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Why IAM is the best pre-emptive cybersecurity strategy for your business

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Small businesses account for more than 60 percent of data breaches. These breaches contribute to the failure of millions of small businesses worldwide each year. In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance estimates that 60 percent of small and midsize businesses that suffer a data breach go out of business within six months.

Therefore, protecting against breaches of any kind (e.g., distributed denial of service (DDoS), man-in-the-middle (MitM)) is crucial to helping your business survive and grow.

The best strategy to protect your small business is a pre-emptive one. By implementing proper processes and installing detailed access management technology, you can prevent the majority of potential security threats before they happen. Identity management, strong passwords, and up-to-date antivirus software are some best practices your organization should implement immediately to help secure your resources.

With an identity and access management (IAM) solution, you can track which employees have access to specific resources and enforce the “Principle of Least Privilege (more on “PoLP” below) to ensure that no employee receives more access than exactly what they need to perform their job.

Identity and access management is ultimately as much a risk management strategy as an organizational one. A protected organization utilizes these strategies and controls, both preset and real-time, to reduce the risks of inadvertent or purposeful breaches.

Crucial undertaking

Gartner defines IAM as crucial for any organization. However, IAM does not require only technological expertise; it requires business skills and thoughtful planning. Consider a solution as a means to make practical adherence to IAM as a discipline significantly easier. When done correctly, an IAM solution can reduce an organization’s identity management expenses, bolster your organization’s security, and support the development of new initiatives and projects.

Aside from managing risk, IAM also can dramatically simplify and optimize your processes, such as user provisioning and the account setup process. The goal is to use a controlled workflow to decrease both potential human error and the time to completion. The technology also allows admins the ability to easily view and change employee’s access rights, depending on their role within the organization. Easy, more efficient management means saving time and reprioritizing your people for more impactful tasks.

Organizations without a formal IAM solution spend 40 percent more on replicating these capabilities or completing tasks, according to Gartner, while achieving less than organizations that have implemented one. However, IAM is not a plug-and-play operation. Your organization’s risk management leaders need to work with internal and external stakeholders to ensure developments remain in-line with goals. This requires active oversight and the ability to efficiently make updates with minimal disruption.

Framework for business processes

IAM is not one single piece of software or technology; rather it is a framework of business processes, policies, and technologies that are designed to facilitate the management of electronic or digital identities.

IT managers use IAM to monitor and control access to critical information. These systems should include all the tools needed to manage and track user activity while overseeing the database of identities. IAM solutions record login attempts, user activity, and revising access privileges. Centralizing these management tools and insight substantially assists oversight.

The right access

Comprehensive access management technology employs the “Principles of Least Privilege” (PoLP) and “Segregation of Duties” (SoD) to safeguard data systems. An organization needs both preset and real-time access controls to reduce risks arising from internal and external users.

The idea behind the Principle of Least Privilege is that any user, program, or process should have only the minimum privileges necessary to handle their range of functions. This means a user who is updating legacy code should not have access to human resources records or that someone whose job it is to pull database records does not need access to financial information.

The IAM system should include an access rights model based on a user’s job title, business unit, location, and more. This model determines access rights for each given user accordingly and is why IAM must be actively kept up-to-date.

Likewise, Segregation of Duties (SoD) is focused on risk management. Simply put, the idea behind SoD is to prevent the accidental, or intentional, misuse of resources by incorporating multiple employees at different stages of a given task. One of the most common SoD practices is to separate the person who performs a task from the one who reviews, approves, or performs quality control upon its completion.

Five components

You can easily separate an IAM solution/strategy into five components or actions:

  • Identification of individual users
  • Identification of roles and their assignment
  • Updating an individual’s role in the system
  • Assigning an access level in the system
  • Securing the system/protecting the data within

An IAM system must balance the speed and automation of its various processes with the control that administrators need.

These systems should also include the following:

  • The controls and tools to capture and record user login information
  • The ability to manage the database of user identities
  • The ability to configure the assignment and removal of access privileges

Any technology used in these processes should aim to lessen the time needed to set up a new account. A controlled workflow should reduce the number of errors while allowing for automated account fulfillment whenever appropriate. Administrators also should be allowed to view and instantly change a user’s access rights if necessary, as re-orgs, re-assignments, promotions, and ad hoc projects happen in every organization.

It is also crucial to remember that as threats against your data’s security evolves, so must your IAM strategy. To get started, the types of pre-emptive measures described here can significantly benefit the security of your business while dramatically reducing any potential risks or breaches you may face along the way.

Tom Mowatt, managing director, Tools4ever