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Zero Trust & Identity and Access Management: Mitigating Shadow Access

Zero Trust & Identity and Access Management: Mitigating Shadow Access

Blog Article Published: 05/10/2024

Confronting Shadow Access Risks coverWritten by the CSA Identity and Access Management Working Group.

In today's digitally interconnected landscape, understanding the intricacies of Identity and Access Management (IAM) is imperative for safeguarding organizational assets. A looming threat to IAM is Shadow Access. This insidious menace, often exacerbated by the rapid adoption of cloud services and automated development practices, introduces vulnerabilities through unintended resource access.

Meanwhile, the Zero Trust security philosophy operates on the principle of perpetual verification, challenging the notion of implicit trust at every level of computing infrastructure. As organizations strive for a Zero Trust environment, the eradication of Shadow Access emerges as a critical step. Below, learn more about the interplay between Zero Trust and IAM when it comes to Shadow Access. Then, make sure to check out our publication Confronting Shadow Access Risks: Considerations for Zero Trust and Artificial Intelligence Deployments to dive even further into this topic.


What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) refers to the policies, technologies, and processes that enable organizations to manage and control user identities, access, and privileges to systems and applications. IAM solutions typically include user provisioning, authentication, authorization, and auditing capabilities. IAM helps organizations ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive data and applications and that access is granted based on the principle of least privilege.


What is Zero Trust?

Zero Trust is a security approach based on the principle “Never Trust, Always Verify.” The Zero Trust approach says that no part of a computer and networking system can be implicitly trusted, including the humans operating it. Therefore, measures must be put in place to provide assurance that the systems and their components are operating appropriately.

Zero Trust requires implementing strong authentication (MFA, cryptography) and access controls (least privilege, RBAC, ABAC, CBAC). It also requires the use of network segmentation and micro-segmentation; continuous authentication and monitoring; and reviews, assessments, and audits. All of these Zero Trust principles are essential for mitigating IAM security threats as well.


What is Shadow Access?

Shadow Access is an IAM security threat where resources, such as applications, networks, and data, are accessed unintentionally. Shadow Access is increasingly a cloud issue, resulting from the increased use of access and entitlements that connect cloud services together. Coupled with automated infrastructure and software development, this results in incorrectly or unexpectedly permissioned accounts and resources. Organizations from small to large often find out the hard way that what once was a secure starting point has silently evolved into an unsecured one.


Facing Off Against Shadow Access

The fundamental principle of Zero Trust is that no access should be granted implicitly or by default. All access must be intentionally and explicitly granted. Thus, by its very definition, Zero Trust does not allow Shadow Access. However, few environments have implemented all of the Zero Trust principles. This is an imperfect world where people make mistakes, applications are constantly changing, data is shared at unprecedented levels, and the pace of business encourages implementation ahead of audit and compliance review.

When applying Zero Trust principles to mitigate Shadow Access, it can be helpful to focus on 2 main points:

  • Give users, devices, applications, and workloads only the access they absolutely need (least privilege).
  • Assume something has or will go wrong and therefore continuously monitor the environment. This exposes Shadow Access - whether caused by mistake or by application changes that caused unintended consequences - which can then be resolved.

By embracing these principles, organizations can aspire towards a Zero Trust end-state while striving to improve their IAM processes as well, forging a path towards a more resilient and secure digital future.



Learn more about the intersections of Shadow Access and Zero Trust, as well as how the nuances of AI technology affect traditional Zero Trust IAM principles, in Confronting Shadow Access Risks: Considerations for Zero Trust and Artificial Intelligence Deployments.

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