Demystifying Identity Access Management – A Comprehensive Guide

Demystifying Identity Access Management

A robust identity access management (IAM) strategy bolsters an organization’s security posture. It helps protect systems from unauthorized access, cyber threats, and phishing attacks while improving compliance with regulatory guidelines and industry standards.

IAM solutions work across multiple platforms used by modern enterprises. These include on-premise systems, applications deployed in cloud environments, edge computing devices like IoT devices and data concentrators, and numerous device and remote access methods.

Identity Management

Identity Management is an IT security practice that enables specific users to access systems and networks while securing sensitive information from unauthorized users. It is accomplished through three steps: identification, authentication, and authorization.

The first step of any identity access management system involves identifying a user through a registration process. It typically includes collecting personal data like name, date of birth, and gender to verify a person’s digital identity. From there, a central IAM system can recognize that person and consistently track them across organizational systems.

Once a person has been identified, the IAM system checks their login attempt against a database of authorized users. These may include employees, contractors, partners, and other stakeholders. If the login matches with a verified identity, access is granted. Most organizations grant different levels of access based on job title, tenure, clearance, and project.

To ensure that the right people see the correct data, a sound IAM system should be equipped with robust authentication solutions that provide multiple layers of protection to prevent password theft. It means multifactor authentication, iris scanning, and fingerprint sensors to ensure the user is the real deal. It also offers single sign-on to reduce the impact of remembering multiple usernames and passwords, allowing people to log in with just one ID for all their work systems.


Authentication is verifying the identity of someone or something that attempts to access a computing system. It is typically used to protect sensitive information and applications not intended for public use. The authentication process is usually coupled with authorization, which determines what level of access a user gets once they have been successfully authenticated.

Typical authentication methods include a username and password or biometrics. When users enter their credentials into a login page or other entry point, the authentication system verifies that they match information kept in a database on either an authentication server or a local operating system. The user is given system access if the data matches.

More advanced systems also employ device fingerprinting that verifies the device being used for login. It prevents malicious users from stealing administrator Jane Doe’s login credentials and using them to gain unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data. They can also employ additional verification techniques like time-outs, rate limits, and password rotation.

Most IAM solutions support authentication and authorization and offer administrative tools to ease onboarding and separation for employees, as well as self-service portals and automated approval workflows that let users manage their access privileges without needing help desk assistance. In addition, they can also enable role-based access control (RBAC) to align a user’s privileges with their job duties.

Control of Access

The deliberate limitation of access to data, resources, and places is known as access control. It requires authentication and authorization, with the latter determining whether someone who claims to be who they say they are can make changes or perform actions that put data at risk.

There are several types of access control systems. Discretionary access control (DAC) allows the data owner to decide who gets access to specific files. Role-based access control (RBAC) is a more sophisticated method that aims to grant access only to data a person needs for their role. This model, also known as separation of privilege, implements vital security principles.

Another type of access control system is attribute-based access control (ABAC). This model focuses on the attributes of users, systems, and environmental conditions to determine who gets access to which data. It can be applied at the application level or, more precisely, according to job categories like engineers and human resources.

It can be a more scalable approach than DAC, as it isn’t limited to just one application and can apply to the entire network. It can also limit how applications access information, such as preventing them from running in ways that could put data at risk. It can also help track site activity, such as logging who enters and exits for vandalism or response time tracking.

Privileged Access Management

Privileged Access Management (PAM) secures and manages accounts, systems, devices, and tools with elevated privilege. PAM is a crucial component of an IAM solution that reduces the risk of attacks on those accounts by monitoring activity, enforcing best practices and policies, and leveraging behavior anomaly detection to detect suspicious or inappropriate activities.

Many high-profile breaches are caused by careless employees who expose privileged credentials for attackers to find or share with other unauthorized individuals. It’s estimated that 80% of hacks involve compromised privileged accounts. Privileged account misuse can also happen because IT doesn’t have clear visibility into the users, dependencies, and activity in privileged accounts.

PAM can help you overcome these challenges by discovering and establishing a baseline of your privileged accounts to understand what is at risk. It can include service accounts, break glass accounts (also known as emergency or firecall accounts), and other types of privileged accounts that aren’t associated with an identity but allow you to access sensitive information in the event of an incident.

It can also include machine identities like those in RPA and other automated workflows. In addition, it can identify unused and unnecessary accounts, such as zombie accounts or those with static passwords that never get rotated. Finally, it can manage the granting of elevated access to applications and systems via request and approval processes.


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