What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?
Identity and access management (IAM) is a cybersecurity framework designed to manage access to an organization’s resources. The objective of IAM is to ensure that only authorized users can access a resource, and IAM includes the processes, policies, and technologies needed to make this possible.
How IAM Works
IAM is all about managing access to resources. The core of IAM is the “three A’s”, which include:
- Authentication: Authentication refers to verifying that a user is who they claim to be. Common methods of authentication include username and password, biometrics, or the use of a smart card.
- Authorization: After a user’s identity has been confirmed, the system can determine whether they have the necessary privileges to perform the requested action. An organization can implement various schemes for managing authorization, such as mandatory access control (MAC), discretionary access control (DAC), role-based access control (RBAC), and attribute-based access control (ABAC). If a user has the required permissions, they are granted access.
- Auditing: In addition to approving or denying access, an IAM system may log who has accessed a resource and various attributes of their request. These logs can be invaluable for demonstrating compliance with regulations or investigating a security incident.
Common IAM Concepts
IAM is a foundational part of a cybersecurity program. Some of the key terms and concepts in IAM include:
- Least Privilege: The principle of least privilege states that a user, device, application, etc. should only have the access and permissions needed to do their job. This helps to protect against potential abuse of a user’s account and limits the potential impact of a compromised account.
- Zero Trust: The zero trust security model applies least privilege access controls for every request. Instead of implicitly trusting those inside an organization’s network, zero trust says that IAM should be applied to every request for access to a resource.
- Single Sign-On (SSO): Single sign-on allows users to authenticate once to an IAM system and be automatically authenticated to all other apps that trust that system. This eliminates the need to maintain multiple accounts and improves the user experience.
- Federation: Federation allows an organization’s applications to trust the IAM system of another organization to authenticate that organization’s users. This eliminates the need for a user to have an account or enter a password within another organization’s apps and enables cross-organization SSO.
Advantages of Strong IAM
Strong IAM provides benefits to an organization and its users, including:
- Security: IAM systems manage access to an organization’s data, applications, and other resources. This helps to protect these resources against unauthorized access and potential cyberattacks.
- Efficiency: IAM systems centralize and automate the management of users’ identities and authentication. This reduces the load on IT personnel by handling password resets and similar tasks.
- Compliance: IAM systems implement access control and log access attempts. This enables an organization to comply with the requirements of various regulations.
- User Experience: IAM systems support functions such as SSO. By eliminating the need to log in multiple times, SSO removes friction in the user experience.
IAM enables an organization to manage access to its data, applications, computers, and other resources. By implementing strong IAM, an organization enhances its security and compliance as well as improving the user experience.