This is Part 1 of our “Identity Access Management (IAM)” blog series.
Digital tools or software at the workplace have increased the need for digital and electronic access for employees. In companies with thousands of employees, ensuring there is no intruder in the workplace is crucial to protecting the company’s data. A bad actor can easily steal an employee’s identity to access a department’s data silo. This raises questions about how access management can be secure while delivering a unique user experience to employees, contractors, guests, and customers. “Identity Access Management (IAM)” is a solution to this problem that extends beyond just businesses and companies. In fact, the same technological architecture is utilized by social platforms, healthcare organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions to ensure secure user access control.
What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?
The Identity and Access Management (IAM) framework creates the processes and technologies that ensure the right staff, user, or person has access to the right tool, platform, or data at the right time. IAM ensures that all access granted complies with the policies and procedures while maintaining a seamless user experience. A new employee can use the same software as the company manager with IAM. However, there are limits to the functionalities and resources such staff has. IAM is the framework that compartmentalizes these different accesses to ensure that each person (identity) can access the right tool or data they need for their jobs. It is done in such a way that one party does not have excessive access while the other has insufficient access.
The above is made possible by the profiles of each staff member. The data (personally identifiable information) that makes up each staff’s identity is stored in their profiles on the company’s database or a standalone identity provider (IdP). As a result, the IT team can apply more functionalities and restrictions to each identity. This structure enables managing and monitoring of employees’ activities on various apps without administrators logging into their accounts individually. IAM controls electronic identity through access keys, swipe cards, smartcards, RFID, and other means.
Practical Example of IAM in Action
An example of IAM at work is when a user logs in to access some data or submits a report. The IAM system checks his credentials against the identities in the database. If it aligns, access will be granted; if not, the system will reject the login attempt. In the event that the user’s identity is verified to be true, they will gain access to resources. However, it would be according to the limitations attached to their identity.
For example, if a guest logs into a system, he might be able to read and submit a report. However, the guest will not be able to edit or update existing information on the system. This limitation is attached to the guest’s account. In contrast, an employee with higher permission will be capable of performing all the actions the guest user couldn’t. Without the “limitation feature” on IAM, anyone, even an outsider, could have access to and modify all data. A key component of IAM is to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing sensitive information and causing a data breach.
The Importance of IAM in an Organization
Businesses are constantly under attack, and organizations’ sensitive data is being compromised. As a result, leading to legal issues and fines for data breaches. Not to mention the billions stolen through this process, leaving businesses with years to recover. Some bad actors go to great lengths to sell users’ sensitive data to different enterprises, leaving the company open to more attacks and extending the recovery process for years.
Not all these attacks are ransomware breaches; in fact, recent reports show ransomware breaches to be 13% while breaches involving the human element are 82%. Human involvement in breaches includes social attacks, errors, wrong authorization, misuse of access, and bad actors gaining access into the organization’s system. The report refocuses the IT team’s attention on the most critical aspect: effective human management that encompasses identity and access to resources
The above shows one of the reasons why IAM should be top priority in an organization. Organizations must protect themselves from malware. Safeguarding their IAM systems is equally important, as these systems can serve as gateways for malware when users’ identities are being compromised. The section below and different portions of this article will reinforce unique points about the importance of IAM. As an IT personnel or a manager in an organization, it is crucial and urgent that your organization revisit its commitment and investment in IAM.
Blockchain Identity and Privacy in IAM
Within the IAM framework, blockchain identity offers a revolutionary approach to identity management. Blockchain identity enhances security, privacy, and control of personal data by leveraging the decentralized nature of blockchain networks and cryptography. With blockchain identity, individuals own and control their identity information, eliminating the need for intermediaries and reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Self-sovereign identities allow individuals to selectively disclose information, protecting their privacy. Additionally, blockchain identity systems offer interoperability and portability, enabling seamless integration across various platforms and services within the IAM framework.
Incorporating blockchain identity into IAM frameworks strengthens security, privacy, and operational efficiency. Organizations gain the ability to strengthen access management, protect against identity theft, and provide enhanced protection against unauthorized access. By embracing blockchain identity, organizations can revolutionize their approach to managing and safeguarding digital identities in today’s digital landscape.
IAM Enables the Following
IAM uses systems like single sign-on, two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication, etc., to achieve its purpose within an organization. The purpose of IAM is to grant the right access to the right person across software, web platforms, tools, resources, and apps, using digital identities such as usernames, emails, and passwords. Organizations can apply IAM to physical devices and electronic tools by requiring identity verification before granting access within their premises. Some of the non-digital means of authentication include access keys, cards, tags, etc.) IAM enables the following:
- Assign the right individuals (employees, contractors, guests, etc.) to identified roles
- Identify users within the company structure to enable their assignment to appropriate roles.
- Rank users and give them different levels of access and claims to information and tools.
- Add or remove roles, and promote or demote users to different roles or levels of access within the system
- Protecting users’ identities from hijackers and bad actors looking for loopholes to infiltrate the system.
- Protecting the organization’s sensitive data and the general protection of the system itself.
What are IAM Standards?
IAM centers majorly around users and data. Data protection should be paramount in every organization, so important that there are regulations and standards to abide byKnowing this, IAM must be done with the mindset of complying with necessary regulations, following industry standards and frameworks. Below are some of the protocols and standards commonly used in IAM systems:
1. Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)
SAML is an open federation standard that parties use for authentication and authorization. An identity provider (IdP) authenticates the user and sends the authentication token to another application to grant the user access to necessary resources. The application receiving the token from the IdP is known as a service provider (SP), and the message exchanged between the IdP and the SP is known as an assertion, which is an XML document. This assertion document securely identifies who a user is and what they’re authorized to access.
With SAML, a SP can operate without the hassle of authentication or in-house identity storage for each application and resource. Also, users can access necessary resources without the stress of logging into each software and applications with emails and passwords. Instead, an IdP handles the authentication while the SP gives access to resources. If a company uses 10 SaaS platforms, employees would have to log into each of them with email and passwords. SAML took away this stress by optimizing users’ login experience.
2. System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM)
The goal of every ambitious organization is growth. With growth comes an increase in employees, which comes with a need for better management of users’ details and access to necessary tools. SCIM makes this management easier by providing a common solution to manage both new and old employees’ access across apps and resources.
SCIM provides the automated solution that mass-deletes accounts of users that are no longer employees (de-provision), auto-creates, and grants necessary access to employees just joining the company. With SCIM, the IT team can automate user lifecycles and perform real-time CRUD (create, replace, update, delete) operations across all platforms. This automated system reduces human errors, the cost of identity management, and increases security within the IAM system. It also simplifies the user experience while saving IT admin’s time which can be refocused on other tasks.
3. OAuth 2.0
The Open Authorization protocol is now in its second edition. It is an authorization mechanism that enables services or applications to authorize on behalf of the user once they have given permissionThis limited access given to different services per time is known as delegated access. The two services interacting do not trust each other; instead, they trust the user independently. When one application requests permission from another for the first time, the user is asked if they trust the application requesting permission/authorization. If the user grants trust, permission is given.
For example: Many WordPress plugins can import files from Google Drive. Many plugins can publish blog posts on WordPress directly from Google Docs, but there must be authorization between WordPress and Google Drive before this occurs. Google Drive requests permission from the user, who should only grant it if they trust WordPress as a service and are satisfied with the list of permissions requested. The user then allows, accepts, or gives this permission. Once the user trusts the service (WordPress), an authorization key is exchanged between the two services. This key allows the requesting application (WordPress) to continuously have limited access based on the granted permission/requests.
OAuth Access Token
The token exchanged between these two applications is called OAuth Access Token. It will be used anytime these two apps interact with one another. These tokens cannot be altered as they are tamper-proof and contain user-allowed permissions embedded in them. The basic explanation and illustration given above is how OAuth 2.0 works. IAM systems frequently operate using this process, which involves many software and applications interacting with one another. IAM systems must include this to ensure that one application doesn’t have free access to another application, which can lead to data breaches in the future. OAuth 2.0 makes IAM systems secure, easily scalable, and time-saving while reducing room for identity theft and data breaches.
4. User Managed Access (UMA)
The Kantara Inititiave made this authorization framework possible by building it on top of OAuth 2.0. It further allows applications to access each other’s data patterned after the application-to-application framework established in OAuth 2.0, but it goes beyond that. Unlike OAuth 2.0, UMA allows users to share data and resources across multiple applications.
For example, under OAuth 2.0, a user with a WordPress account can import a file from their Google Drive account. However, this is the extent of OAuth 2.0’s capabilities. It means that if the Google Drive account doesn’t exist, then file sharing will not be possible. However, with UMA, users can share files with other users, applications, or organizations without requiring an account. In all these, the user still has control over the shared file, how limited it is, or the access given to the viewers. UMA’s beauty is that it gives the user or an employee the ability to customize the policy, rules, or criteria guiding who can access the shared files or resources. This gives power to individuals and increases privacy
5. eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML)
This is an XML-based language or an attribute-based access control policy language. Its design includes the specification or expression of access control policies in computer systems, including IAM systems. XACML, also known as “extensible access control language,” enables the use for web services, applications, and digital rights management.
XACML is extensible, allowing businesses to modify it to suit their particular requirements. It frequently employs in business systems, cloud computing environments, and other settings where access control is crucial. IAM systems are good examples of this.
6. Next Generation Access Control (NGAC)
Like XACML, NGAC offers a flexible expression of access control policies that organizations can customize depending on their IAM needs.
7. Lightweight Directory Access Protocol ( LDAP)
This protocol helps anybody access a network and find data about organizations, people, and resources, including devices connected to such a network. It stores data in an LDAP directory and can authenticate users. This directory is accessible, whether on the public network or within the company’s local network.
Through LDAP, organizations can properly store and manage users’ data and files, including login details. The goal of LDAP is to securely save every piece of data within its boundaries. It also aims to manage a directory service that allows easy access to any information if sourced. It is termed “lightweight” because it achieves its objective as a protocol by using fewer codes than other protocols. In an identity and access management (IAM) system, LDAP does all the above and also authenticates users.
IAM is not an option for enterprises; it is an absolute requirement with numerous benefits. Getting an IAM system off the ground to function will appear daunting. This is due to the different integrations, standards, and infrastructure that must be put in place. Data security, smooth working environments, and higher productivity are a few of the benefits of having a functional IAM system. Ultimately, this can lead to greater revenue and overall growth. Building and maintaining a robust IAM system is an investment worth making.
As a blockchain technology company creating solutions in the identity management ecosystem, we know the impact and importance of IAM in an organization. More reason Identity.com doesn’t take a back seat in contributing to this future via identity management systems and protocols. We also belong to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body for the World Wide Web.
The work of Identity.com as a future-oriented company is helping many businesses by giving their customers a hassle-free identity verification process. Identity.com is an open-source ecosystem providing access to on-chain and secure identity verification. Our solutions improve the user experience and reduce onboarding friction through reusable and interoperable gateway passes. Please get in touch or see our FAQs page for more information about how we can help you with identity verification and general KYC processes.