Understanding Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Author: Mariah West, Identity & Access Management Analyst

What is Identity and Access Management? It’s not a new tool, product, or invention.  

The Identity Management Institute describes Identity and Access Management (IAM) as, “the security discipline which manages user and device access to an organization’s resources…business processes and technologies that support the creation, maintenance, and deactivation of a digital identity and related access rights.” 

You could say that was a broad statement, that’s because it is. The concepts of IAM involve almost everything you work with when it comes to IT and cybersecurity. 

Here at CIT, we like to think of IAM as “the perimeter of security” because of how ingrained it is in every aspect of IT and cybersecurity.  

Key Features of IAM

Features of IAM

IAM includes the processes, technologies, and policies used to manage and protect digital identities and regulate resource access. 

Its primary goal is to ensure the digital security of users, devices, and resources by allowing only authorized entities access within your organization’s network, as well as improve processes. It is about management, control, and maintaining data security. 

Why Identity Access Management Is Essential for Your Business

IAM’s criticality for businesses today is found in securing your organization from the user/employee and device levels to ensure they are not compromised by entities with malicious intent. We can see this from phishing, weak passwords, not using MFA, privilege creep and such. It can also increase your users’ productivity and improve the user experience throughout their workday if something like single sign-on is being used. 

Core Terminologies in Identity Access Management

  • Identity: Elements or factors that can be used to recognize a person or a device. (Password, pin, ID, key fob, biometrics…etc.) 
  • Authentication: The process of validating a person or device is who they say they are. (Logging in) 
  • Authorization: The process of determining if a person or device has the right to perform an action or access a resource. 
  • Directory: The system where entities such as people, groups, resources, and devices are stored, organized, and provides access to information. (Active Directory, Okta, Entra…etc.) 
  • Single sign-on: Authentication mechanism that allows users to access multiple applications and services with only one set of credentials and only logging in once without the need for repeated authentication. 
  • Multi-factor authentication: Also known as two-factor authentication, adds an extra layer of security beyond just relying on a username and password to access an account. 

The Importance of IAM for Business Continuity

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear about data breaches and compliance violations in this digital age. Poor identity management can ultimately result in data theft, financial losses, and even damaged reputations, just to name a few.  

Who Needs an Identity in IAM?

  • Internal employees and contractors
  • External stakeholders like customers and vendors
  • Service and machine accounts
  • IT devices
Who needs identity access management

Key Objectives & Benefits of Implementing IAM

Simplifying User Experience

Improve employee efficiency by providing a smoother experience when accessing the resources they need to accomplish their tasks throughout the day. Instances such as password fatigue and frustration over non-intuitive processes can get in the way and easily derail everyone’s focus. Single-Sign-On and Multi-Factor Authentication are two examples of IAM tools that can simplify and secure access to applications and resources. 

Ensuring Regulatory Compliance

Ensure that access to sensitive data and systems is managed in a way that meets legal and regulatory requirements. By implementing robust IAM practices, organizations can protect sensitive information, prevent unauthorized access, and provide verifiable proof of compliance, thereby reducing the risk of legal penalties and reputational damage. 

Driving Technology Innovation

IAM

IAM resources with SSO, SCIM, and SAML integrations, such as Okta, Office 365, and Duo, enable agile, secure, and cost-effective deployment of new applications and services. This approach not only supports the rapid adoption of new technologies but also ensures that the organization remains adaptable and resilient in the face of evolving technological trends and challenges. By implementing IAM solutions with these capabilities, organizations can achieve a robust and innovative IT environment that supports their strategic goals and growth. 

Enhancing Security Measures

(MFA, LCM provisioning/deprovisioning) 

As the threat landscape only continues to evolve, so should you. Improve your security posture by reviewing and enhancing your lifecycle management process, implementing solutions like multifactor authentication (MFA) and Single Sign-On (SSO), and conducting audits to find any inappropriate access privileges among your users and environment. 

The Role of IAM within Organizations

IT often, if not always, collaborates with HR and other stakeholders such as application owners, to provision new hires and suspend and deprovision employees. These conversations are also parts of IAM. These processes can involve providing and revoking access to company resources. Since managing identities requires cross-departmental collaboration across an organization, it is important to maintain and nurture these business partnerships to keep everyone secure and able to do their work. 

The Strategic Value of IAM

In today’s digital landscape, Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a fundamental component of any robust IT and cybersecurity strategy. It encompasses the processes, technologies, and policies used to manage and protect digital identities and regulate access to resources within an organization. Effective IAM practices are essential for securing sensitive data, ensuring regulatory compliance, enhancing user productivity, and fostering technological innovation. 

IAM is not just about protecting data; it’s about empowering your organization to operate efficiently and securely. By implementing tools like Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), and integrating IAM solutions with modern services like Okta, Office 365, and Duo, organizations can achieve a balance between security and usability. This ensures that users can access the resources they need without compromising on security. 

As technology continues to evolve, so too must our approaches to managing identities and access. Investing in IAM is not just about meeting current needs but also about future-proofing your organization against emerging threats and ensuring ongoing compliance with regulatory requirements. 

Ultimately, IAM is about creating a secure and seamless experience for users while maintaining rigorous control over who can access what. By understanding and implementing IAM effectively, organizations can build a secure, efficient, and innovative IT environment that supports their strategic goals and growth. 


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