Growing Importance of Identity and Access Management

The growing importance of identity and access management became more apparent as the Coronavirus pandemic surprised many unprepared organizations with the scale and sophistication of cyberattacks on virtual workforces. With bad actors on the hunt for privileged access credentials that would enable lateral movement across many breached organizations and systems without being noticed for many months, cybersecurity teams worked nonstop in many instances to impellent two-factor authentication. The sheer volume of data breaches reported by major companies is alarming, with some reports estimating that more than 5 billion records were compromised in the last year alone!

Growing Importance of Identity and Access Management

Solving Evolving Challenges

Organizations were not ready for the global pandemic that hit the entire world in 2020. While organizations allowed their employees to work remotely and use personal devices to access cloud systems, bad actors were on the hunt for privileged access credentials because it would allow them to penetrate deep into systems, move around undetected across breached organizations, and execute highly critical transactions including log manipulation. Many organizations were designed to allow their employees to only be able to access corporate resources from tightly controlled computers, mobile devices, and access points, but in sending entire workforces home, they left the company-wide open to cyberattacks.

With less controls and sometimes unknown configurations in place, data breaches continue to skyrocket and even go undetected in some cases which highlights the growing importance of identity and access management. This means adequate authentication, authorization and auditing controls implemented by certified identity experts at Identity Management Institute is even more important than ever before to secure systems.

What is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of policies, controlled processes, and technologies put in place to manage access throughout the identity lifecycle. This includes provisioning new user accounts; controlling how users authenticate across all systems including multi-factor authentication; managing privileged accounts, decommissioning departed users and dormant, unassigned or orphan accounts, as well as monitoring and auditing all critical actions performed by users.

Appropriate IAM solutions and adequate IAM controls are critical to secure systems and comply with industry regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, PCI DSS as well as the authentication requirements of FFIEC.

What are the Benefits of Identity and Access Management?

When adequate levels of identity and access management controls are in place, only authorized people (and devices) can access systems and execute transactions to the extent of their authorized access or capabilities. When users access systems, their identities can be tracked for visibility into who is accessing your data, where it’s going, and what those people do with that information which is why sharing accounts or having orphan accounts is not a good idea in cybersecurity.

IAM solutions can also include user training to minimize the impact of phishing attacks. Without a complete set of IAM policies in place, your organization could be vulnerable to cyberattacks!

Multi-Factor Authentication

Traditional username and password combinations are considered single-factor authentication and weak for our current online world. The risk of system security breach is even higher considering that many people use the same username and password to access multiple online accounts they own.

With two-factor authentication (sometimes called multi-factor), each employee must use more than just the username and password to access systems or even execute a transaction. This added authentication layers is traditionally accomplished with something you know (your password), something you have (a phone, a one-time code generator, or a key card) or even something that you are (Biometric fingerprints, eye, or facial recognition).

This provides a much higher level of security because if someone attempts to access an account without having the second factor, they will not be able to login even if they crack the password.  

Convenience vs. Security

One of the typical user complaints is that security measures are sometimes excessive and lead to lower productivity in the workplace. Company executives also sometimes reject security solutions proposed by cybersecurity experts as too costly and obstacle to reaching business objectives. While these complaints are sometimes legitimate, the cost of a major security breach may be much higher and the investigation burden may prove to be even less productive.

While some IAM policies may be considered inconvenient by many, the benefits of added security layers outweigh any inconvenience employees, executives, and customers may encounter.

Spending on identity and access management (IAM) solutions by responsible and aware organizations continues to grow driven by many organizations’ need to improve cybersecurity and meet regulatory requirements.

What can Happen Without IAM Solutions?

Without IAM policies and solutions in place, organizations could be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Latest data breach cases indicate that some incidents are the result of poor user education to counter phishing attacks and social engineering schemes by bad actors who continue to look for weak targets to steal credentials and access system accounts.

One of the most notable hacks that shut down oil transportation on the east coast for part of 2021 happened when Colonial Pipeline became the victim of a ransomware attacked caused by a compromised password. This incident could have been prevented with adequate identity and access management controls.

No organization wants to be in the news, especially for a system security breach that resulted in millions of stolen data. Implementing identity and access management controls and systems can help organizations avoid falling victim to the growing threat of cyberattacks that are causing organizations to lose revenue and suffer reputational damage.

How to implement identity and access management controls

For best results, it is important that you regularly audit your policies, systems, and users to ensure policies are complete, systems are properly configured, access is appropriate, and transactions are authorized. In instances where manual processes are cumbersome, technology solutions may be implemented to save time and money by automating certain tasks.

If users are required to take extra steps, they will usually not do so until it becomes a habit. One way to build up healthy habits in your employees is through periodic awareness education and use of technology that enforces the policies automatically, such as automated password resets or two-factor authentication.

Employees should be educated on the importance of MFA and why you are implementing this policy so they understand it’s not just another thing to do but rather a security measure that is meant to keep them and their company safe.

Identity and access management technology can make your organization better prepared for cyberattacks by implementing automated tasks such as periodic forced password change, MFA enforcement, monitoring and auditing, as well as onboarding and offboarding automation.

With identity and access management (IAM) solutions from a trusted provider, you will be able to secure your employees, systems, customers, stakeholders, and organizations.

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