Enforcing strict Identity and Access Management (IAM) protocols can be complex. But is it worth all that effort? And is IAM enough to secure access across the enterprise?

Let's explore how IAM is applied in the industry today to see if it is putting enterprise data security at risk.

security and convenience: the IAM balancing game
Security and convenience: the IAM balancing game

Security and Convenience: The IAM Balancing Game

IAM is a balancing act. IAM's primary objective is to protect data from being accessed by the wrong people.

But if you put in place too strict of an IAM system, you slow down the productivity of users. Then, they can not get to the data they need when they need it.

Ultimately, it becomes a seesaw the IT department has to balance. How much convenience are you willing to sacrifice for better security? And vice versa, how much security are you willing to give up for more convenience?

In an enterprise IT environment, this often leads to cutting corners. Because there are so many employees, and they are inside the firewall, they are given higher levels of trust than they should receive. This leads to incorrect resource access permissions.

Plus, once they get that level of access, there are few (if any) measures in place to prevent misuse or re-validate permissions.

As all IT professionals know, it takes only one mistake to expose sensitive data. It is this fear that drives IT teams to focus on shutting down the security perimeter to keep out bad actors. While securing the perimeter is important, it is easy to lose sight of threats that can come from within the firewall.

Extending access to someone who should not have it can be the mistake that puts the entire enterprise at risk.

Layering in Privileged Access Can Enhance IAM

As you can see, implementing an IAM solution alone often is not enough to secure access to all of the enterprise resources / applications. There is too much room for error, resulting in too many people receiving the wrong level of access. However, IAM can be integrated with Privileged Identity Management (PIM), also known as Privileged Access Management (PAM), for more comprehensive results.

IAM by itself allows IT to control who can access what. PIM/PAM, when combined with IAM, allows IT to finely control the appropriate level of that access. They can then decide whether the related activities are appropriate for the user.

That said, layering in and integrating PIM/PAM with IAM is complex. The maturity of the programs will dictate how well they communicate with one another. The better that communication, the finer the IT team will be able to control accounts and access levels.

While an integrated IAM and PIM/PAM solution can provide a more holistic level of protection, is it enough? Or is there an alternative method that can better secure access for the enterprise?

Stop trusting everyone
Stop trusting everyone

Stop Trusting Everyone

The core issue with IAM boils down to trust. IAM validates user identity and grants access if the user is "trusted." But, too much trust is often given to everyone within the firewall (i.e., enterprise employees).

A better approach is to build a security foundation on no trust. By not trusting anyone, you can encapsulate the entire data path from end to end.

This security method is known as the zero trust model. Zero trust security focuses on where the threat is most likely to occur: the end-user. But, interestingly, it is not limited to the user identity, like IAM.

According to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the objective of zero trust network architecture is to minimise uncertainty in enforcing accurate access decisions in information systems. In a zero trust network, trust is never granted implicitly, and it is continually evaluated.

This makes for an interesting comparison to IAM because once a user is granted access at a certain permission level, they can move laterally within the network. Since IAM does not re-validate permission levels, users can easily abuse or deliberately misuse the freedom of that lateral movement. This is a common insider threat vector many enterprises are forced to deal with.

You might think your secure remote access requirements are enough to protect your organisation, but with a zero trust model, you can implement even more granular access rules to defend your data.

Enforce Access Decisions With a Zero Trust Model

A zero trust solution makes it easier for an enterprise IT team to continuously monitor user behaviour and activity on the network. This allows IT to adapt authentication requirements individually, based on the behaviour or activity they see. For example, if a user is seen acting inappropriately, they will receive another authentication prompt.

The zero trust model also puts less of a security burden on the user. Instead of forcing them to remember difficult, complex passwords, they can conduct the authentication process through a single system. With easier-to-use authorisation processes for both people and devices, the IT team will not feel pressured to give certain users more access than they need.

Users can stay productive while getting the data they need when they need it. And IT can have peace of mind, knowing that resources are protected and insider threats are minimised.

That said, the zero trust model requires holistic information security and resiliency practices to prove effective. IAM is only a piece of the whole—it must be combined with continuous monitoring and clearly defined security policies and guidance. The tenements and principles of zero trust must either be weaved into the enterprise infrastructure from the start or incrementally introduced over time.

Discover How to Secure Access Across Your Enterprise

While IAM alone is not enough to protect your enterprise, it is a step in the right direction, especially when combined with PIM/PAM. But if you are looking for more comprehensive data protection, you may want to consider the benefits of zero trust network access.

The road to achieving more secure access in the enterprise is long, winding and complex. If you would like more advice or information on the subject, do not hesitate to reach out or contact us at Oxortis.