In today’s unpredictable business environment, your organization is more important than ever to be protected against cybercrime. One of the best ways to ensure that your data is safe is to enforce Identity and Access Management (IAM) — a method for defining the roles and privileges of individual users within your network.

Identity and access management is about confirming that only authorized users have the appropriate access to your technology resources. Ultimately, IAM aims to prevent data breaches and unauthorized access to your systems. IAM is an essential component of risk management and security controls and should receive special attention as part of your overall cloud security and risk management plan.

For larger organizations, especially, identity and access management can be a complex process. However, implementing IAM throughout your business or industry is a worthy investment that could help prevent the heftier fines resulting from a data breach.

Before you can enforce any of the identity and access management best practices we provide, you’ll need a complete overview of your IT infrastructure, systems, and assets so that you can closely monitor all of these elements for any potential or existing vulnerabilities.

Once you have this information, implement the identity and access management best practices outlined below. But first, it’s essential to understand why identity and access management is a critical practice so you can better rationalize the benefits of such an investment.

Why Identity and Access Management?

Identity and access management has numerous benefits. The most obvious is that it’s a practice that will effectively protect your business interests, information assets, and stakeholders from cybercrime.

Cybercriminals are constantly stepping up their efforts to infiltrate your information systems, and global disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic create unique opportunities for cybercriminals to do just that. The rise in cybercrime during the pandemic is no coincidence; as these international events become more frequent, so will cyberattacks.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations shifted to a hybrid working environment, where their employees spend some or all of their time working from home. This change has made identity and access management more critical for cybersecurity than ever before, as employees suddenly needed to gain access to employers’ data remotely.

Despite the pandemic, however, it’s becoming more urgent for modern businesses to equip themselves with identity and access management best practices and tools to help them navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

Moreover, identity and access management is more than just a good idea for keeping your information and systems secure. It must also comply with various regulations, including GDPR, SOX, HIPAA, and CCPA.

Key components of identity access management

Identity management is critical to an organization’s overall cybersecurity strategy. IAM refers to the processes and technologies for managing user access permissions and authentication across an organization’s systems, data, and applications. The goal of IAM is to ensure only authorized users have access to sensitive resources while making access easy and secure for the workforce.

Some of the key elements of a robust IAM program include:

  • Multifactor authentication (MFA): Requiring an additional verification factor beyond a password enhances security. MFA options include one-time codes sent via SMS or generated by an authentication app, biometric scans like fingerprint or facial recognition, security keys, etc.
  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Instead of assigning permissions directly to individual accounts, RBAC ties access privileges to specific roles. This simplifies access management as an organization’s needs evolve.
  • Single Sign-On (SSO): allows users to authenticate once to access any permitted resources securely. This improves user experience and productivity.
  • Automated provisioning and de-provisioning: Automatically granting access when new employees join and revoking it when they leave an organization is essential for security.
  • APIs and integration: IAM should integrate robustly with an organization’s diverse systems and applications via secured APIs.

9 Best Practices for Identity and Access Management

Whether you’re already using IAM and want to improve your program to meet emerging threats or are interested in building an IAM program from scratch, you should consider several best practices.

1. Maintain a Centralized Approach

Keeping tabs on your systems and networks is already complicated enough; users, portals, databases, and applications are all moving simultaneously and performing their respective tasks. So, tackle the challenge with a centralized approach.

Why? Identity and access management clarifies the responsibility of monitoring all your network users and ensures they can only access the data for which they have been granted permission. Centralizing your identity and access management program will not only provide a more harmonious and audited user experience. It will also offer greater consolidated visibility for all of your network managers.

Keeping things as simple as possible will make the process less overwhelming and easier to update your program to reflect any new vulnerabilities to your organization’s cybersecurity.

2. Identify Risk

While most businesses have transitioned to cloud-based applications and frameworks, many organizations still need legacy systems with safety and security updates. Storing confidential information using these unpatched and outdated systems makes your organization much more vulnerable to cybercrime.

An up-to-date inventory of your company’s programs and applications will help you determine whether they could be potential security threats. Any legacy programs should be replaced with systems quickly deployed and seamlessly integrated with the other programs in your information network.

You should also evaluate the risk for individual users in your network and any third parties or developers. As part of your access review program, conducting regular user access reviews can help you consider who in your organization has access to which features of your system — and your sensitive data.

This IAM best practice is especially relevant if your organization has not conducted a risk analysis or assessment since moving to a hybrid work environment, as the risks you face now may have changed.

A remote access policy will help spell out precisely what your organization will do to provide cybersecurity while your users access data off-site and what’s expected of your users. Such a policy will help keep your corporate data safe from exposure to hackers, malware, and other threats to your cybersecurity while employees work from remote locations.

3. Use the Principle of Least Privilege

Also known as the Principle of Least Authority, the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) means that you assign specific access privileges to users, which will only allow those users to access data that is essential to the performance of their roles and responsibilities.

One way to implement POLP is via Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), limiting non-essential access to sensitive information and the number of privileged accounts. RBAC can reduce the risk of internal and external data breaches, help further identify security for individual and group users, define and enhance your business process, and improve your overall cybersecurity visibility.

4. Employ Zero Trust

Zero trust is a principle that can help you preserve the integrity of your information assets under the assumption that you trust no one and suspect everyone. It’s one of the most straightforward identity and access management best practices. Your system or network won’t immediately bestow trust to a user because they could provide the correct user ID and password.

Instead, the zero trust model involves implementing additional measures requiring further validation before granting user access privileges (mainly when data is accessed from multiple ports and platforms). For example, you might adopt multi-factor authentication and require longer passwords that are easier for a specific user to remember but harder for hackers to guess.

This best practice will help you deter cybercriminals since they will have several additional security barriers to contend with past the initial password entry, making them more likely to move on to an easier target.

5. Use Multi-factor Authentication

These days, passwords alone aren’t enough to protect your confidential personal and corporate information. Whether it’s a result of carelessness or a lack of guidance, many users still use (and even reuse) generic passwords across some accounts and platforms. Unfortunately, this practice makes it easier for cybercriminals to access all your accounts and networks: they only need to get your password correct once.

Multi-factor authentication systems add more security barriers between the access request page and the location where the data is stored. Cybercriminals are more likely to follow the path of least resistance, so the more layers you have, the less likely a breach will occur— because the hacker will move on to the next potential target.

Your organization should consider one or a combination of the following multi-factor authentication methods to implement this best practice for identity and access management:

  • Password policies or passcodes
  • Challenge/response methods
  • SMS messaging systems
  • Magnetic stripe cards or card security codes
  • Biometrics
  • Security tokens
  • Time of access request monitoring
  • Geofencing

6. Automate the Onboarding Process

In addition to managing your current employees and their user privileges, you must account for the onboarding process when hiring new team members and orient them on your company’s IT safety and security policies. 

Automating the onboarding process will enable your employees to understand better, early on, your organization’s framework for the access privileges they will receive — everything from generally shared directories to precise folders and drives. This best practice is more practical than automatically granting all users access to your company’s entire information network and then revoking privileges only when asked.

Once the potential for data abuse within your organization is adequately controlled, your IT team will be free to devote time and effort to preventing external (and often more severe) threats to your cybersecurity.

7. Dispose of Orphaned Accounts

It’s also vital that your organization monitors and disposes of any orphaned or dormant accounts with access to your systems or network. Such accounts are vulnerable entry points for cybercriminals to exploit, given the chance.

After an employee departs from your organization or moves to a new role or location, you must deactivate and remove the account and revoke user privileges. Otherwise, you’re allowing cybercriminals to breach your organization’s digital perimeter.

This identity and access management best practice is successful when management or your HR team immediately informs IT security teams of any employee departure so the IT team can update its roster of user accounts and any corresponding access privileges.

8. Train Employees

Your employees need to understand their role in identity and access management. Regular training for your staff will emphasize the importance of following these best practices and will equip them with the knowledge to do so.

Help employees understand why using strong passwords and tools like multi-factor authentication is essential to keep their accounts (and data) safe from cybercrime.

9. Select Software Solutions

Your organization will have specific IT safety and security needs and requirements depending on your size, employee headcount, user access requirements, and business objectives. Similarly, your business will need to anticipate unique threats to your security, depending on your industry and the types of data you store.

To address the various factors facing your organization, you should select and implement identity and access management solutions tailored to your entity’s needs. These include scalable and easy-to-deploy applications, devices, and systems that offer multi-level security features and authentication protocols so that user workflows can be specified and streamlined to optimize productivity.

Here are some IAM tools you should consider to help you govern and manage identity and access management throughout your organization:

  • Single Sign-On (SSO): this tool allows one login to verify the user’s identity. It permits the user to log on once and be authenticated automatically for the internal systems and applications to which they have assigned access.
  • Risk-based authentication: this tool calculates a user’s risk of performing specific actions before allowing the user to proceed. If the risk is too high, the device blocks the action and notifies IT.
  • Identity analytics: this tool records logins, authorization attempts and events, and related activities for review and troubleshooting.

Identity and access management tools are precious; your organization should use them wherever possible. Ultimately, you need a solution to ensure meeting your regulatory compliance needs, monitoring and managing risks, keeping track of third-party access and bets, managing workflows, and keeping a well-organized document trail for use come audit time.

Common identity and access management risks

Implementing robust Identity and Access Management (IAM) is crucial yet complex for organizations. IAM projects carry many inherent risks that must be appropriately managed to avoid failure. Some of the most common pitfalls include:

  • Lack of executive buy-in: Gaining ongoing commitment from leadership is essential. Having an executive sponsor can help secure necessary resources and drive required changes.
  • Poor stakeholder engagement: The project needs input from diverse voices across the organization to balance security, productivity, and user experience. Clear, ongoing communication about the IAM policies and program objectives is key.
  • Incorrect technology procurement: IAM solutions must be purchased to match the organization’s specific infrastructure, systems, and business needs. While leaning on security team expertise, procurement should take a broad perspective.
  • Inflexible strategy and scale: The IAM approach must accommodate growth, new technologies, and evolving cyber threats over time. Scaling capabilities need to be built in from the start.
  • Neglecting policies and people: The human element is crucial. Feedback loops should be instituted to understand the access needs of different users and departments. Auditing teams also need to ensure efficiency and security.
  • Lack of project management Like any IT project, clear milestones, timelines, and segmenting work can prevent drift and delays.

Beyond these risks, fundamental challenges remain around balancing robust multifactor authentication, single sign-on, access controls, and auditing capabilities with user productivity and experience.

A holistic approach considering the technology, people, and processes is essential for IAM’s success. With risks properly addressed, organizations can securely optimize access and workflows aligned to business priorities.

ZenGRC Is Your Security Management Solution

Identity and access management is challenging, and you’ve got enough on your plate. Good Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) software can help make planning for and enforcing identity and access management much more accessible.

ZenGRC from RiskOptics automatically performs compliance and audit tasks for you, so you don’t have to. It also automates information sharing by sending out reminders to complete tasks and creating “to-do” lists for risk remediation, streamlining the process to make it less burdensome and more likely to be completed promptly.

Zen also connects your user list and other resources via automation, allowing consistent documentation come audit time. Workflow and audit documentation from ZenGRC engages all parties in communication, closing the gaps that lead to regulatory compliance issues. It also shares information across relationships; if any items are updated across the GRC space, any department can view evidence of the related items and controls.

Let ZenGRC help you implement your organization’s best identity and access management program. Schedule a demo today to discover how to practice IAM lifecycle the Zen way.