Data security regulations demand strong identity and access management (IAM) practices. This article will assess how IAM relates to the most important data regulations. And we will look at some of the major IAM compliance challenges. But first, let's look at what IAM is, and why it matters.

Identity and access management goals

Identity access management (or IAM) is a security framework for managing digital identities and controlling access within an organization's IT environment. IAM systems strictly authenticate every network access request. They limit the user privileges to powers required to carry out authorized tasks.

The goal of identity management is to ensure that the right users have the right access levels, at the correct time. This can be a complex challenge in hybrid cloud environments. But it is a task that all modern digital companies need to consider.

IAM and compliance

The rise of data breaches and privacy concerns has led to a range of data security regulations. Almost all companies are now subject to regulations that protect individual privacy. Regulations also mandate penalties for lax security, making strong compliance essential.

Most data breaches arise from unauthorized network access. Because of this, access management and access control have become critical regulatory concerns. Data access management is a central part of compliance strategies. But the role of IAM depends on specific regulations.

How do IAM systems support compliance?

Compliance regulations list supported by IAM

The best way to understand the role of IAM in compliance is by considering some of the most important data security frameworks. Major regulations organizations will encounter include:


The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) seeks to protect individual privacy. It also aims to ensure data protection. GDPR applies to all companies operating in the EU. Non-compliant companies can incur significant penalties.

Elements of GDPR include notifying individuals about data breaches. Companies must also delete private data on request. Organizations must seek consent to sell and record confidential data. And they must also generally prevent data breaches of all types.

IAM contributes to GDPR compliance in many ways, including:

  • Managing user access to prevent cyber-attacks.
  • Managing privileges to ensure users have limited and secure electronic access to sensitive data.
  • Organizing data governance to protect data and allow easy deletion of customer data if requested.
  • Auditing access and authorization regularly.


The Payment Card Industry Data Standard (PCI-DSS) concerns credit and debit card processing. It applies to organizations that manage customer credit. PCI-DSS also has wider relevance to eCommerce companies that handle payment card data.

PCI-DSS requirement 8.1 specifically refers to identity and access management. It demands that companies implement "policies and procedures to ensure proper user identification management for non-consumer users and administrators on all system components". IAM helps to achieve compliance in the following ways:

  • Assigning unique user IDs for all employees accessing payment card data.
  • Applying privileges management for admins to ensure temporary access rights to financial databases.
  • Automated identity management systems such as off-boarding obsolete accounts.
  • Strong multi-factor authentication for all data access requests.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to health data. Under HIPAA companies must protect patient data. Strict HIPAA compliance rules apply across all health information technology.

The HIPAA Omnibus Rule was added in 2013. It modernizes HIPAA's data protection regulations. Under the HIPAA Omnibus rule, companies must notify patients about any breaches. They must also control access for third-party business associates. This includes marketing contacts as well as healthcare partners. It also regulates electronic healthcare transactions.

IAM contributes to HIPAA compliance in the following ways:

  • Centralized administration of access management. Admins can apply access rights to employees. They can also control IoT sensors that play a role in healthcare products.
  • Separation of Duties (SoD) to divide user powers and secure protected health information.
  • Automated privilege updates as roles change. PAM to limit access to patient data according to the principle of least privilege.
  • Off-boarding to revoke terminated accounts.
  • In-depth audits to ensure patient privacy is respected and data recorded.
  • Secure integration of business associates to access data without breaching privacy.


Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) applies to all financial institutions. One focus of SOX is protecting data integrity in financial reporting. Companies must also have processes to deliver accurate audit information if requested.

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley compliance regulations requires data security controls. Companies must also document all security measures. Organizations need proof of reliable, well-evidenced processes. They must show they can secure financial data at all times.

IAM solutions assist with SOX compliance in the following ways:

  • Centralized administration to manage user access rights and limit access to financial information.
  • Applying privileges to limit data access. Companies can provide temporary access to the most sensitive financial information.
  • Segregating duties to limit individual capabilities.
  • Efficient onboarding and off-boarding.
  • Auditing security procedures and providing evidence of compliance.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was passed in 1974 but has been updated to reflect digital privacy issues.

FERPA applies to educational institutions. This includes elementary and high schools, as well as post-secondary education. It seeks to protect student privacy, including access requests from parents or guardians.

Under FERPA organizations must use "reasonable methods" to protect personally identifiable information. This includes names and contact details, as well as educational and disciplinary records. Companies must protect personal data and keep it private.

IAM helps to achieve compliance in several ways, including:

  • Creating secure authentication levels to access student data.
  • Limiting staff privileges to prevent access rights to PII.
  • Managing user identities from enrollment to graduation. Sending password requests to update credentials as appropriate.
  • Encrypting all stored passwords securely.

Additional data regulations

The list of regulations that IAM relates to is not exhaustive. NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Standard 002-009 applies to general cyber-security practices. It has various IAM-related provisions that apply to the US and Canadian power industries. This includes privileges management and user authentication.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act regards personal privacy for customers of financial institutions. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the New York SHIELD Act also mirror GDPR for state-specific businesses. IAM solutions will assist when complying with these regulations.


Strong network security relies on the visibility of user activity and access requests. Organizational growth can swamp security teams with responsibilities and tasks. Adding new security tools does not always help. It can create more user identities, leading to a greater governance access burden.

A core part of implementing IAM is creating streamlined architecture. This includes single sign on, identity federation and privileges management. Otherwise, security teams may lose control of user behavior and privileges. This puts data at risk and compromises compliance strategies with privacy regulations.


IAM tools must integrate with existing network assets, including existing access management systems. Organizations that use hybrid on-premises and cloud resources also need to integrate diverse applications and identity directories. Security teams may need to lock down virtual servers or many PII access locations.

Bringing every data asset together can be challenging. Without robust integration, security gaps can easily breach compliance regulations.


IAM solutions must scale with network infrastructure and data resources. Systems must accommodate increases in user numbers. They must handle changes in endpoint usage, including remote work devices. Systems that work well at first can become impossible to manage at scale. So IAM strategies help to plan for scale changes at the implementation stage.

Handling these challenges can make or break an IAM compliance strategy. Organizations need to build access management systems that suit their specific needs. Architects must understand how these needs relate to compliance. They must create tailored plans to match IAM and regulatory rules.

A plan to deploy, maintain, and audit IAM solutions will ensure smooth compliance. But this requires careful planning and constant monitoring.