a good thing!
Identity and access management, or IAM, refers to the tools, technologies and policies put in place in order to ensure that users—including your customers and your workforce—are granted appropriate access to your apps and systems. An organization's IAM strategy typically encompasses multiple different tools and solutions in combination.
Any enterprise who wants to take their security seriously—while ensuring that the user experience is not compromised—will want reliable and easy-to-use IAM tools to help accomplish this goal.
How does it work? In its most basic form, each user is assigned a unique digital identity and the IAM system manages that identity and its permissions. The IAM system looks at these identities and permissions to determine when the user should be granted access when they log in as well as which access privileges are issued or denied. IAM capabilities expand from there, allowing businesses to require additional authentication steps, get insights into risks associated with users, manage data sharing permissions, connect to different kinds of apps and systems across hybrid environments and much more.
IAM tools have progressed over time, and each year, tools become more sophisticated to support the changing needs of businesses. Because there are many IAM solutions and tools out there, it sometimes helps to start your search by looking at which tools will serve your needs best, and then consider which vendors offer them. Additionally, you may decide to look at individual best-of-breed IAM technology and orchestrate your own stack or find an all-in-one IAM platform that has all your bases covered.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the best IAM tools and capabilities, it's important to understand why your business would need IAM tools in the first place and in what circumstances (aside from the obvious) they'd be needed.
IAM tools are essential to protecting your business from cybersecurity threats and should be an IT priority for any company. IAM tools provide a comprehensive security system over your entire network, providing identities for each user and ensuring users requesting access are who they say they are. With those identities, you can give users—including employees, customers and vendors—appropriate access to specific applications in order to prevent accidental internal breaches and most importantly, separate them out from those who want to intentionally hack your system and breach sensitive data.
Utilizing the right IAM tools keeps everyone involved secure, but it also facilitates great user experiences. For example, IAM can reduce headaches for employees who need to access the system multiple times a day. Or, it can allow customers to make a transaction without getting frustrated by passwords and complicated log in processes.
When we think about the multitude of IAM tools, we find it helpful to break them down into "core capabilities" and "innovative capabilities". Generally, core capabilities are the IAM tools that you expect an enterprise IAM solution/strategy to have, while the innovative capabilities take IAM to the next level.
While no two solutions are the same, you will see some overlap in what they can do. This is because companies that provide these IAM solutions need to be using the best IAM tools in order to serve their customers. Again, it's helpful to know which tools will serve your business better and this starts by understanding what's out there:
Authentication: Ensure your users are who they say they are, without compromising their digital experience.
Authentication is one of the most fundamental functions of an IAM system. This capability requires that a user prove their identity when they want to access an app or system through a login process. Once the user provides their credentials—in the form of a username/password, fingerprint scan or other authentication method—the system uses that to verify that the user is who they claim to be and then allows the user access.
Single Sign-On: Provide secure one-click access to apps, anytime and anywhere.
Single sign-on is a IAM core capability that allows users to sign on to all of your applications and services via just one set of credentials, so they only have to log in once. Essentially, this means one-click access from any device for your employees and customers, reducing the need for them to manage separate accounts and passwords for each app. And, SSO just makes it easier for users to sign on altogether—an important feature they'll appreciate.
Multi-factor Authentication: Double-check that your users are who they say they are.
Multi-factor authentication or MFA requires your users to use at least two authentication methods in order to prove who they are with two pieces of evidence from three different categories: something you know, something you have and something you are. Typically, MFA adds additional security to a username/password, which as we know, can be easily hacked or stolen. The second (or third) factor could be a biometric, a code sent via SMS, a physical token or others.
Directory: Securely manage identity and profile data at scale.
With so many user accounts to manage, an important IAM tool to have is a directory. This directory should be a flexible and secure database for storing customer, employee and partner identities. It needs to keep sensitive data like passwords and personal identifiable information (PII) secure while still being flexible enough to store unstructured data and allow applications easy access.
Web/API Access: Enable secure access management for apps and APIs.
You can improve security by leveraging identity attributes and other contextual data to ensure authenticated users are authorized to access only the appropriate apps, resources and APIs. An IAM tool focused on access security can give you centralized management and enforcement of policies based on user and device context.
Identity Verification: Verify your customers during registration and beyond.
Identity verification is an IAM tool that essentially gets your users started on the right foot by confirming their identity claim with documentation as soon as they register or create an account with you. This requires them to use other verifying credentials—such as a selfie alongside an uploaded government document—which can be done right in their mobile device, amping up security and making it easy to verify themselves.
Dynamic Authorization: Centrally enforce contextual, fine-grained access policies.
Customers are initiating more transactions online and companies need to be able to stay competitive in this realm while ensuring that security is a top priority. This means you need to be able to manage data and service access in order to maintain strict control over what's accessed and by home, while keeping compliance and other regulatory realities top of mind. This can be achieved through dynamic authorization, which delivers fine-tuned access control to customer data based on consent.
Fraud Detection: Detect online fraud before transactions using behavioral data.
With more and more transactions happening online, fraudsters are finding ways to defraud businesses. You can stop them with advanced fraud detection that picks up on bots, account takeover and new account fraud. This IAM tool works behind the scenes to automatically detect fraud long before it happens without creating more headaches for genuine users.
Personal Identity: Let users control and share their own data.
Personal identity is an innovative IAM tool that gives privacy and data control back to individuals. Users can store verified information about themselves securely on their mobile device in a digital wallet and decide exactly what to share and with whom. This is important if you want to ensure your users can ultimately decide how their data is being used so you can leverage that data for business without concerns about compliance later on.
API Security: Use artificial intelligence to defend sensitive data and business systems.
API-first development approaches have become a priority for companies that want to accelerate internal processes and streamline partner relationships. Therefore, it's no surprise that the number of internal and external-facing APIs that companies are adopting has increased dramatically in recent years.
But, as convenient as APIs are, they can also present more vulnerabilities, thus requiring the companies who use them to have deep visibility into all API activity in order to determine good traffic from bad traffic on each API. API security tools use AI to defend traffic to APIs deployed across all gateways, clouds and application services, allowing companies to quickly detect and block threats, keeping businesses safe and users content.
Risk Management: Detect threats and make more intelligent authentication decisions.
Risk management is an IAM tool that can reduce login friction while thwarting bad actors from gaining access when integrated into your authentication flows and policies. It makes decisions based on various signals coming from a user, network, device and more and works by capturing characteristics of a user's session. These characteristics can include a user's device, what network they're signing on from and other aspects of their behavior to make those intelligent authentication decisions.
Now that you know what type of identity access management tools you should consider, how do you go about choosing a specific solution and/or strategy and how do you know which IAM vendor to go with?
The best approach is to interview potential IAM vendors by asking them a list of detailed questions and making sure they have answers. Not sure what to ask? Read about the top questions to ask before selecting an IAM vendor so you can make the right choice for your enterprise.