Definition

identity and access management (IAM)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Combat the latest cloud security challenges and risks

Identity and access management (IAM) is a framework for business processes that facilitates the management of electronic or digital identities. The framework includes the organizational policies for managing digital identity as well as the technologies needed to support identity management.

With IAM technologies, IT managers can control user access to critical information within their organizations. Identity and access management products offer role-based access control, which lets system administrators regulate access to systems or networks based on the roles of individual users within the enterprise.

In this context, access is the ability of an individual user to perform a specific task, such as view, create or modify a file. Roles are defined according to job competency, authority and responsibility within the enterprise.

Systems used for identity and access management include single sign-on systems, multifactor authentication and access management. These technologies also provide the ability to securely store identity and profile data as well as data governance functions to ensure that only data that is necessary and relevant is shared.

These products can be deployed on premises, provided by a third party vendor via a cloud-based subscription model or deployed in a hybrid cloud.

What identity and access management should include

Identity access management systems should include all the necessary controls and tools to capture and record user login information, manage the enterprise database of user identities and manage the assignment and removal of access privileges. That means that systems used for IAM should provide a centralized directory service with oversight as well as visibility into all aspects of the company user base.

Technologies for identity access and management should simplify the user provisioning and account setup process. These systems should reduce the time it takes to complete these processes via a controlled workflow that decreases errors as well as the potential for abuse, while allowing automated account fulfillment. An identity and access management system should also allow administrators to instantly view and change access rights.

These systems also need to balance the speed and automation of their processes with the control that administrators need to monitor and modify access rights. Consequently, to manage access requests, the central directory needs an access rights system that automatically matches employee job titles, business unit identifiers and locations to their relevant privilege levels.

Multiple review levels can be included as workflows to enable the proper checking of individual requests. This simplifies setting up appropriate review processes for higher-level access as well as easing reviews of existing rights to prevent privilege creep, the gradual accumulation of access rights beyond what users need to do their jobs.

IAM systems should be used to provide flexibility to establish groups with specific privileges for specific roles so that access rights based on employee job functions can be uniformly assigned. The system should also provide request and approval processes for modifying privileges because employees with the same title and job location may need customized, or slightly different, access.

Benefits of identity and access management

IAM technologies can be used to initiate, capture, record and manage user identities and their related access permissions in an automated manner. This ensures that access privileges are granted according to one interpretation of policy and all individuals and services are properly authenticated, authorized and audited.

Because companies that properly manage identities have greater control of user access, they're able to reduce the risks of internal and external data breaches.

Automating IAM systems allows businesses to operate more efficiently by reducing the effort, time and money that would be required to manage access to their networks manually or via individual access controls that aren't connected to centralized management systems.

Using a common platform for identity and access management enables the same security policies to be applied across all the different devices and operating platforms used by the enterprise. In terms of security, use of an IAM framework can make it easier to enforce policies around user authentication, validation and privileges and address issues regarding privilege creep.

By implementing identity access management tools and following related best practices, a company can gain a competitive edge.

For example, IAM technologies allow the business to give users outside the organization, e.g., customers, partners, contractors and suppliers, access to its network across mobile applications, on-premises apps and software-as-a-service apps without compromising security. This enables better collaboration, enhanced productivity, increased efficiency and reduced operating costs.

Poorly controlled identity access management processes may lead to regulatory noncompliance because if the organization is audited, management will not be able to prove that company data is not at risk for being misused.

IAM systems help companies better comply with government regulations by allowing them to show that corporate information isn't being misused. With identity and access management tools, companies can also demonstrate that any data needed for auditing can be made available on-demand.

Enterprise benefits of IAM

It can be difficult to get funding for IAM projects because they don't directly increase either profitability or functionality. However, a lack of effective identity and access management poses significant risks not only to compliance, but also an organization's overall security. These mismanagement issues increase the risk of greater damages from both external and internal threats.

Keeping the required flow of business data going while simultaneously managing its access has always required administrative attention. The business IT environment is ever evolving and the difficulties have only become greater with recent disruptive trends like bring your own device, cloud computing, mobile apps and an increasingly mobile workforce. There are more devices and services to be managed than ever before, with diverse requirements for associated access privileges.

Learn how identity and access management can be incorporated in the enterprise

This was last updated in November 2017

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How does your organization prove it is compliant with access regulations?
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At the current point in time, our product uses a number of different access management approaches ranging from simple generic authentication, LDAP and iPaaS, in order of complexity and level of security desired. All have varying levels of automation capabilities, and I'd say the iPaaS solution comes the closest to the IAM approach described. generally, though, we offer the features, and let our customers choose what they want to implement and at what level.
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We invest resources and personnel into developing IT regulations that govern privacy  and separation of duties and storing these data in a central platform to enable easier use as well as oversight of any risks associated with the same. This makes it easier for us to comply with complex access mandates. As part of monitoring these activities, we are able to come up with in-house applications that enforce the policies to all users.
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Great article! Your readers may also find real user reviews for all the major IAM solutions on IT Central Station to be helpful: https://goo.gl/PgSfYK

One solution I did not see included in the list of IAM systems is Oracle Identity Manager. This user writes that the OIM features he finds valuable include, "Rich authorization engine for delegated admin, robust workflow capability with BPML engine, and extensive connector support." You can read the rest of his review, as well as explore what others have to say about Oracle Identity Manager, here: https://goo.gl/NCEyWt
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