What Is IAM? Identity and Access Management Explained

Identity access management (IAM) is an IT security framework meant to manage digital identities. A person’s digital identity is simply their identity within a software application or website, and they’re generally protected by usernames and passwords. Identity management is much more than one simple identification factor, however—it refers to all tools and policies used by an organization’s IT department to make sure only the right people have the appropriate access to certain privileges and protected information.

So what is identity and access management really? It’s the full functionality provided by IAM systems that reduce security risks, control user access, and ensure compliance with government regulations. Here are some of the most important functions carried out by an IAM solution.

User Lifecycle Management

This is one of the most crucial features of the IAM framework, and it’s fairly self-explanatory. ULC oversees a user account from the moment of its creation to the moments it’s terminated. New user identities most frequently come into play when new employees are hired by an organization. ULC can be broken down into two main functions.

Provisioning: After a new user account is created, the identity management system has to specify what resources the account has access rights to, and it must assign the appropriate access level (viewer, administrator, etc.). This function is generally completed through role-based access control (RBAC). This method uses predefined job roles, and access levels assigned to each role, to automatically provision new users.

Deprovisioning: This is the process of removing access from an account, generally after either a role has changed or the individual has left the company. Deprovisioning is usually done manually due to its importance in eliminating serious security risks.

Authentication and Authorization

IAM technology must authenticate any user that requests access to protected systems and information. This is simply the process of making sure the user is in fact the person assigned to the digital identity. There are a few ways an identity management system can go about this.

Single Sign-On (SSO): This method allows users access to multiple systems with a single log-in and is especially popular with cloud services. There are many pros to single sign-on including convenience, low costs, and improved security since you won’t need multiple logins that can become compromised. The biggest downside to single sign-on is that it can create a single point of failure, but modern data encryption makes this extremely unlikely.

Multi-factor Authentication: This refers to any system that requires two or more credentials to gain access, and it’s common when dealing with sensitive information. A username and password will often be one factor, but it will need to be backed up with something like a security token or a biometric scan to confirm the user’s identity.

Privileged Access Management: This is when the identity management system is integrated with an employee database to provide only the level of access needed to perform a specific job role during each login. Roles may be frequently redefined in organizations using this system.

Once a user is authenticated through one of these processes, the system will then authorize them for the correct level of access.

Protecting Customer Data

IAM isn’t just about safe keeping your own information and controlling access to your own resources; it’s also a great way to ensure best practices for guarding customer data. Access management systems only allow the retrieval and use of customer data when necessary, usually when evaluating company performance and developing new marketing strategies. There are ways to go even further when protecting customer data, and it’s a good idea to implement as many safeguards as possible since the damage to your company’s reputation after a breach of customer data can be difficult to recover from.

With reliable IAM technology, you can achieve peace of mind knowing you’re doing your utmost to protect everyone’s data.