Organizations have invested considerably in their digital transformation initiatives. Analyst firms estimate hundreds of millions have been earmarked in recent years to move to cloud computing, digitize business processes, and improve customer experiences to stay competitive and relevant. It makes sense, after all, by leveraging digital technologies, companies can improve efficiency, increase agility, and enhance customer outcomes. When done correctly, digital transformation can also lead to cost savings, revenue growth, and new business opportunities.
But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch, isn’t there? This digital transformation has made identity management even more challenging than the arduous task it was already. More users need access to many applications and resources, but there’s also been an exponential growth in machine identities. Also known as RPAs (robotic process automations), non-human users, or bots, these systems automate repetitive and rule-based tasks. Often, these non-human users need high levels of access because they essentially serve as service accounts.
Common identity management challenges among customers
Of course, this has all worked to make managing identities in organizations even more complex. One of the specific challenges we see within our customers is their struggle to centralize or delegate access their identity management systems and applications. That’s because each cloud service typically has its user repository to manage authorized users and their access levels.
Further, identity managers are trying to centralize their efforts in ever-increasingly complex environments. These environments include existing on-premises systems, cloud systems, cloud services, and cloud infrastructures. These trends have also changed the very nature of digital identities.
One way digital identities have changed dramatically is the blurred boundary between privileged and non-privileged access. Cloud services and third-party applications often require elevated permissions, permissions that are privileged. Also, as organizations implement new IT models and technologies such as DevOps and microservice architectures, the need to finely manage access rights increases because so-called non-privileged accounts need higher access levels under certain conditions.
As a result, many organizations find that they have fallen substantially behind when it comes to managing their identities. This leaves them vulnerable to attacks, including ransomware attacks and falling out of regulatory compliance.
The capabilities organizations seek in meeting the identity challenge
To better manage these modern identity management challenges, many customers are looking for the following capabilities:
- Centrally manage access and identity governance.
- Ways to simplify access to their applications while protecting their users, applications, and data with multi-factor authentication.
- Provide access based on existing identities managed by external parties, such as partners, sister companies, or email providers.
- Better protect identities and credentials by securing and controlling access through identity vaults.
- Improve their identity management (joiner, mover, leaver) lifecycle.
- Improve IoT device access controls and better manage their credentials.
- Manage the access to containers and APIs through the use of tokens.
How identity management vendors are responding to market needs
Fortunately, identity and access management vendors have seen the challenges in the marketplace themselves and are starting to integrate new features and functionalities into their products.
- We see more identity tools and service providers begin to converge identity governance into their offerings. This occurs in traditional access management vendors, PAM, privileged access management vendors, and both internal and external identity providers. For instance, unifying access management across the entire organization is essential as the boundary between privileged and non-privileged access becomes increasingly blurred.
- Additionally, by incorporating identity governance features into their products, corporations can follow well-defined playbooks for onboarding, managing, and offboarding accounts and their access to applications. That means if a company has an employee needing access, these workflows can now be streamlined and optimized to provide rapid and secure access compliant to regulatory mandates.
Identity vendors are also integrating AI to improve their user behavioral analytics (UBA) so that the system would understand baseline user behavioral access patterns and better protect their assets. Broadly, UBA capabilities recognize ordinary user patterns for access to protect data and assets better. Instead of applying rules as defined by an administrator, the AI analyzes identity and access patterns like TikTok would recognize a specific user’s pattern. That means it’s a pattern tailored to the user’s activities and only the user’s activities rather than the entire population of at-large users.
AI is also improving the creation of user access policies to understand how people use their systems and applications over time. This helps make for creating better user access policies.
How organizations are optimizing their identity management efforts
It’s not just tools that are becoming centralized. Customers I’m speaking with also see the advantages of building dedicated identity teams rather than trying to spread identity tasks across multiple job roles. Organizations have recognized needing a dedicated team focused on identity management instead of repurposing their Windows administrator or someone else on that team.
When identity management is everyone’s job, tasks simply slip at best. At worst, identity management becomes no one’s job and doesn’t get done.
There are many benefits associated with a dedicated identity management team. The dedicated team centralizes and standardizes identity management. This ensures consistency and accuracy across the organization. This is important when dealing with large volumes of users, vendors, applications, access rights and management tasks.
A dedicated team also brings specialized expertise, including current best practices, regulatory mandates, and emerging industry trends. Finally, the employees tasked to be part-time identity managers can now focus on their primary jobs.
The identity management challenge is steep, and the growth of hybrid environments, digital transformation, and machine identities isn’t making these challenges any easier. Organizations had to move so quickly to the cloud and with their digital transformation efforts that their identity management programs couldn’t keep up. Now, many organizations face a backlog of work just to get identities to where they need to be.
The good news is that organizations that leverage the integrated capabilities within identity management tools and build dedicated identity teams will succeed in their identity management programs. This will not only help organizations to maintain regulatory compliance and improve security but also help them to better execute on their digital transformation goals.
This blog was written by Leo Magallon, Senior Security Consultant at Set Solutions