Avoid the pitfalls of identity and access management systems
Louis Philip Morin Louis Philip Morin
March 5 6 min

Avoid the pitfalls of identity and access management systems

In most organizations, employee onboarding is a process that occurs all the time. As well as the arrival of new members of staff, existing employees move to new roles and even new teams. Each time, this requires identity and access management (IAM), as employees are granted access to the software and systems they need.

However, IAM can be time-consuming and complex for administrators. They face the challenge of providing the right level of access for each employee: providing everything they need to do their jobs productively but also preventing excessive access in order to keep systems and sensitive data secure.

In this article, we’ll explore where identity and access management fits into an organization’s cybersecurity, the perils of not implementing it adequately, the challenges involved in doing so, and finally a solution to help you overcome them.

But first, let’s take a deeper dive into what identity and access management really means:

What is identity and access management?

Managing users’ identities and their access to your systems and software is a foundational component to your organization’s security. They must be able to reach and use vital systems, applications, and data. Not delivering adequate access to users limits how effectively they can work, and ultimately how productive they can be for your organization.

Your organization should have a set of policies specifying:

  • The process of how users are identified, authenticated and their assigned authorizations
  • All systems, data, and other parts of your organization’s IT governed by IAM
  • Which levels of access should apply to which data, systems, and locations
  • Adding, removing, and changing individuals or roles’ access in the IAM system

As well as ensuring you deliver sufficient access to authorized users, it is equally important that your systems, data, and applications are made inaccessible to unauthorized users, preventing data leakage and other damaging outcomes. Inadequate identity and access management can even result in your organization being non-compliant with regulations, which may have serious and costly consequences in the case of an audit.

Now we’ll look at those risks in further depth:

Security hazards, audit difficulties and more

According to a 2019 report by Verizon, 34% of the data breaches they studied involved internal actors, while Security Intelligence published an article showing data that nearly 75% of security breaches were a result of insider threats.

The discrepancy in percentages is due to the varying definition of “insider threat” itself. Many definitions of "Insider Threat" (because there's not a single source of truth for that definition) count an outsider using an insider's account and password as an insider threat, mainly when the fault rests with the insider (weak/stolen passwords, leaving devices unattended, etc.).

Reflecting this threat, another survey by Cybersecurity Insiders found that 90 of respondent organizations felt vulnerable to insider attacks. One of the main enabling risk factors stated was too many users with excessive access privileges.

Here are three key factors that lead to users being granted access to too much data and too many applications:

  • Unclear definitions of each role and its access requirements and limitations
  • Inaccurate identity classifications for each employee and role
  • Users are given complete access to all data across all applications

Data security audits are more difficult when you’re grappling with multiple disparate systems instead of one unifying, central solution. Verifying a user’s access requirements and restrictions can necessitate analyzing several systems, how they’ve been implemented internally, and their integration with relevant databases. Multiply this for all the many users subject to the audit, and this can become complex and time-consuming.

If you don’t centralize and streamline IAM with identity and access management solutions it can also result in poor identity lifecycle management. If administrators aren’t working with a central record that automatically synchronizes with the systems, keeping identities and access up to date across all your IT services requires copious amounts of manual adding of new users, deleting old ones, and modifying existing ones.

However, though not implementing identity and access management has a range of pitfalls, practicing sound IAM also has its challenges. We’ll explore those next:

Identity and access management challenges

Any system is only as good as the person using it. Beleaguered IT operations staff, faced with a high identity and access management workload, may make errors in assigning access privileges or simply not know enough about the employee in question or their role in order to provision their rights accordingly.

The need to be thorough when it comes to vetting identities and approving access requests slows down the process, which is further impeded when data is located across different business units and locations. Even a well integrated and centralized IAM system brings more confusion than visibility into this process with the multiplication of applications, systems and associated entitlements causing information overload. These sticking points in approvals become bottlenecks, holding up administrators from access management and preventing employees from accessing the data and systems they need.

Challenges such as these mean that though implementing IAM is better security practice than not doing so, and IAM solutions can streamline the management procedure, there are still areas where traditional identity and access management can hit hurdles.

AI systems providing IAM assistance

Fortunately, AI can now help with the parts of access control management that are still largely laborious for IT professionals. When there is too much data to go through to find the right context or pattern, this is where a machine learning systems’ ability to understand your organization and your people’s access needs becomes valuable.

Element AI has developed such a system, capable of learning a range of typical employee access requirements, proposing roles to be applied, and predicting change. Our system handles these everyday access management tasks, freeing up administrators to handle urgent, critical access requests that require their full attention.

It’s a solution that continuously updates pre-authorized basic access demands based on employee and team profiles. This improves your organization’s efficiency by giving the right data access to the right person at the right time.

Applying this technology to identity and access management can make all the difference – for your IT personnel and your business as a whole. It’s a step that is likely to be pivotal to how IAM and IGA evolves in future, and one that will be vital to keeping your organization’s access privileges on the right track.