What is Identity Access Management (IAM)?
Identity Access Management or IAM in short refers to the policies and technology put in place by IT managers to manage employee or user access to applications and information within a business. With the alarming increase in cyber threats, it is crucial that businesses implement Identity Access Management solutions to ensure that sensitive systems and data is protected.
In the past, IT managers kept track of who had access to key applications and information manually, this made organisations extremely vulnerable to internal and external threats. Nowadays, there are automated Identity Access Management solutions that enable a high level of control for managers to ensure that data and information remain secure. For example, managers can maintain an audit trail of every employee and user who has accessed a certain application or information in the past, this allows them to maintain compliance with regulations and track any suspicious activity back to the respective employee or user.
Automated IAM solutions also provide security managers with the ability to effectively allocate information and application access to employees based on their job description and role. As an employee's role changes, their accesses can be easily revoked or added to ensure that only authorised individuals have access to sensitive information and data within an organisation.
How is Identity Access Management performed?
Identity Access Management can be performed in many different ways, below is three solutions that are commonly used.
- Single Sign-On - Single Sign-On or SSO is a login system that allows users to access all software, systems and data after a single authentication and log on.
- Multifactor Authentication - Multi-factor authentication is an electronic authentication method in which a user is granted access to a website or application only after successfully presenting two or more pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism e.g. a password and a unique code sent via SMS or email.
- Privileged Access Management: This system typically integrates with the employee database and pre-defined job roles to establish and provide the access employees need to perform their roles.
Why an Identity Access Management (IAM) System Is Important
An Identity Access Management System plays a crucial role in maintaining information security, it enables a business to keep track of employee activity. Ensuring that systems and networks are accessed by authorised employees as per their role, helps in reducing the risk of cyber attacks or breaches, internal or external and strengthens the overall security and operational programs of the organisation. An Identity Access Management System also helps security teams detect any suspicious activity, communication, or issues that otherwise might go undetected.
Identity Access Management helps protect against cyberattacks by enabling security teams to automate numerous user account-related tasks. This includes the ability to increase the efficiency for onboarding employees via an automated workflow, granting access to systems and applications they are authorised to access to, based on their role. It also improves the ability to remove employee access from all systems they were granted access to through the IAM platform, via a single button, making sure once an employee leaves the organisation, he or she no longer has access to sensitive information and systems.
Identity Access Management solutions help businesses meet industry compliance requirements and help them save costs by streamlining the way user account-related issues are dealt with. Identity and access management standardises and automates critical aspects of managing identities, authentication, and authorisation, therefore saving time and money while reducing risk to the business. The many benefits of protection offered by IAM solutions go a long way in uplifting a business's cybersecurity program.
What is Privileged Access Management (PAM)?
Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a subset of Identity Access Management that focuses exclusively on protecting privileged accounts—accounts granted to a small number of users who need access to backend systems, databases, and other places where highly-sensitive information is stored. Whereas IAM safely authorizes any user who needs access to a system, PAM limits access rights to the absolute minimum number of users necessary to perform authorized business activities.
Privileged Access Management refers to the strategies and technologies organisations utilise to manage the privileged access and permissions for users, accounts, processes, and systems across an IT environment. By strategically assigning employees the correct level of access depending on their role and responsibilities in the organisation, the overall risk of suffering extensive damage from a cyber attack is effectively mitigated, irrespective of whether it is from an external actor or due to internal errors.
While there are a plethora of strategies that can be implemented when an organisation is considering privileged access management, a key concept that dictates these strategies is, the concept of least privilege. Least privilege is defined as the strict assignment of access rights and permissions for users, accounts, applications, systems, devices and computing processes, to the absolute minimum so that assigned organisational activities can be carried out. Implementation of PAM in your organisation is a huge undertaking that is essential to uplifting the overall cybersecurity posture.
IAM vs PAM
Privileged Access Management falls under the umbrella term Identity & Access Management or IAM. In coordination, both these activities enable an organisation to control credentials and privileges, by providing them with visibility and audibility. IAM controls help organisations authenticate user access ensuring that the right employees are given access at the right time, whereas PAM refers to the ability of an organisation to fine-tune its control, visibility and auditability of identities and activities.
What are Privileges?
The term Privilege refers to the authority a given account or process has over making or performing functions on a computer system or network. For example, a user requires access to make any security-related changes such as configuring networks/systems. Although assigning privileges to serve an important operational purpose that is essential for employees to be able to complete the tasks assigned to them, there is a huge security risk where privileges can be misused or abused by malicious internal or external actors to cause damage to an organisation.
What are Privileged Accounts?
The majority of employees operate in an environment of least privilege, there are two common types of non-privileged accounts or least privilege accounts, they are standard accounts or guest accounts. Standard accounts have restricted privileges associated with internet browsing, access to applications such as the Microsoft Office Suite or access to company resources, all this is dependent on the role and responsibilities assigned to the employee. A guest account on the other hand is heavily restricted to basic application access and limited browsing on the internet.
So what is a privileged account? A privileged account is an account that offers additional privileges in comparison to the accounts explained above. An example of a privileged account is a superuser account, these types of accounts are typically used by certain employees in the IT or administrative departments, who have unrestricted privileged access to make changes and execute commands within networks and systems. The common vernacular for superuser accounts on a Windows system is ‘Administrator’ and ‘Root’ for Unix/Linux systems.
Examples of common privileged accounts used by employees
Local Administrative - This account is located on an endpoint or workstation and uses a combination of a username and password. It helps people access and makes changes to their local machines or devices.
Domain Administrative - An account providing privileged administrative access across all workstations and servers within a network domain.
Emergency - An emergency account provides employees with administrative access to secure systems in the case of an emergency.
Top five best practices when implementing Privileged Access Management
1. Implementing least privilege when it comes to all end-users, endpoints, accounts, applications, systems etc.
The best way to enforce the least privilege is to eliminate all privileges across the entire business environment and then create a system that elevates privileges depending on specific actions and when these privileged activities are accomplished, privileges are then removed. There are a number of factors that need to be considered when implementing least privilege:
2. Make sure that privileges and duties are separated
- Eliminating administrative rights on endpoints: making all users have standard privileges while enabling elevated privileges for applications and users to perform specific tasks.
- Reduce the attack surface and safeguard critical systems by removing all root and admin access rights to servers and ensuring all users are operating with standard privilege.
- Utilise the least privilege to remove unnecessary privileges across applications and processes like DevOps.
- Implement Just-In-Time privileges: ensuring that all privileges expire and are only available for the time required to complete privileged activities.
As a part of a privileged access management system organisations need to implement privilege separation measures, for instance, organisations need to separate administrative account functions from standard account requirements, separate auditing capabilities within admin accounts and separate system functions like read, edit, write, execute etc. By ensuring that each privileged account only has privileges designed to perform a unique set of tasks and eliminating overlap between different accounts, an effective privilege access management system can be established.
3. Make sure employees are managing their passwords effectively
Employees should implement the following best practices when it comes to password management:
- Organisations need to ensure strong password parameters like complexity and uniqueness so that employee credentials are robust enough to defend against standard attacks
- Ban password sharing, eliminate the culture of password sharing within organisations to reduce the overall attack surface.
- Change passwords routinely to eliminate the chance of hackers reusing passwords in their attacks, implementing one time passwords is another way of doing this.
4. System and network segmentation
System and network segmentation achieve a separation amongst users and processes based on factors like levels of trust and needs. Security controls should be customized so that they are of a higher level when it comes to systems and networks that are of a higher trust level. By introducing segments it reduces the chance of attacks or breaches spreading beyond a single segment.
5. Monitor all privileged activity
Organisations need to implement what is known as privileged session management or PSM, which consists of the activities of every privileged user, including third-party vendors, being managed and monitored from the time they launch a privileged session to when that session ends. By doing this any suspicious activities can be identified and eliminated in a prompt manner. Auditing activities can involve capturing keystrokes and live screens so that users are accountable for any security incidents or breaches that occur.
How StickmanCyber can help
StickmanCyber’s privilege and identity access management service is designed to safeguard against internal and external threats to your cybersecurity. Our teams help establish different levels of access for different users, endpoints and systems; effective password management; and separating standard and high-value networks and systems. All this is aimed at preventing cyberattacks or minimising the impact and response time to any potential attack.
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