Identity access management (IAM) provides security for users and systems by verifying their identity, assigning permissions, and monitoring their activity. It also helps reduce help desk requests, improves efficiency, and helps meet compliance standards.
IAM helps enforce the principle of least privilege, where users only receive access to what they need to complete a task and privileges are revoked once the job is completed.
A core aspect of IAM is authentication, which involves the methods used to verify a user’s identity or device when logging in. Passwords are still common, but many IAM tools incorporate multiple authentication factors to prevent hacking attempts. These may include multiple-factor authentication (MFA), a hardware token, or more advanced techniques such as behavioral analytics, which analyzes keystroke dynamics, mouse movement and other elements to detect abnormal activity that could indicate a potential breach.
IAM systems also help to enforce the principle of least privilege, which ensures that new users receive only the access permissions needed for their role in the company. This reduces the risk of overprovisioning, where a user’s account is given too much access that can be used to steal information or disrupt the company. It also prevents rogue admin accounts, which allow hackers to gain access by hijacking a specific person’s credentials.
Most companies use a best-of-breed solution to manage their IAM, which consists of tools from the top vendors in the space, whether on-premise, on the cloud or through a hybrid model. When selecting these tools, organizations should prioritize those that provide highly automated workflows to simplify IAM administration for IT teams and integrate well with other security technologies. IAM also supports business productivity by eliminating the need for a lengthy communication cycle between admins and users when a request or change to access is made.
IAM provides tools to control access to information and systems. It is a critical component of identity governance, including privileged identity management (PIM).
The central directory IAM uses contains user information and the permissions they have been granted to use different applications and data. When a user requests access to a resource, the IAM system checks their credentials against the directory to see whether they have access. If not, the system will require a second level of authentication. This typically involves a security code sent to the user’s phone or hardware token plugged into the computer.
Because it’s time-consuming to specify all the individual tools and access levels a user requires, IAM tools enable IT departments to automate the provisioning of users. This is how IAM increases security using a policy based on a predefined job role, which can be modified as the worker’s job changes. In addition, the IAM system enables IT to quickly remove access when an employee leaves the company to reduce the risk of ex-employees maintaining unauthorized access to critical systems.
As companies move to zero-trust network architectures and embrace a more flexible workforce with BYOD, remote work, and multi-cloud environments, IAM helps ensure that the right people have access to the right resources at all times. The IAM system constantly evaluates and grants or declines access based on the user’s behavior, the device they are using, the content of their request, the intervals between their demands and other factors.
IAM security provides the processes and technologies that reduce identity-related access risks within a business. It combines authentication, access control and auditing to ensure all systems, apps and data are secure.
For example, when a user logs on to an IT system, the IAM security platform compares their username and password against credentials stored in a centralized directory. This checks that the person is the person they claim to be and allows them to access only the resources their permissions will enable them to access. Modern IAM systems also use multiple factors to authenticate users, such as a security code sent to their mobile phone or a hardware security key. Biometrics like fingerprint scans are also becoming more common and are far more effective than traditional passwords against cyber threats.
Likewise, IAM security platforms can automatically adjust access privileges to match a person’s job function, giving them the minimum access needed for their role. This prevents people from holding excessive benefits that hackers can exploit. IAM programs can also audit privileges periodically by checking which ones need to be reviewed and allowing the data owner to confirm or deny access.
Many IAM tools also support privileged access management (PAM), which manages very privileged accounts, such as those that oversee databases or systems. PAM tools can isolate these digital identities from the rest of a system, use credential vaults to prevent theft and implement just-in-time access protocols to protect against malicious activity.
The ability to generate reports after a user logs on (including the type of authentication used, systems accessed and data accessed) is an important aspect of IAM. This capability helps security professionals understand how their teams use and access corporate data, allowing them to create more precise authentication policies.
For example, many companies use IAM to require two-factor authentication for sensitive files. This prevents hackers from stealing an employee’s login credentials and accessing the file. In addition, IAM tools can limit lateral movement within the system by blocking access to specific applications or servers. This helps prevent the kinds of hacks that often start with a single user, like a malicious employee, and then spread across the system.
IAM solutions can also help businesses comply with industry standards such as GDPR or PCI-DSS. By implementing and enforcing formal access control policies, IAM can help organizations prove they follow these standards during a compliance audit.
In addition, IAM tools can be used with privileged access management (PAM) to ensure that the right people have the right privileges in the system. PAM separates secret accounts like admins from non-privileged users and uses strict methods for granting access. This protects a company’s most sensitive information, including passwords, from hackers who could gain access to it by stealing these credentials.