IAM types & tools
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In the past, companies needed to secure hardware perimeters and on-premises assets. The rise of the cloud has changed everything. Digital identities are now the front line in global cybersecurity. Identity and access management (IAM) has become a vital technology for cloud-dependent businesses.
IAM authenticates and authorizes users at the network edge. Access control tools screen login attempts. They ensure only legitimate users can access cloud resources. Authorization systems assign privileges to each user. Workers can access the apps and data they need. But everything else is off-limits and secure.
Companies encounter wide varieties of IAM when they use access management technologies. This article will explain IAM types, and core identity and access provisioning tools. The result will be greater awareness of access management options. Assets will enjoy stronger protection from external attackers.
Types of IAM
Identity and Access Management is not a unified concept. There are many types of IAM because business needs differ. Some companies are client-facing and need to manage third-party identities. Some deal with large remote workforces. Others need IAM for APIs and systems that reach across different cloud platforms.
Here are the main identity and access management types. Keep them in mind when you put in place access management architecture:
Privilege access management (PAM)
Privilege access management assigns permissions to each individual or role within a workforce.
In a robust PAM setup, privileges match the needs and seniority of each user. Users who deal with clients will have access to CRM applications, but not DevOps tools. Developers may have access to code bases and libraries, but not sensitive data about individuals. The aim is to make resources available without exposing data to excessive risks.
Authentication tools approve users based on credentials or other identification factors. PAM systems then provision users with privileges. Privileges can be assigned to roles if required.
Benefits of using PAM
- Securing critical resources. Employees and other users with access to applications expose data. Assigning privileges limits movement within a cloud environment. Users can only access relevant apps and data. Everything else is blocked.
- Easy automation. PAM systems include automation functions to ease the workload of network administrators. Security teams can automatically onboard and off-board workers with the right privileges. Time limited privileges can apply to projects or short term contracts. This reduces the risk of human error.
- Role-based control. PAM applies at a granular level. But it has most benefits when applied to company roles. Admins can set specific privileges for high-level accounts. They deal with the most sensitive data. Lower level roles can receive general privileges. Provisioning will be seamless as individuals move within the organization.
On a practical level, PAM defines security roles in relation to the cloud environment. For instance, admins may create roles for system and domain administrators. Root accounts cover individuals managing Unix or Linux resources. Networking accounts cover staff members who deal with network infrastructure.
With a well-designed PAM setup, there is no confusion about who has access to what resources. Each role is matched to permissions that balance security and user experience.
Customer identity and access management (CIAM)
Customer identity and access management is an IAM type. It is designed to meet the needs of customer-facing digital organizations. CIAM allows security teams to manage customer identities. This ensures customers have access to services but limits their freedom to access back-end resources.
CIAM systems include self-service portals to provision customer identities. Customers can manage passwords and MFA factors. Users can also set their own privacy settings from options presented by the network owner.
From a business perspective, CIAM allows admins to track customer behavior. CIAM systems deliver analytics to detect security alerts. Customer identities can also move smoothly between laptops, on-premise systems, and smartphones.
Benefits of using CIAM
- Solid authentication for customers. Businesses can manage large communities of customers safely. Each user has enough freedom to use company services. They do not have the freedom to breach databases and network perimeters.
- Tracking and data collection. Consent settings enable companies to set up compliant data tracking and analysis processes. Companies can use data from CIAM systems to improve their security posture and general CRM activities.
- Ease of use. Self-provisioning of digital identities is quick and simple. Customers generate their own profiles with a degree of customization. There is no need to manage passwords individually, and many security tasks are automated to save time.
- Multi-channel access. Companies may use several cloud applications to deliver services. CIAM and identity federation make it easy for third parties to access hybrid environments and multiple sales channels.
- Reputation management. Customers view data breaches as a major risk. They will avoid companies with poor data security records. CIAM protects customer data against external actors. It shields company resources against credential theft attacks.
API access management
Cloud applications communicate via application programming interfaces (APIs). Companies must manage access to APIs to allow authorized connections. They must deny access for users without necessary privileges.
API IAM is generally associated with development, security and operations (DevSecOps). Developers need access to application back-ends and the privileges needed to make application changes. These privileges are dangerous when provisioned widely.
Developers must be able to update cloud applications centrally and securely. API identity management makes this possible. Data flows between APIs efficiently. But these data flows operate according to usage policies and exclude unprivileged users.
Cloud platforms like Amazon AWS have built-in IAM for API development. Users can calibrate access policies when they provision new applications. Privileges can be role-based or individual, and they can also apply for specific time periods.
Web access management
Web access management (WAM) governs access to web applications. Most WAM implementations are not cloud-based. WAM is usually based around single sign on (SSO) and managed via on-premises hardware.
WAM identity management systems assign privileges to web app users. They include password self-service functions and require multiple authentication factors before they grant access.
Benefits of implementing web access management
- Central access control for web applications. Workers require access to web applications from remote and on-premises locations. WAM allows employees to access web-based workloads with appropriate privileges.
- Compatibility with legacy apps. Many organizations rely on legacy applications to handle everyday workloads. WAM and provisioning systems like Active Directory suit older network architecture with few cloud-based assets.
IAM implementations vary. But most identity and access management systems rely on similar tools to control access. Here are some core tools that can be found in identity and access management solutions.
Single sign-on (SSO)
Single sign-on presents a single point of access for all cloud and on-premises resources. Workers can access applications and databases immediately. They do not need to deal with multiple login portals. Employees can launch email clients, CRM software, and collaboration tools without compromising security.
Remote workers enter their username, password, and other authentication factors. This saves time and simplifies the login process. Centralization also promotes secure access. Workers will be more likely to follow MFA policies, and admins won't waste so much time on password management tasks.
SSO has other benefits beyond saving time. SSO software can gather data about user activity. This information provides insight into network security. Admins can track how workers move between assets. They can fine-tune threat detection processes and improve privileges management.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication requires more than one additional factor from users before admitting them to network resources. This strengthens the authentication side of an IAM solution. Access control systems block illegitimate entry by malicious actors. Legitimate users can access workloads safely.
Security teams can choose between various MFA factors when designing an IAM system. Options include:
- Biometric identification. Workers can use retinal scanners to prove their identity. Smartphone fingerprint scanners are also an option, and one that fits well with mobile workforces.
- One time passcodes. OTPs are unique passcodes that expire after a set period. They are sent to users when they submit their username and password. OTPs tend to be managed by third party authentication providers, and can be sent to separate devices or smartphones.
- Smart cards. Companies distribute smart cards to remote workers when they choose to leave the office environment. Workers swipe the card at the sign-on stage before the MFA system admits them to network resources.
MFA technology can also be adaptive. This means that MFA software assesses login attempts against risk metrics. When users pass these background risk assessments, they are admitted to the network.
Adaptive MFA takes into account device identities and locations (including the wifi network being used). Sophisticated adaptive tools can track keyword behavior to assess whether users are who they claim to be.
Privileged access management (PAM)
MFA and SSO authenticate users, establishing their identity. The IAM system must then assign each user with appropriate access privileges. This enables the user to access resources that are relevant to their position, while blocking access to other network assets.
Administrators can manage privileges on a granular level or via role based access management (RBAC). Granular privileges provide more control and may be suitable for high-level individuals. But RBAC is more efficient and easier to manage.
Roles can apply to groups of employees and create for specific projects. The IAM system automatically revokes user privileges. It applies whether employees leave project groups or the organization. This reduces the risk of orphaned accounts that attackers could exploit.
Federated identity management
Federated identity management creates user profiles that are shared across different organizations. Federated identities enable users to move between connected assets following authentication by SSO portals. This includes assets that are not directly managed by their own company.
This is useful because workloads often sprawl across many cloud settings. For instance, workers may need access to Google Docs, Microsoft suite, or Slack. They may also need access to company databases hosted on Amazon AWS servers.
B2B federated identity management works with common identification systems. This includes Microsoft Active Directory, Azure, Lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), and the Active Directory Federation Service (ADFS).
Companies can use federated identities to share profiles and avoid complex alternatives. Third-party IAM providers connect workers with the workloads they need without the need to code back end connections.
Threat detection systems
An IAM solution may also include threat analysis and detection tools. Identity is a major cybersecurity frontier. Attackers seek to steal credentials and leverage weak points on the network edge. This makes IAM portals the ideal place to track activity and block threats before they enter the network environment.
IAM systems can track the amount of traffic entering and leaving networks. They can log information about login attempts and detect anomalous patterns. They can apply allowlists for approved IP addresses, and block blacklisted identities.
Some software includes brute force attack protection. This blocks devices after a set number of failed login attempts – a good way to cut the risk of botnet attacks. Cutting edge IAM systems also exploit information from global threat databases. IAM tools can check for stolen credentials and apply higher security standards when they seek network access.
Choose the right IAM solution for your business
Identity and access management is a critical challenge for all digital businesses. Identity management tools must authenticate every user to prove their identity. They must also authorize users, giving them access to the resources they need and protecting other network assets.
IAM types include:
- Privileged access management (PAM)
- Customer identity and access management (CIAM)
- API access management
- Web access management (WAM)
IAM systems can be mainly based on-premises. But most companies choose a cloud-based IAM solution. Cloud IAM can scale as new services come online. They suit remote access workforces and are well-adapted to manage privileges for app APIs and SaaS tools.
Whether you choose a cloud or on-premises IAM solution, most implementations will include:
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA)
- Single sign on (SSO) portals
- Threat detection systems
- Authorization systems based on user directories
- Federated identity management (FIM) to work across many services
IAM solutions exist for all business types. Find a setup that protects sensitive data, ensures app availability, and scales as networks change.
Remember that IAM configuration is critical. Plan implementations and privileges management. Select third party providers carefully. Audit IAM systems to match roles and privileges over time.