What Is Identity and Access Management?

By Anirudh Menon - Published on October 28, 2021
Identity and access management Guide

When it comes to managing digital identities, there are a set of processes, policies, products, and technologies that are used. These are collectively known as Identity and Access Management, allowing regulated user access across an organization.

When it comes to Identity and Access Management, access and user are two very critical elements. Users are individual or group of individuals such as employees, partners, suppliers, vendors, or any other customers. Access is nothing but a set of permissions or actions where users can gain information.

How does identity and access management work?

Identity and access management, also known as IAM are designed to execute three fundamental activities.

  1. Identify
  2. Authenticate
  3. Authorize

What this actually indicates is that the right set of people will have access to hardware, computers, software, applications, and/or any other resources or information.

If we look at some of the items that form the core IAM framework.

  1. A database that comprises various identities and access rights
  2. Tools associated with IAM used for creating, monitoring, and modifying the access rights
  3. A mechanism for maintaining audit logs and history of access by various users.

In an organization, there is a constant movement of users, be it new users joining the system or existing ones changing their roles, the IAM privileges must be maintained constantly. The process of identity and access management falls under the purview of the IT department or a function that handles data management or cybersecurity.

Examples of identity and access management

Let us look at some very preliminary examples of the identity and access management.

  1. As soon as a user enters his or her credentials, the same will be checked against the data stored in the database to see if there is a match. For instance, when a user working on a content management system, logs into the system, he can enter his contribution. However, he or she may not have access to edit or modify content created by other users.
  2. Another example will be that of a manufacturing company, where a production operator, can have visibility of online work done, but may not have the privilege to modify or alter it. However, a supervisor, who has a different and a senior role in the setup, can view as well as modify the same. Had there been no IAM in place, anyone in the organization could have had access to modify the data.
  3. Having implemented IAM allows organizations to set up restrictive access on sensitive information to selected users. In absence of IAM, the confidential data can be easily accessed by anyone within and outside the organization

Role-based Access

There are quite a few IAM systems, which are role-based access controls (known as RBAC). In this method, the roles of these individuals are predefined. With these roles comes predefined access rights. For instance, within the HR department, if one person is responsible for training, then other members of the HR function won’t have access to anything related to training.

Single Sign-On

Another way of enforcing IAM is by implementing Single Sign-On (SSO). Having SSO implemented, users are required only to validate themselves once. Once the authentication is completed, they will have access to all systems without having the need to log in to each of these systems separately.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Over and above the existing methodologies, if there is a requirement for additional authentication, then organizations can go for 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA). The authentication is a combination of something that the user is aware of, such as a password, and something that a user has, such as an OTP (one-time-password).

What are the benefits of identity and access management?

While we have understood what identity and access management and the different types of IAM systems are, let us now delve into some of the key benefits of identity and access management.

  • Security Enhancement

    One of the most significant benefits that IAM systems provide is to enhance data security across the organization. By deploying controlled access, companies can eliminate any risk that arises out of a data breach. IAM systems can also avoid any sort of illegal access to sensitive information and prevent unauthorized access to any organizational data. Robust IAM systems can help companies to prevent phishing attacks and protect against ransomware.

  • Streamlines IT processes and workload

    Whenever there is an update in security policy, all access controls across the organization gets updated in one instance. Implementing IAM can also cut down the number of support tickets that the IT helpdesk receives.

  • Helps in Compliance

    Implementing IAM can ensure that the organization follows all regulatory compliances such as GDPR and HIPAA or any form of best practices.

  • Improves productivity through collaboration

    By implementing IAM systems, companies can give selective access to the system to external parties like customers, suppliers, without harming any security protocols.

  • Enhances user experience

    Implementing IAM systems reduces the task of remembering complex passwords at user levels. SSO ensures that the user experience is seamless.

Future of Identity and Access Management

There is constant innovation happening at the IAM front. Enterprises are reaping the benefits of new strategies and products around identity and access management.

There are some emerging IAM technologies, that ensure that personalized information is restricted to the concerned user and not spread across databases within the organizations. This means that a decentralized identity setup will ensure that every individual has control of maintaining their own identities.  They can also have control over where personal data is shared, thereby reducing the risk at the corporate level.

We are also seeing a shift in the way organizations are implementing BYOI – Bring Your Own Identity. This is similar to Single Sign-On, as it reduces the task of remembering passwords – at the user level. Through BYOI, employees can access information from outside the organization, using their corporate credentials.

It is certain that IAM systems require constant innovation because as organizations go digital, there is an imminent threat of cyber-attacks and IAM systems play a pertinent role in ensuring that such attacks (which is likely to be more in the future) can be evaded.

Anirudh Menon | I have adorned multiple hats during my professional journey. My experience of 14 years comes in areas like Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. My journey as a professional writer started 5 years back, when I started writing for an in-house magazine for my employer. Having successfully delivered many in-house projects, it encouraged me to take my skill to the world. As on day, I have written articles, blogs website content for vario...

Anirudh Menon | I have adorned multiple hats during my professional journey. My experience of 14 years comes in areas like Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. ...

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