To better protect your business and keep your data safe, use these identity and access management best practices from the team at Reciprocity.

In today’s unpredictable business environment, it’s more important than ever that your organization is 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, the goal of IAM is to prevent data breaches and unauthorized access to your systems. IAM is an important component of risk management, and should receive special attention as part of your overall risk management plan.

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

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

Once you have this information in place, start implementing the identity and access management best practices we outline below. But first it’s important to understand why identity and access management is an important 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. Understandably, most organizations are distracted by worries, changes in their business model, or other issues that arise from such tumultuous circumstances as these. Cybercriminals know this. The rise in cybercrime during the pandemic is no coincidence, and as these global events become more frequent, so too 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 important for cybersecurity than ever before, as employees suddenly needed to gain access to employers’ data remotely.

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

Moreover, identity and access management isn’t just a good idea for keeping your information and systems secure. It’s also a requirement for compliance with a variety of regulations, including GDPR, SOX, HIPAA, and CCPA.

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 you’re 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 as it is; users, portals, databases, and applications are all moving simultaneously and performing their respective tasks. So tackle the challenge with a centralized approach.

    Why? Because identity and access management clarifies this the responsibility of monitoring all of your network users, and ensures that 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 provide greater consolidated visibility for all of your network managers.

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

  2. Identify Risk

    While most businesses have already made the transition to cloud-based applications and frameworks, plenty of organizations still use legacy systems that no longer have any 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 any of them could be potential security threats. Any legacy programs should be replaced with systems that can be 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, as well as for 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 parts of your system — and your sensitive data.

    This IAM best practice is especially relevant if your organization hasn’t conducted a risk analysis or a risk 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 exactly what your organization will do to provide cybersecurity while your users access data off-site, as well as 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), or limiting non-essential access to sensitive information and the number of privileged accounts. RBAC can reduce the risk of both 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. Essentially, your system or network simply won’t immediately bestow trust to a user just because he or she was able to provide the correct user ID and password.

    Instead, zero trust involves implementing additional measures that require further validation before granting user access privileges (especially when data is being 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 ultimately 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, a large number of users still use (and even reuse) generic passwords across a number of accounts and platforms. Unfortunately, this practice makes it easier for cybercriminals to gain access to all of 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:

    • Passwords 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’ll also need to account for the onboarding process when you hire new team members and orient them on your company’s IT safety and security regulations.

    Automating the onboarding process will enable your employees to better understand, 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, say, automatically granting all users access to your company’s entire information network and then revoking privileges only when asked to do so.

    Once the potential for data abuse within your organization is adequately under control, your IT team will then be free to devote its time and efforts to preventing external (and often more serious) threats to your cybersecurity.

  7. Dispose of Orphaned Accounts

    It’s also important that your organization monitors and disposes of any orphaned or dormant accounts that have 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, it’s critical that you deactivate and remove the account, and revoke his or her user privileges. Otherwise, you’re giving cybercriminals the opportunity to breach your organization’s digital perimeter.

    This identity and access management best practice is successful when either 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 the process of 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 to understand why it’s important to use strong passwords and use tools like multi-factor authentication to keep their accounts (and your 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 all of these various factors facing your organization, you should select and implement identity and access management solutions that are 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, and permits the user to log on once and be authenticated automatically for the internal systems and applications to which they have assigned access.
    • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): this tool adds a second step in the authentication process by using email or text message verification, biometrics, or security tokens that generate a unique code for each sign-on.
    • Risk-based authentication: this tool calculates the risk that comes along with a user performing specific actions before allowing the user to proceed. If the risk is too high, the tool 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 extremely valuable and your organization should use them wherever possible. But ultimately, you need a solution that’s going to ensure you’re meeting your compliance needs, monitoring and managing risks, keeping track of third-party access and risks, managing workflows, and keeping a well-organized document trail for use come audit time.

ZenGRC Is Your Security Management Solution

Identity and access management isn’t easy, and you’ve got enough on your plate as it is. Good governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) software can help make the task of planning for and enforcing identity and access management much easier for you.

ZenGRC from Reciprocity 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 in a timely manner.

Zen also connects your user list and other resources via automation, allowing for consistent documentation come audit time. Workflow and audit documentation from ZenGRC engages all parties in communication, closing the gaps that lead to 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.

We also provide ZenConnect companion software so you can delve into activity on your enterprise applications for a complete, integrated risk and compliance picture that includes IAM.

Let ZenGRC help you implement an identity and access management program that’s best for your organization and schedule a demo today to discover how you can practice IAM, the Zen way.