Identity and Access Management, often abbreviated to IAM, is a structure of processes, technologies, and rules that organizations use to manage digital identities and what data and applications those identities can access. In simpler terms, IAM is what allows verified users to access data and applications within a network and prevents unverified users from doing so. Almost every organization in the private and public sectors, from small businesses to local government offices, utilizes some form of IAM.
IAM is used to distinguish between different “types” of user identity, such as administrators or regular users. IAM systems are usually managed by IT managers who have administrator privileges and can assign different roles and permissions to different users within the organization while protecting sensitive data and the operational systems and structures that are vital to the running of the organization from users who may (deliberately or inadvertently) compromise them.
Components of IAM Systems
Every organization will have its own IAM system, which may be comprised of either or both of the following components.
Single Sign-On, or SSO, is a model by with users are identified by a single login screen and then granted permissions to access a range of applications within a network as their identity has been verified by the entire network. An example of this is a user logging into their work computer and being allowed to access every application without having to manually log in to each application separately. SSO saves time, and when implemented correctly, does not affect system security. SSO systems usually use SAML authentication.
Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA, is a concept designed to tighten security by requiring users to provide more than one method of authentication. When you log into your bank account on your computer and are sent an access code to your phone via an automated text message, which you then type into the login screen on the computer, this is an example of MFA.
Examples of IAM Systems
The most prevalent of IAM systems are Microsoft’s ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) and Azure AD systems. ADFS and Azure AD are SSO solutions that are integrated by default into most Windows operating systems. ADFS / Azure AD is the reason that once you log into your Windows PC, you are not asked to verify your user identity by each separate application you use.
LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is a similar protocol which is more commonly found on non-Windows operating systems. Many bespoke SSO solutions that can be purchased and implemented by organizations are based on LDAP authentication.
While some organizations just use ADFS or Azure AD, most companies also utilize other pieces of third-party software in their IAM systems.
Benefits of IAM
There are various benefits to developing an IAM system that is more complex than simply relying on the default Active Directory of your operating system. From simple SSO solutions to advanced Zero Trust networks, there is a range of possibilities when setting up an IAM system. As well as the clear security advantages (the stronger the system, the smaller the chances of security breaches by hackers and cybercriminals), there are also benefits to the running of an organization.
Using a more advanced IAM system can allow administrators to view and control permissions of individual users, as well as help ensure that companies can comply with government regulations around data storage more easily and effectively. Overall, effective IAM systems save organizations time, money, and hassle, increasing efficiency and productivity!