Identity and Access Management: Deciphering a Fluid Puzzle

With Gartner having recently held its annual Identity and Access Management Summit in London, the identity and access management (IAM) space is very much in the spotlight for both the security and business communities.

IAM’s has accelerated rapidly as a result of a simple development: There is more of everything these days. More devices, platforms, applications and many more channels — and all require connecting to today’s enterprises.

As corporations have moved toward cloud, mobile, social and IoT-enabled environments, the IT landscape required to deliver business efficiency and growth has become increasingly complex. This leads to inevitable security vulnerabilities.

Securing Identity and Access Today

IAM and threat protection are related security disciplines. There are a number of process, organizational, functional and technological overlaps that need to be considered if a company is to operate a robust, multifaceted approach to IAM and risk management.

While two-factor authentication has been traditionally accepted as the preferred security approach to access, it’s no longer the only option. Thanks to the advancements in cognitive and predictive analytics, the security play around access and its management is moving beyond simply providing strong user authentication.

The last few years have seen the IAM equation become less of a siloed, stand-alone question; it now brings together several elements that have always played a part in access management into a cohesive, synchronized system working toward a goal. The landscape is far more evolved, incorporating things like:

  • Modern identity architecture;
  • Identity governance and administration;
  • Identity analytics;
  • Identity proofing and authorization;
  • Identity issues in the cloud;
  • Identity for third parties; and
  • Using identity to protect APIs (and vice versa).

The key to minimizing security vulnerabilities is the adoption of a layered cognitive approach to the wider IAM question.

Adding Cognitive Elements to the Mix

We’ve now reached a point where we can look at what devices, applications and networks are being used to access corporate systems at a granular level and then combine that data to generate a macro view. Through this intelligent use of constantly regenerated data, businesses can make policy and control decisions to keep themselves safe. By taking a more rounded, holistic approach to what access management actually represents, proof of identity at the device, platform, application and human level can be vastly improved.

This is where IAM meets cognitive security. With a cognitive, predictive approach to IAM, it would be possible to shut down logins that look suspicious or don’t fit with usual user patterns. For example, a 3 a.m. login attempt from an unauthorized device in China for a French-based company would trigger a flag to the security response team as irregular activity.

An IAM solution would be customized according to a set of rules regarding who gets access to the network and in what context. This could mean shutting off access from any unsecured wireless networks or devices that have not been updated to comply with corporate security policy, or to send out a request for an additional authentication step.

Achieving Strong Security

The cybersecurity element of IAM requires a layered approach, much like wider business strategy does. However, due to the fast pace and complex nature of the security space, this can be hard to achieve.

Recognition of data priorities and the challenges around identity management and access protocols are central to the success of any company, especially as the technology landscape they operate within becomes increasingly disparate.

Perhaps the most important element for success in terms of usability and overall IAM security will be ensuring that everyone within the organization understands the encompassing cybersecurity strategy itself. Education, engagement and transparency across all business units and functions will be key to maintaining a safe and successful operating environment.

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Angelika Steinacker

IAM Competency Leader for Europe, IBM

Angelika leads IBM‘s Identity & Access Management Competency in Europe with a portfolio ranging from strategic consulting, to design through deployment, to operations and maintenance for external and internal customers. Angelika has spent more than 15 of her 30 years in security focused on IAM, providing her with extensive experience with a variety of clients from different industries in Europe.