IAM Systems and You: 5 Best Practices
Identity and access management is “a framework of business processes, policies and technologies that facilitates the management of electronic or digital identities”, and it has become an essential element of any organization’s security strategy.
But identity management protocols can only be effective when implemented properly.
While access management IAM tools and products from providers like Okta, SailPoint, and Ping Identity are getting more intuitive every day and adding more and more features, these IAM solutions are hardly plug-and-play.
In other words, when implementing IAM software in your enterprise, while it’s encouraged to automate certain processes for efficiency’s sake, there’s a human touch to using IAMs that should not be ignored.
IAM Best-Practices: The Big Picture
Thinking critically about how your organization will use the IAM tools at its disposal before implementing them, and then, upon implementing them, making sure you are doing so in the most effective way is of critical significance.
Furthermore, monitoring IAM system activities on an ongoing basis is just as important.
Let’s dive deeper.
Here are 5 must-read IAM system best practices to follow in 2023 and beyond.
1. Thoroughly Assess Organizational Needs & Use Cases
Every organization has different identity and access management needs, and therefore will use its IAM tools differently.
Some organizations will use IAM tools internally only.
Others will grant secure access to customers and clients. Some organizations and startups will be setting up an IAM system for the first time. More often, organizations have legacy systems in place and data and access must be carefully migrated. No matter which way you slice it, high-value data is at stake if your organization does not do its due diligence when it comes to deciding how to manage user identities and access privileges, and therefore company data. So make sure that key stakeholders at various levels of your organization strategize and implement an IAM use case plan and overarching IAM strategy.
This plan should identify the types of users, applications, and data that need to be protected as well as any industry-specific compliance regulations and security policies that must be followed.
2. Implement Strong Authentication & Access Controls
User authentication is essential.
While various types of user authentication exist, Multi-factor authentication (sometimes referred to as two-factor authentication or 2FA) is one of the most common.
Today’s MFA methods are varied, but some of the most widely used include:
- Biometric authentication (fingerprint or biometric authentication)
- Knowledge authentication (i.e. answering security questions)
- User location or time data
- Possession authentication (i.e. one-time passwords or tokens sent to a user’s personal device)
- Role-based Access Control (RBAC) and Attribute-based Access Control (ABAC) are other recommended authentication controls:
- RBAC “determines access based on a user’s role, giving the same access to everyone called a ‘third-party vendor,’ ‘administrator,’ or ‘manager’ based on their title”.
- ABAC “uses policies to define access based on filters and attributes assigned to users. For example, every employee in the marketing department may need access to a project management tool that employees in other departments don’t”.
3. Routinely Monitor IAM System Activities
Routinely auditing who has access to key resources and data is just as important as granting access to the right people via authentication and access control.
Furthermore, adjusting permissioning and level of access for certain users is often recommended. For instance, individual contributors do not usually need (nor should they have) the same access as managers or leadership.
Following the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) is an effective means of making sure the right people have access to the right resources in the best possible way to enable an intuitive user experience for them while also safeguarding the business needs and organizational security posture.
It’s also important to consistently review access logs, monitor user behavior, and implement real-time alerts to get ahead of any potential security breaches or mitigate their effects.
4. Establish Stringent Protocols for Identity Verification
Your organization should be intentional about designing an identity verification process and have a plan in place before first sign-on.
Specifically, implementing a KYC (Know Your Customer) framework for client onboarding can help you ensure that you’re properly verifying identities in accordance with all necessary regulations and laws in your industry.
Vetting customers or third-party end users during registration and onboarding is a mission-critical step. The minimum information you’ll need to verify identity during onboarding is name, address, and date of birth.
On top of initial verification, it’s important to revalidate. So is revalidating users from time to time.
Adopting a piecemeal strategy or siloed approach to identity verification is a mistake – and one that could cost your organization.
5. Train Employees on Security Awareness & Proper IAM Usage
Most modern IAM systems are designed to be user-friendly.
But they’re not foolproof.
First, it’s essential to educate your employees about cybersecurity awareness and literacy so they know why it’s important to secure access credentials in addition to some of the ways they can avoid falling victim to social engineering attacks. It’s also a necessary step to thoroughly train anyone who will be using your IAM system on how to do so effectively.
After all, according to the World Economic Forum, over 95% of all cybersecurity breaches are due to human error.
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Even if you do everything right, no IAM system is impenetrable.
There’s a chance that you could still be hacked and lose access to data or key accounts. Do you know the cost to your business if that were to happen? It’s a cost you’re better off speculating about than experiencing firsthand…
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