offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary to serve clients across Canada.

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