February 2, 2021

Today’s business world is fast moving, entails more applications, involves more categorizations of users, and is exponentially more complex for IT to enable than ever before. What once used to be straightforward has become a giant, inter-connected ecosystem teeming with thousands of applications, people and devices.

This has created a web of access points and connections. And enterprises operating in this reality have millions–if not a billion–points of access that they must control and manage, securely and efficiently.

It’s no surprise that many security professionals find themselves looking for a next generation identity management solution that can address today’s security challenges and scale to meet future ones.

But with the right plan in place, you can succeed and flourish in helping your organization become more efficient, more secure, save costs, and ease frustration from ineffective practices and policies.

Here are seven identity management best practices you should be following as you develop your Identity and Access Management (IAM) strategy.

1. Begin with the end in mind

The catalyst for the search for an identity and access management (IAM) tool is usually caused by a pain point in your organization. Perhaps the helpdesk is overburdened with access requests and password reset. Maybe a recent compliance audit was failed, or excess user permissions were discovered. Or, recent adoptions of cloud-based applications have decreased security visibility but increased the complexity of the IT ecosystem. Worse, perhaps you realized that it’s only a matter of time before a major data breach impacts your organization.

As with most large undertakings, the first step of the process is to imagine where you want to end up. This could take the form of many types of goals you want your organization to achieve, but they generally encompass saving time and money.

You can’t know how to get there if you don’t know where you’re going.

2. Eliminate High Risk Systems

Historically, organizations have been reluctant to make the digital transformation from on-premise to the cloud for fear of security threat. However, using on premise data centers and applications are riskier than their cloud-based counterparts.

Cloud service providers offer a wealth of security that can’t be matched by your onsite resources. Onsite data systems require a great deal of manpower, money and resources to keep hackers and data breaches at bay.

By ditching your legacy systems and switching to a cloud service provider, you’ll boost your security through patch management, segmentation, encryption, integrations, and secure access requirements.

3. Routine Review and Removal of Orphaned Accounts

Change is constant within an organization. If a user moves to a different area of the organization, or leaves the company, the user needs to be properly offboarded from the network. Failure to deprovision and remove an account leads to an orphaned account. This is an account that contains all the previous users’ information but doesn’t have a current assigned user.

If undetected without a proper identity management solution, orphaned accounts become goldmines for hackers. These accounts allow them to gather credentials and take on the identities of these orphaned accounts, which can lead to security breaches and attacks. This is why it’s uber important to take proper onboarding and offboarding measures.

4. Automate Onboarding and Offboarding

Access management can solve major onboarding and offboarding challenges. When onboarding a new employee, contractor, vendor, or partner, your IT department will need to manually assess which privileges and permissions to grant them based on their unique user roles. For large scale enterprises scaling up, this is highly convoluted, and the manual process of provisioning heightens the margin of error.

Luckily, with an identity and access management solution, you can quickly automate onboarding and offboarding, saving your IT department time and money, ensuring new employees have the right permissions, and quickly deprovisioning users when they leave or migrate to another department within the company.

5. Develop a Zero Trust Approach to Security

Zero trust is a network security model that falls under the identity management landscape. The zero trust philosophy is the belief that users and applications shouldn’t be trusted, both inside and outside your network, until their identity has been verified. And once verified, the user will continue to endure security measures, until they leave the network.

As more people work outside their corporate networks, use multiple devices and applications, and use on-premise and SaaS applications, organizations should live and breathe by the zero trust philosophy of trusting no one, and continuously authenticating.  

6. Use Multi-factor Authentication

While passwords are often looked at as the backbone of identity security, their misuse is often the number one reason for data attacks and breaches. Poor password hygiene such as weak and easy to guess passwords, sharing passwords, or using the same passwords across all your devices are key drivers for hackers.

By implementing an access management tool such as multi-factor authentication, you create an extra layer of security as you log on to your applications and devices.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is an additional verification method that ensures your customer is dually secure as they enter their credentials into your system. MFA requires users to provide two or more factors when signing into an account. Examples of these factors could be a password paired with a verification code on your mobile device, a push notification, facial recognition software, or a fingerprint.

7. Centralize Your System

With so much activity floating around in your organization (users, applications, databases, portals, etc.), it’s imperative that you keep track of what’s going on. And your enterprises scales, it becomes difficult to get a 360-degree view into your identity security.

One identity management best practice is to create a centralized system for visibility, so you can gain perspective into who has access to what, within your organization. Your organization will need to select an identity management solution that brings a centralized view to your user identities.

Common Reasons an Identity Management Program Fails

  • No executive support
  • Lack of funding
  • Not involving the business users
  • Insufficient communication of project value
  • Poor understanding of program depth

Focusing only on what happens when something goes wrong, however, is not enough. In order for the program to feel like a success, you must also employ champions and cheerleaders within the organization, showcase the potential and realized value and then demonstrate that the end you set in mind is being worked towards and eventually achieved.

During the initial implementation, creating smaller projects that are part of a larger program will help to keep timelines short and focused, while also giving periodic achievements to celebrate. This kind of “short sprint” project cycle will aid work in the future when additional modules need to be integrated, or the identity management program expands to include more aspects of the IT systems. It is also important to remember that identity management is a program that will continue to evolve and grow with your organization after the initial implementation is complete.

Final Thoughts

Technology alone – the software solution you procure and deploy – can help to automate and speed up processes, depending on your particular problem set, but it will not solve every issue your organization currently faces. Only by implementing rules and policies learned from delving into your organization’s current and ideal processes can the software achieve the desired end result. 

Learning the best practices in regard to building (or re-building) your identity management program will determine how effective the policies and procedures will be after implementation is completed.

Implementing an identity management program in your organization may be a long journey, but any potential qualms from starting the endeavor are far outweighed by the efficiencies and cost savings (which can be in the millions of dollars) from the result of a well-planned and successful implementation.

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