Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Identity and access management includes all the tools, strategies, and policies IT managers use to control user access to critical resources in an organization. The exact definition of IAM and its implications on enterprise-grade security are far more complicated than that, however.

What Is Identity and Access Management?

Companies work with a wide variety of employees, business partners, and customers every day. They also need to integrate multiple devices from computers to smartphones to servers into the workflow as well. There must be a way to manage all these entities whenever they inevitably require access to internal applications and data.

For the enterprise IT field, identity and access management refers to how businesses determine the roles and access privileges of all entities in the network. Each of these entities is assigned a digital identity, and IAM monitors the access lifecycle of each one.

Identity management essentially functions as a form of permission authorization, granting users access to certain company assets in a specified context. Usernames and passwords are the most well-known way to do so, but these can be insecure in a complicated enterprise environment.

IAM allows network managers to handle administrative tasks—such as enforcing policies, tracking activities, changing roles, and creating audits—easily from a central location. IAM can be deployed either on the premises or through a third-party cloud-based subscription service.

It’s important to note the subtle difference between IAM and PAM (Privileged Access Management). Both concepts are vital to enterprise cybersecurity and often serve as complements to each other. While PAM manages internal users with privileged access to sensitive company resources, IAM handles the same access but for a business’s everyday users. This difference in target audience means that the risks to safeguard from are different.

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The Components of IAM

Identity and access management tools aim to achieve a few goals:

  • Identifying individuals (human users, applications, servers, and other entities) in a network.
  • Determining which roles are assigned to what individuals.
  • Assigning levels of access to each entity or group of entities in the network.
  • Protecting the sensitive data from potential breaches.

IAM achieves these points through cybersecurity tools like single sign-on systems, 2-factor authentication, and even newer technologies like biometrics and AI-based behavioral analysis.

Authentication vs. Authorization

IT administrators must understand the distinction of identity management vs. access management. These concepts are distinct in the context of IAM.

  • Identity management: This primarily deals with authentication, the process of ensuring that users are who they claim to be. The most common methods are usernames and passwords, temporary access sessions, and authentication apps. Multi-factor authentication is a popular option now to increase security further.
  • Access management: This deals mainly with authorization, the act of giving a user permission to access sensitive company resources. Also known as access control, this aspect works in tandem with identity management.

Users in an organization must first prove identity through authentication before obtaining permissions with authorization.

Why Does IAM Matter?

The importance of IAM is apparent in the enterprise space. Businesses are under increasingly strong pressure to adhere to compliance regulations regarding data security. Many no longer rely on manual, error-prone methods for handling identity management.

IAM not only automates this task but also gives administrators auditing options and more granular control of permissions throughout the company. It arrives just in time to meet the rising demand for better cybersecurity brought on by recent trends in IoT devices and zero-trust models.

An identity and access management system enables you to work with third parties more readily as well since you can give them network access securely. Whether it’s a partner, customer, or supplier, IAM’s enablement of better collaboration and productivity is invaluable to competitive businesses.

Best of all, thanks to cloud-based subscription services, IAM is more accessible to smaller companies now.

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