First Zero Trust step: identity & access management (IAM)

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As the world becomes increasingly digital, cyberattacks are following suit. It's especially troubling for companies that are unequipped to balance remote work, personal device use, and cybersecurity. For this reason, a more modern approach to network security is needed.

One such model is Zero Trust, which essentially removes implicit trust in all connections, whether inside or outside the organization's network. Every user and device must be verified before access is granted.

Therefore, this article will discuss the importance of identity and access management in a Zero Trust model. Zero Trust removes implicit trust in all connections, and IAM enables only the right individuals to access specific resources. It's a natural synergy. This can make compliance easier, reduce insider threats and improve organizational efficiency. Here's how it ties into the security of your organization.

Understanding Zero Trust security

Zero Trust has gained traction over the past few years as a countermeasure against increasing cyber-attacks and data breaches. Zero trust architecture is designed to provide access to resources, data, and systems after passing strict identity verification.

This significantly differs from the traditional network security setup, which followed the "trust but verify" mantra. Connections coming from internal networks were seen as more trustworthy than those coming in from the outside. However, this model has largely become obsolete due to these factors:

  • Modern infrastructures interconnect with cloud services, IoT devices, and mobile environments eroding the boundaries of a traditional perimeter.

  • Cloud infrastructure is located beyond the traditional enterprise perimeter. Frequently it’s a much cheaper method to handle IT operations.

  • The pandemic has contributed to the acceleration of distributed work environments changing organizational IT requirements.

As networks are becoming increasingly more complex, identity management replaces perimeter security. In tandem with a clear and comprehensive security policy, IAM stands at the backbone of cybersecurity strategy.

Successful Zero Trust deployment relies on the organization's ability to identify and categorize the used assets, resources, and data, establishing a clear and comprehensive security policy. Afterward, it can be used as a reference for network segmentation and other actions.

How does IAM fit in Zero Trust?

Identity and access management (IAM) is an essential component of a Zero Trust model. By enabling the right individuals to access the right resources at the right time while preventing unauthorized access, IAM is one of Zero Trust's cornerstones. Network access control solutions and IAM work hand-in-hand to help administrators manage network access to resources, cloud security, and remote assets.

A holistic Zero Trust strategy should consider factors like the session's context, the workforce identity, the device's state, and the accessed data's sensitivity. This is where IAM comes in, requiring additional authentication prompts or limiting available functionalities. This model protects against external threats and untrusted user actions and ensures employees use organizational resources responsibly.

While single sign-on and other authentication techniques can help automate aspects of IAM (by providing additional layers of security), users still have to verify themselves when moving from one part of the network to another. This helps to establish and maintain strong identity verification and access controls before allowing access to any network resources.

The importance of identity and access management

The importance of IAM is highlighted by the fact that weak workforce security is one of the most significant factors in data breaches. Hackers target employees, exploiting them as the weak link to access sensitive data and systems. Therefore, IAM plays a crucial role in an organization's cybersecurity strategy.

Helps to secure sensitive data

IAM can be a significant contributor when protecting sensitive data. As cyber threats aren't subsiding, the business must ensure that only authorized individuals can access sensitive information. Data breaches involving financial reports, customer data, and trade secrets can easily ruin a company's reputation overnight.

Therefore, securing sensitive business information is essential to maintain the company's reputation and ensure business continuity. IAM allows businesses to control who can access their data and applications, ensuring that sensitive information is accessible only to authorized individuals.

Makes compliance easier

Many industries are subject to various legal requirements set forth by government bodies such as HIPAA, ISO/IEC 2700, and PCI DSS. Failure to comply with those regulations can result in penalties, fines, legal disputes, and reputational damage. For this reason, business technical capabilities to secure the data directly correlate with its ability to stain compliant.

These regulations require businesses to have controls to protect sensitive data, which is where access control comes in. IAM can be used as a tool to facilitate alignment with regulatory compliance by providing robust access controls and monitoring capabilities. Not only is this useful in the grand scheme of business organizational security it also helps to demonstrate compliance during audits.

Reduces risk of insider threats

Insider threats pose a significant risk to businesses. Due to elevated privileges, insiders already have access to sensitive information, making it easier to steal or misuse. In addition, insiders are much harder to control and pinpoint hackers outside the organization's network.

Proactive measures must be taken to secure against insider threats, and IAM allows businesses to monitor access to sensitive data. This helps to reduce various risks, likelihood, and impact of insider threats and protect their sensitive information and assets.

Improves operational efficiency

IAM can help organizations streamline their access management process. This can reduce the time and effort required to manage user access. In large corporations, this can be a real lifesaver.

In addition, by automating access management tasks like user provisioning and de-provisioning, IAM reduces the workload on IT staff. It can save valuable time and allow the staff to focus on more critical tasks elsewhere.

First steps to enable a Zero Trust model

As businesses become more dependent on digital systems and data, the importance of Zero Trust only grows. This leads many businesses to implement an IAM system in their organization. The following steps can set you on the right track if you don't know where to start.

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Step #1 Identify and categorize all assets

The first step in enabling the Zero Trust model is identifying and categorizing all organization's assets, resources, and data. Each of them should be assigned a value and risk rating, depending on how critical the organization's operations are and how much damage could be done if they leak in the open. This will help in later steps when prioritizing security measures and developing a security policy.

Step #2 Establish a comprehensive security policy

Comprehensive security outlines the processes and procedures that will be used to manage access control and cloud and data security. It is critical to establish clear guidelines for employees and ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in maintaining a secure environment.

Step #3 Implement identity and access management (IAM)

No Zero Trust model is complete without IAM, as it enables organizations to establish access controls. Implementing IAM solutions should be designed to verify the identity of users. It's also good advice to implement multi-factor authentication and enable single sign-on to improve security.

Step #4 Perform ongoing monitoring and improvements

Regular reviews of security policies and IAM systems are essential to ensure your organization remains secure in the face of ever-evolving threats. Ongoing monitoring of IAM systems and Zero Trust models can help organizations comply with various regulations.

How can NordLayer help?

In many cases, it can be too big of a burden for a company to transition to the Zero Trust framework independently. Trustworthy partners can make this journey easier by ensuring secure access to sensitive resources and data. NordLayer can be a huge help, leveraging its cybersecurity features and services suite.

As the Zero Trust security model requires identifying all users, devices, applications, and network resources, NordLayer can provide secure access to SaaS applications anywhere while segmenting network resource access. Zero Trust security posture can be further strengthened by providing additional layers of security to protect user internet access.

Together, NordLayer's combined features can enforce security through user endpoints and help protect against online risks. This can be achieved with minimal impact on employee productivity and contribute towards a full zero trust security model transition.

Contact NordLayer and facilitate your transition into the Zero Trust security model and implement core IAM functionalities.

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