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Identity and Access Management: Automation, Risks, and Best Practices

Identity and Access Management: Automation, Risks, and Best Practices

Blog Article Published: 01/11/2023

Originally published by TokenEx.

Written by Anni Burchfiel, TokenEx.

Identity and access management (IAM) uses a combination of tools and procedures to limit access to internal systems and sensitive data. Rigourous protection of account access is one of the best ways to prevent account takeover fraud. Zero Trust & identity and access management work together to limit the effects of account takeover fraud. This blog will explain identity and access management, IAM best practices, potential risks, and show how IAM and Zero Trust intersect to ensure that your company has a robust defense against malicious users.

Quick Hits:
  • Identity management tools are used to authenticate users trying to enter a system, while access management tools and procedures are used to limit approved users’ access.
  • Many IAM systems follow the “Zero Trust” security model to protect internal systems from being exploited by unauthorized or malicious users.
  • Best practices include using multifactor authentication, standardizing policies, creating external access management policies, centralizing access management, and using tokenization.
  • Access and identity management procedures are most effectively built around tools that entirely remove sensitive data from internal systems.

What is Access and Identity Management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is an integrated system of policies and tools that work together to verify a user’s identity and manage that user’s role within the system. Identity management and access management are two distinct processes, but they’re often discussed together as they integrate to ensure that only authorized users access sensitive information and systems.

Identity management tools and policies are used to identify and authenticate a user’s identity. Users can be employees, customers, or partners who interact with company systems. Identity management systems will both hold information about who a user is and how to authenticate that user. This authenticated identity can then be assigned regulated access to company systems based on their needs.

Access management tools and policies grant authenticated users different levels of access to company systems. Regulating access to assets based on user identity allows the company to restrict access to sensitive information or systems on a “need-to-access” basis. Additionally, access management can restrict user capabilities. For example, documents that are sent with either ‘editing’ or ‘viewing’ permissions based on the needs of the receiving user use access management.

Identity and Access Management Best Practices

When designing an identity and access management system for your company, keep these best practices in mind. The proper tools, and procedures, can save your company headaches down the road,

  • Use Multifactor Authentication – When it comes to verifying an employee’s identity, using multifactor authentication makes it more difficult for a hacker to impersonate a user. After all, a hacker that steals a user’s password can still be stopped by device fingerprinting or security codes sent over text or email.
  • Create standard access policies – Standardized access policies are easier to manage than personalized access rules. Access can be widely standardized based on a user’s job role, based on a user’s job role and department alone. While some exceptions may be made here or there, it’s easier to manage a few exceptions instead of creating access rules from scratch every time a new team member joins.
  • Centralize access management – Without a centralized manager (or team) in charge, even the best IAM plan will fail. When access management rules become decentralized, team leaders can grant access on a whim. At best, this leads to disorganized and unstandardized access management across the company. At worst, oversharing from untrained managers will make the entire access management system obsolete.
  • Carefully manage access to sensitive data – A security personnel’s worst nightmare is an accidental data leak. Without proper safeguards, it’s all too easy for an employee to accidentally download and send the wrong document or report, leaking sensitive information. By reducing access to sensitive information, like employee social security numbers, healthcare information, or customer credit cards, accidental data leaks can be avoided.
  • Utilize Tokenization for Sensitive Data – Access and identity management procedures are most effectively built around tools that entirely remove sensitive data from internal systems. Tokenization can swap sensitive data with placeholder data that works as a stand in. These tokens have no value if stolen as they cannot be converted into the original data like encrypted data. Additionally, with tokenization, fewer users needed access to sensitive data, as many jobs will only need access to tokens instead of the actual sensitive data.

Automation in Identity and Access Management

Automating identity and access management is essential to keep IT personnel from getting buried in redundant identity verification and access assignment work. Manually updating IAM can take significant time, especially for larger companies with significant personnel growth and turnover. IAM automation standardizes access and reduces the risk of human error.

This level of standardization and automation gives IAM managers the opportunity to properly analyze and evolve their IAM strategy. Additionally, an IAM automation solution will create valuable visibility for the entire company’s access permissions.

Identity and Access Management Risks & Mistakes

While identity and access management can improve your company’s security, you should be aware of common mistakes, their risks, and how to avoid them. Before implementing identity and access management for your company, look over this list to be sure you avoid these mistakes:

  • Excessive permissions – Access management cannot succeed if excessive permissions are granted to everyone. Even if access to system X is considered low risk, if employee Y does not need access to system X to do their job effectively, they should not have access.
  • Offboarding employees – Revoking user access is crucial once an employee has left the company. Set up a standardized system to identify and remove user access and institute end-of-life policies for devices to avoid security risks.
  • Using Access Management without Identity Management – Access and Identity Management go hand in hand. You can regulate user permissions as much as you want, but those user permissions must be attached to a verified identity. It’s great to have a hierarchy of permissions, but if a criminal can easily impersonate the access manager and enter their account, those permissions mean nothing.
  • External identity and access management – Without proper training and guidance, some employees may send sensitive information externally by mistake. When sending documents stored on the cloud, employees have the ability to grant access to folders filled with documents at the click of a button. Create and communicate customer identity and access management policies with all employees, especially those with access to sensitive information.

Zero Trust & Identity and Access Management

Many of these best practices follow the “Zero Trust” security model to protect internal systems from unauthorized or malicious users. The Zero Trust Security Model assumes that every user is a threat until proven otherwise. By carefully examining user identity, and user access, Zero Trust seeks to limit the impact of an account takeover or data breach.

While it may seem pessimistic to view every user as a potential threat, this mindset helps companies critically examine what would happen if a user was malicious or if a user account is taken over. Removing sensitive data from your internal systems is essential to reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

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