Most enterprises today run hybrid IT environments. They store some data and applications locally in the data center and run others in multiple clouds, and their employees use both managed and unmanaged devices over various networks. With such complexity — and so much at stake — identity and access management (IAM) is more important than ever.
But relying on disparate IAM systems creates identity silos and with them a multitude of problems. Identity silos prevent sufficient IT visibility into all the apps and systems in operation and open the door to shadow IT. Silos create inefficiencies, redundancies, and, worst of all, the possibility of damaging and costly breaches.
Enterprises need a robust and unified IAM platform that enables them to secure every identity and manage access privileges centrally. This is particularly true in light of the fact that identities remain the prime target of cyberattacks. With a single compromised identity, entire networks can be infiltrated and sensitive data can be exposed, stolen, or held for ransom.
What are identity silos?
Siloed identity and access management (IAM) happens when people use different systems that cannot properly communicate with one another. Siloed IAM's symptoms include inconsistent access controls, limited visibility, and manual storage provisioning.
Identity silos are common given how many different programs companies will utilize. Siloing leaves identities fragmented across the platforms people use, without any standard for access rights or user permissions. This fragmentation creates the perfect environment for social engineering and other potentially harmful situations.
The causes of identity silos
Identity silos are sometimes caused by employees using programs without informing IT. In other cases, they occur simply because an IT department doesn't request visibility into the systems people use.
Here are a few other causes of identity siloing:
- Mergers and acquisitions: A company that merges with another company will often inherit disparate systems. These systems have their own identities, user licenses, and access permissions.
- Departmental independence: In many cases, company departments operate independently. These conditions can naturally lead to identity silos over time, particularly when people in different departments begin using the same platform.
- Legacy systems: IT departments often face challenges when securing older systems. These challenges often prevent IT departments from fully unifying user identities across different systems.
Many companies are already taking steps to control identity silos and prevent future occurrences. These steps begin with an IAM strategy, one that helps identify where a company's disparate identities come from.
Identifying and understanding your identity silos
An IAM assessment can provide valuable information for identifying and solving identity problems across the company. Here are a few steps companies should take to fully understand their identity silos:
- Complete a comprehensive IAM assessment
- Identify identity silos by performing network audits and interviewing employees to create a comprehensive list of programs and access rights
- Diagnose root causes for identity problems by analyzing the history of your company's technology usage habits
- Implement a restorative IAM policy that educates all employees on proper technology usage and compliance strategies
Understanding identity silos helps educate employees and prevent dissociated identities. It also helps centralize departments' efforts to improve efficiency, since each department will be unified with the same programs and usage rights.
The impacts of identity silos on companies
Identity silos represent fragments in your company's strategy. They leave your organization vulnerable to wasted company resources, miscommunication, and serious security concerns.
Wastes company resources
Enterprise software almost invariably requires user authentication, but fragmented identity management creates a range of problems. For example, access rights should be terminated when an employee leaves a company. But without centralized management, that license could remain active and cost the company money. Furthermore, former employees may retain access to sensitive company information.
Limits the view of company data
Identity silos can limit IT's perspective on enterprise-wide information. For example, legacy systems in a domain controller, cloud application, or business unit often do not share information. This makes it challenging to understand who can access certain data points and sources.
This situation is common for companies that only partially migrate their data to the cloud. While one department might store files on local servers, another might store data in a public or private cloud. Because neither department has access to the other's files, they are limited in their ability to use information effectively. This can also lead to trouble with breach vector identification, both in disaster recovery planning and in the event of an actual breach.
Reduces cost efficiency
While siloed IAM can improve operational efficiency by consolidating disparate systems, it can be expensive to keep more specialists on staff to manage identities for different systems.
In some cases, departments like HR, sales, and marketing set up their own user profiles, access permissions, and rights without oversight from IT. For example, a sales representative who needs access to payroll information must request it from HR. HR will often require a complicated, time-consuming data request process before they provide access.
Raises security concerns
Perhaps most importantly, identity silos can leave companies vulnerable to security threats. Isolated permissions make it more difficult for IT to reserve access only for authorized users.
Siloed IAM can also delay a company's response to a data breach. Companies sometimes require time to sort out access permissions and identify the source of an issue. This delay creates a window of opportunity for hackers to steal identities and further compromise a network.
How to dissolve your company's identity silos
A comprehensive IAM roadmap is a great first step in dissolving your company's identity silos. This means identifying silos, understanding where they come from, and taking steps to eliminate them. It involves changing how access permissions are managed across your organization. You might also consider automated solutions that make it easier to protect users and platforms.
Change management should be a primary phase of your IAM roadmap. It means ensuring proper guidance, implementation, and resolution of projects that ensure all access permissions are centralized and appropriately transparent.
Change management also ensures that the right digital assets are protected while others are cleaned up and purged. Protecting digital assets is a difficult undertaking, especially for established organizations with large data libraries. Indeed, the process of dissolving identity siloes and preserving the right information is not dissimilar to protecting digital data following a business split-up. This is a multi-step process that typically involves:
- Performing a data inventory check
- Developing a plan to transfer data to more secure, compliant programs
- Coordinating with the management team to ensure you share the same security strategies and priorities
- Encrypting or re-encrypting sensitive information
- Monitoring data before, during, and after the transfer process
These steps help companies of all sizes end identity silos and maintain security as leadership responsibilities change hands.
Data-sharing strategies can also help your organization dissolve identity silos. These solutions streamline the data-sharing process, upholding security while making it easier for employees to access the right programs and information.
Here are some data-sharing solutions that can help:
- Identity federation: This solution links your identities across several disparate systems. It gives multiple employees, even multiple companies, the ability to access programs with a single login credential.
- Single sign-on (SSO): SSO allows employees to log into multiple programs or platforms with a single username and password.
The right solutions promote data-sharing and give the right people access to the right files. They also prevent unauthorized permissions and create centralized management for all identities.
Implementing automated solutions
Automation can go a long way in streamlining the IAM process and preventing silos. It helps improve efficiency across employees while reducing the possibility of error. The same automation solutions can also provide proactive security that monitors for cyberthreats.
Automated identity governance, for example, enables IT admins to see who has access to what, enterprise-wide, and eliminate over-provisioning by automating access approvals and reviews. It also allows them to collect and analyze identity data and identify access blind spots.
In addition, AI-driven threat protection automatically monitors login requests in real time, blocking malicious attempts and adding authentication steps when it detects anomalous behaviors.
And a comprehensive, scalable IAM platform unifies and centralizes identity across the enterprise, including on-prem, multi-cloud, or hybrid. It also covers all users – workforce, customers, and machine identities – to end silos and create a more unified and secure organization.