Why do businesses need IAM in cloud security?

Cloud Identity and Access Management

The cloud is an essential space to build business platforms, host apps, and store data. It’s also extremely vulnerable to attackers seeking to compromise cloud systems or carry out data thefts.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables businesses to determine who can access cloud resources. With cloud IAM on board, companies can enjoy the many benefits of cloud computing while minimizing cyberattack risks.

What is IAM in the cloud?

IAM authenticates access requests and allows access for users with the correct privileges. In cloud settings, IAM enhances security by controlling access to cloud resources.

Only authenticated users can pass through a cloud IAM portal. Users without the proper credentials remain outside the perimeter, unable to gain access.

IAM is a critical security control to safeguard cloud resources. Security teams using Cloud IAM can monitor access requests to detect suspicious activity. IAM provides visibility across cloud resources from a central location. It simplifies cloud setups, enabling the implementation of single security policies across multiple cloud providers.

IAM tools reside in the cloud, close to the resources they protect. Companies do not need to distribute access software. This makes cloud IAM a streamlined solution for remote working. With IAM, users can connect to the resources they need, wherever they are.

How does IAM protect the cloud?

Cloud IAM performs a range of security functions to protect cloud assets. Protection involves two main processes: authentication and authorization.


Authentication is the process of requesting user credentials and ensuring they are legitimate. Cloud IAM systems compare credentials submitted by users with centralized databases. If the information provided matches, the IAM system provides access to cloud resources.

Most IAM systems include multi-factor authentication (MFA). This requests multiple credentials from each user. Requests are usually only made via a Single Sign On (SSO) portal to simplify access processes.


Authorization determines the cloud resources available to each user. Cloud IAM assigns user privileges or role-based access controls (RBAC). These privileges ensure that users only have access to the resources they need and nothing more.

Benefits of using cloud IAM

Authentication and privilege-based authorization have many benefits. But cloud IAM goes further than these core features. Implementing IAM in the cloud will deliver many advantages for SaaS or IaaS users, including:

1. Easy-to-manage centralized access control

Companies may use different cloud providers in a multi-cloud environment. Each cloud provider has distinct access management processes and security features. Cloud environments can change rapidly as new apps come online or user communities change.

In this context, it is easy to lose track of user privileges and general access management. Cloud IAM solves this problem. Security teams can manage access centrally and bring together diverse cloud assets. With IAM, enforcing unified security policies is much easier without risking human error.

2. Granular control over user privileges

Cloud IAM makes it possible to assign precise access privileges to every legitimate user. Users receive a cloud identity featuring appropriate access to carry out their duties. But they are not free to roam cloud resources. Every asset is protected from unauthorized access.

IAM also guards against privileges creep. Over time, user privileges can expand without managers knowing. IAM policies ensure privileges closely match user and general business requirements at all times.

3. Robust data breach protection

Data protection is a critical benefit of Cloud IAM. Nowadays, the cloud handles vast volumes of transactions and confidential data. It hosts sensitive business resources and collaboration tools. All of these assets require protection against external attackers.

User access control is the foundation of cloud data protection. Authentication processes block attackers without credentials. If attackers gain access, privileges management limits their reach. Without IAM, simple password theft could compromise a company’s entire cloud setup.

4. Improved regulatory compliance

Cloud IAM is an effective part of cybersecurity compliance strategies. IAM tools are part of industry best practices in securing cloud resources. And they also feature audit functions that make proving compliance easier.

IAM systems log access requests and user permissions. They track the removal of accounts and any delegations made by admin staff. This information is automated and ready to use in compliance tasks.

Common cloud IAM challenges

Users implementing IAM in the cloud can encounter challenges along the way. These challenges do not generally prevent the addition of IAM. But they must be considered when making digital transitions or renewing your cloud security infrastructure.

1. Combining SSO and IAM

SSO provides a unified login service for all network users. Most cloud-using companies also use SSO to connect workers with cloud assets. However, SSO and IAM tools do not always interact seamlessly.

A single user may have multiple roles and use different cloud workloads. For instance, they may be a member of several business teams. Each team has access to different workloads, and each workload has specific access control requirements.

2. Managing multi-cloud setups

Businesses often use multiple cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Entra ID (Azure AD), and Google Cloud. However, no cloud platform is the same. Internal policies and security tools vary. This presents challenges when imposing a centralized IAM solution.

3. Determining the extent of permissions

How much access should each user enjoy? How can you grant access to carry out core duties without creating unnecessary security risks?

Creating Cloud IAM user identities is a juggling act. Users lacking sufficient access will struggle to work productively. But over-permissioning expands the attack surface and leaves cloud assets exposed to attackers.

Companies need to accurately determine the needs of each user. Automation tools can help by monitoring user behavior and assessing their requirements. But fine-tuning user permissions is an ongoing task.

4. Rapidly changing cloud environments

The cloud is always in flux. Containers are spun up and down from one week to the next. Company staff installs apps chaotically for short-term requirements. Code changes made via unregulated Shadow IT instantly alter the security context.

Managers have to understand their cloud environment before assigning relevant permissions. And this knowledge changes constantly. Achieving this awareness is difficult without centralized visibility tools and strong cloud security architecture.

When do you need IAM for the cloud?

The simple answer is: whenever companies host critical apps and data on the cloud. On a practical level, IAM solves many real-world security issues. Relevant use cases include:

  • Creating a secure Amazon Web Services platform – AWS comes with an integrated IAM system. This system allows users to set per-account identities governing access to AWS-hosted resources. Users can access multiple AWS accounts via Single Sign On, and admins can easily assign permissions to groups if desired.

  • Separating development, testing, and management – Companies can use Cloud IAM to separate workgroups. Admins can create access groups for software developers and testers that reflect their distinct business roles. Managers or admins might have a separate group with additional permissions.

  • Protecting confidential data on cloud platforms – Protecting data at rest is mainly the responsibility of cloud users. An IAM access control policy is, therefore, essential. With proper access controls,  outsiders will not have access to cloud containers and databases, reducing the risk of data breaches.

What tools & policies do I need to implement IAM for the cloud?

Cloud IAM setups vary according to each company’s cloud deployment. But IAM configurations have components in common. Core tools and policies include:

  • MFA/2FA – Multi-factor authentication or two-factor authentication demand more than one sign-in credential from each user. Users may employ specialist equipment to generate login keys. Some authentication portals use biometrics, while others rely on One Time Expiry (OTP) passwords.

  • SSO – Cloud IAM brings every cloud resource under a single access portal. Wherever they are, users can access the assets they rely on via a single login tool.

  • Profile management software – Admins require centralized tools to manage users. Centralized tools also log access requests and create audit trails for compliance purposes. AI tools may also monitor user activity to assist with permissions management.

What does an IAM implementation strategy include?

IAM does not slot into place automatically. To realize the benefits of Cloud IAM, users must think strategically and implement IAM best practices whenever possible. So what are the main components of an IAM strategy for the cloud?

  • Zero trust – As a best practice, IAM systems on the cloud should enforce the “principle of least privilege.” Each user should only have access to the resources they require and be blocked from every other cloud asset.

  • Centralized management – Identity management is best controlled centrally. Centralization enables effective security policy management. Security teams can assign relevant permissions, off-board unused accounts, and change user permissions when needed. Many Cloud IAM systems automate management tasks, cutting the workload involved.

  • Robust access controls – Identity and Access Management systems must minimize the risk of unauthorized access. Some form of MFA is usually preferred. MFA may combine with adaptive controls. These controls assess risk levels for each user, mobilizing data about the user’s device, previous activity, and geographical location.

  • Access tiers – Some network users require greater permissions than others. For example, every company has admin roles that require the ability to change code and application settings. Give selected accounts secure permissions to carry out these duties. But ensure that these accounts have the strongest possible protection.

Protect your assets with a cloud IAM system

Identity and Access Management is a critical part of securing cloud resources. Every business operating in the cloud should integrate IAM into its security architecture.

Data and apps resident in the cloud are vulnerable to external attacks. Without perimeter protection, outsiders can extract data and disrupt operations. But attacks are far less likely with robust cloud identity controls.

IAM makes life easy for the people who matter while complicating the task of malicious attackers. Explore IAM solutions tailored to your needs by contacting NordLayer today.

Share article


Copy failed

Protect your business with cybersecurity news that matters

Join our expert community and get tips, news, and special offers delivered to you monthly.

Free advice. No spam. No commitment.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.