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Introduction to Identity Management and why it is crucial to protect your digital identity in 2021

Published: July 21, 2021 By Nihad Hassan

Identity management – how to prove that me is I am

Image Source – freepik.com

Have you ever think that your digital identity will be protected by a third party in 2021?

The recent attacks on the supply chain of IT service providers prove that we as humans are still the weakest part of our identity protection from theft or misuse, but we can expect an expansion of Identity authentication services already.

 

Why IAS become increasingly important?

Since the start of the COVID19 disease, identity and access management have become more critical. Enterprises worldwide were forced to adopt the work-from-home model to continue working during the general lockdown; the massive shift of the workforce to become remote has increased cyber threats against users' credentials.

On the other hand, the digital transformation which accelerated during the pandemic has boosted the importance of identity management.

According to Mckinsey Global Survey of executives published recently in 2020, digital transformation was accelerated for global organizations by several years in just a few months. The rapid adoption of digital technologies has led to a significant increase in IT systems to facilitate work automation, and such systems must be protected using proper IAS (identity authentification service) solutions.

IAS solutions help IT administrators solve the problem of using weak passwords and repeating them frequently by employees.

The average internet user has more than 100 passwords; according to NordPass.

Remembering all these passwords is a daunting task and is impossible for most people. This fosters weak security practices among employees, like using the same password for more than one account and storing passwords in email messages or on a sticky note, making them vulnerable to different threats like phishing and social engineering attacks.

IAS helps IT admins avoid this problem by

  • tracking users' password changes
  • enforcing various security policies regarding frequent password change
  • enforcing specific requirements for password complexity
  • strong authentication.

In addition to implementing various IT security policies that govern all aspects related to user logins, access rights and prepare compliance reports for different regulatory bodies.

IAS helps IT admin limit insider threats by clearly defining user access rights, preventing privilege escalation, and making it easy to detect any violation to implemented security policies.

The most apparent benefit of IAS is enhancing the overall security of the system. For instance, digital transformation has resulted in expanding organizations' supply chains networks worldwide.

Nowadays, third-party contractors, sub-contractors, co-manufacturers, and suppliers need remote access to some parts of the organization network. By utilizing an IAS solution, IT admin can accurately define third-party access rights and revoke access when needed quickly and efficiently from all system parts.

The rise of compliance regulations worldwide such as GDPR, HIPPA, and PCI DSS has imposed rigid restrictions on organizations to strictly limit and govern access to sensitive information such as patients, financial, and Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

IAS solutions can achieve all these functions regarding access management, making it an excellent enabler for meeting the various regulatory requirements imposed by different regulations.

Now that we have a fair understanding of the IAS concept and its role in enhancing the overall cybersecurity of an organization IT system.

It's time to discuss why it has become too important to protect your digital identity from the ever-increasing number of cyberattacks emerging every day.


Introduction to Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Identity management (IdM), also known as Identity and Access Management (IAM), is essential to secure today's information systems and IT infrastructure.

  • IdM uses different technologies, Security policies, and processes to secure access to enterprises networks and other protected resources such as stored data.
  • IAM guarantee only authorized persons and systems have access to protected resources based on their identities.
  • IAM is not concerned with governing access to protected resources only. It also encompasses other functions such as authorization, which defines the specific roles or locations within the system each user or system can access.

Most people refer to the terms "Authentication", "Authorization," and "Identity Management" interchangeably; however, this is not accurate, as each one refers to an entirely different security process.

For instance, the term IdM encompasses two functions underneath: Authentication and Authorization.

Authentication comes first; it authenticates users and verifies who they claim they are. The most popular type of authentication is passwords.

In password-only systems, a user provides his username and associated password to gain access. Recent data breaches show that passwords-only authentication systems are not secure enough.

According to the Verizon data breach report released in 2020, 80% of hacking-related breaches are linked to passwords; however, despite this fact, we still find high-profile enterprises still protect their most critical systems using a single password. For example, attackers needed only to steal one password to launch their successful attack against the Colonial Pipeline company that took place in April 2021, which resulted in disrupting fuel supplies to the entire U.S. Southeast.

To mitigate password-only systems risks, more advanced authentications techniques were invented:

  • Passwordless authentication, in this type, the authentication mechanism authenticates the user without giving a password.

Examples of such systems are: One-time password (OTP) sent a user email address or phone number, and Magic Links, similar to those implemented by Slack, where a user provides their email, and the authentication system prepare a token sent via the email address that allows a user to sign in without providing a strong password.

Slack's Magic Link works by sending a link via email to the registered user to sign into Slack workspace without entering a password

Image Source – slack.com

  • Biometric authentication: In such a scheme, a user's biometric information is provided to gain access to the protected system.

    Biometric is the most robust authentication system as spoofing users' biometric info is near impossible to achieve. Examples of user biometric information include Fingerprint and eye scans, facial and voice identification. But it should be noted that number of deepfake cases increased in 2021 dramatically.
     

  • Two-Factor (2FA) or Multi-Factor authentication (MFA), in this method, a user needs to provide more than one authentication factor to access the system. For example, providing a password and a one-time password sent to the user's phone number via an SMS message. Robust MFA systems employ biometric as one of their authentications factors.
     
  • Single sign-on (SSO), in this scheme, one credential is used to provide access to multiple resources within a network. For example, in an enterprise environment, a user can use a single credential to access many applications and services across the network.
     
  • Social authentication, in such a scheme, a user uses his credential on some social media platforms to sign in. For example, the Medium website allows users to sign into its platform using Facebook, Twitter, Apple or Google (see Figure 2).

Medium allows users to sign in using different social media platforms services

 Image Source – slack.com

Authorization happens after a user gets authenticated against the authentication system; it determines user access level when navigating the network or accesses some protected resources such as data, files, databases, programs, or other network services.

For example, user A from the HR department may not have access to the fund database, while user B in the accounting department can access such a database. Authorization is responsible for assigning access privileges for all users registered in the system.


Conclusion

As data breaches continue to increase steadily, the importance of utilizing a comprehensive solution to manage passwords and govern users' access privileges to sensitive resources becomes critical. This article shed light on the concept of identity management and discussed its primary functions, which are: Authentication and authorization. Finally, we concluded that keeping your personal information becomes essential in today's digital age to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

Tags: 
Security
Author
Nihad Hassan
Nihad is an experienced cybersecurity specialist with more than ten years of proven expertise in different cybersecurity domains.

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