In today's world, keeping access to important data safe is key. Building a system called IAM helps businesses do just that. This article will cover the basics, the challenges, and actions to ensure only the right people can get to the data they need.

Key takeaways

Here are the critical points about crafting IAM architecture that we discuss in-depth below:

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) gives access to resources and prevents unauthorized connections. These systems can only work with proper architecture.
  • Common challenges you may encounter are poor data integration, legacy systems compatibility, shifting to hybrid or remote work, focusing either on the internal or external IAM architecture side and lack of expertise and training.
  • Your IAM strategy should cover every asset and user role.
  • Consider efficiency. Avoid duplicate and unnecessary features, and automate the processes when possible.
  • To choose the right IAM architecture, build an app portfolio, visualize connections, understand identity federation, and assess automation and authentication methods.
  • Start by understanding your application portfolio and creating a logical user directory. Then, separate company and customer IAM infrastructure. Finally, assign role-based access controls (RBAC) for employees and add MFA controls for local and remote users.

Why does your business need IAM?

Modern businesses need a well-thought IAM architecture to protect confidential data. Companies routinely handle financial and personal customer information. Network assets store vast amounts of operational data. Vulnerable workloads require constant protection.

IAM guards critical assets with strong access controls and privileges management. Authentication systems demand several factors before allowing entry. Authorization tools assign strict permissions to every user. As a result, IAM strengthens the perimeter and limits internal freedom if attackers gain access.

Companies should take an architectural approach to identity and access management. IAM architecture involves planning access systems to suit business needs. IAM must cover all user types, applications, data resources, and network infrastructure. Careful design ensures that Identity and Access Management covers every critical area.

Potential challenges faced during IAM deployment

Implementing IAM can be complex, and knowing the potential obstacles is important. Common challenges encountered during the IAM architecture process include:

Diversity and poor data integration

Security teams may encounter hybrid cloud and on-premises infrastructure. Application portfolios may also be highly diverse. Planners must collect all relevant data about user communities, applications, and platforms.

Compatibility with legacy solutions

Architects must avoid conflicts with existing systems when adding new access control rules. This requires significant planning and investment in pre-implementation preparation.

Changing work patterns

Companies may shift to remote work or hybrid work arrangements. Device communities using SSO portals can become diverse and complex to manage.

Organizational confusion

Implementing IAM architecture is a major investment and a deep process of technical change. IT teams may understand the scope of the changes required but communicate the project goals poorly to business managers. Stakeholders must be on the same page and aware of the project goals.

Too inward-looking projects

Corporate IAM architecture has two sides: the internal and the external. The external aspect deals with third parties and customer accounts. The internal one is concerned with staff and network control. Planners may neglect one at the expense of the other, resulting in imbalanced IAM architecture.

Poor knowledge and training

Identity and Access Management is a dynamic process. It requires constant maintenance and IT expertise. Companies may need to pay more attention to training and awareness, creating a skills deficit. Over time, access controls can become less effective. Workforces also tend to revert to insecure habits, making the IAM framework less efficient.

What to consider before implementing IAM architecture

Planning IAM architecture is critically important. Organizations must create a strategy that maps out core goals and challenges. This plan will guide project teams. It ensures that the finished Identity and Access Management solution is:

  • Comprehensive. Covering every identity provider, connected asset, and user role within the organization.
  • Consistent. Applying standard forms of authentication and authorization across the whole enterprise. Using Single Sign-on (SSO) to bring all access requests together and ensure consistent policy enforcement.
  • Efficient. Avoiding duplication and unnecessary features. Designed to make life simple for users and administrators, leveraging automation where possible.

Planners must consider a range of questions when designing IAM architecture. Core issues to consider include:

How to separate private and public identifiers

Public identifiers are less sensitive personal information that may appear on public-facing profiles. Private identifiers are used in authorization and MFA processes and require additional security protection. Separating the two identifier types is crucial.

The definition and protection of Personally Identifiable Information

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is defined as highly confidential data. PII requires exceptional protection for compliance reasons and must be separated from other corporate data.

Training employees in access policies

Controls like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and SSO must seamlessly enter everyday practices across the organization. Employees must know how to use identity systems and how to change their identification data. Users must also know and follow corporate password management policies.

Implementing zones of trust

Network segmentation allows planners to create secure zones of trust. Divide resources according to the risk and regulatory value. Apply controls to minimize the risk of external attack.

Creating safe onboarding systems

IAM architecture may feature self-onboarding for customers alongside employee onboarding. These are two different ways to create digital identities. They must be separate to ensure that low-privilege individuals cannot access network resources.

Assigning admin privileges

Privileged accounts allow access to critical infrastructure. This may include servers, firewalls, and sensitive data stores. However, every over-privileged user identity is a critical security risk. Planners need to minimize the creation of admin-level accounts. They should develop appropriate security controls around high-value assets.

Data encryption

IAM best practices advise security teams to encrypt data in transit and at rest. Planners must ensure all PII is encrypted and that encryption keys are securely stored.

Project auditing and improvement

IAM architecture projects will face obstacles. Make auditing a component of your risk management strategy. Audits may identify areas of weakness or discover new elements to add to access management solutions.

Choosing the right IAM architecture for your business

Selecting the right IAM tools is an essential part of access management. It requires understanding what needs to be protected, who uses network resources, and how users connect to applications and data.

  • Build an application portfolio for the organization. This is a list of applications and services users need to access. All must be brought under the access control umbrella, including third-party service providers.
  • Create a map of application connections. Visualize how users interact with cloud environments, including SaaS apps, CRM solutions, and messaging services. Connect cloud-based and locally hosted assets.
  • How do apps and services link together? Network architecture may feature multiple identity management systems such as SAML, HTML, or OpenID Connect. Gain a solid understanding of how identity federation works on all connected resources.
  • Who is the IAM solution for? Are customer IDs part of the challenge, or is the solution purely designed for managing identity profiles on an internal network?
  • Assess the potential for automation. Ideally, users will have maximum freedom to manage their access settings. This reduces the workload on admins. Automation can also make onboarding and offboarding more efficient. This reduces the risk posed by dormant accounts.
  • What kind of authentication works best? Identity and Access Management requires enhanced authentication, usually via MFA. However, there are various forms of multifactor authentication. Choose a method that suits your workforce and security needs.

After answering these questions, planners should have a realistic picture of the project’s scope and goals. They can commission a technical solution to create an effective IAM environment with that information.

How to create IAM architecture?

How can you handle the challenge of designing IAM architecture? Following these simple steps will provide a solid foundation.

1. Understand your application portfolio

List all apps to be secured. Map connections between resources and the standards used to manage identities on each service. For example, apps may use OpenID and SAML to federate identities.

2. Create a logical user directory

Companies may use many user directories across on-premises and Cloud environments. Bring employee directories together under single sign-on (SSO). This will make policy enforcement consistent and enhance visibility.

3. Separate customer and corporate IAM infrastructure

Customer portals require specific IAM solutions. Separate employee and customer access methods. Provide sufficient flexibility for customers to manage their identities while protecting PII.

IAM implementation (schema)

4. Assign role-based access controls (RBAC) for employees

Use your user directory to create logical roles. Assign sufficient privileges for workers to access the apps and data they need. Follow the principle of least privilege to keep permissions to a minimum.

5. Create authentication systems at the SSO level

Add appropriate MFA controls for remote and local users. Consider MFA for customer access if users are providing or managing sensitive data.

Conclusion: why an IAM architecture approach is so important

Taking an architecture approach is the only reliable way to create robust access controls. IAM is a complex challenge. Practices like improvisation or buying simple off-the-shelf products won’t work.

Security teams must plan their IAM implementation to guarantee consistent policy enforcement. They must include every identity and application, leaving no security vulnerabilities.

Follow best practices and apply access control rules that fit your organizational needs. With the correct strategy, companies can defend data and connect users with the resources they need. With a strategic approach that includes advanced tools like NordLayer's IAM solutions, you can effectively defend your organization’s data and provide users with secure access to necessary resources.