The Complete Guide to Identity and Access Management (IAM)

The Complete Guide to Identity and Access Management (IAM)

With the rising trend of digitization, major companies like Airbnb, Microsoft and Twitter are staying out of the office, moving processes online and allowing employees the option to work from home. Organizations are adopting remote and hybrid working models. As a result, many people are spending more than double the amount of time online as they did pre-pandemic. 

However, according to a report by Kaspersky, 73% of workers have not received any IT security awareness training from their employer since they transitioned to working from home. It is important that companies implement identity and access management solutions to make the transition from on-prem to remote work easier for employees and help protect team members’ digital identities.

What Is Identity and Access Management?

Identity and access management (IAM) is a framework of policies and business processes to ensure that authorized users have the necessary access to the technology resources they need to perform their jobs. IT and security administrators use IAM solutions to administer user identities and control access to enterprise resources, particularly sensitive organizational systems and data.

How Does Identity and Access Management Work?

IAM works through the implementation of policies and processes aimed to restrict access to users based on the principle of least privilege (PoLP). The idea is that any user or program should have the minimum privileges necessary to do their job, and no more. 

Restricting users’ access results in enhanced security. Admins limit team members to only the bare minimum privileges. As a result, any cyberattackers that get a hold of a user’s login details are also limited to what the breached account has access to.

Why Does Your Business Need IAM Software?

IAM solutions enhance security, support compliance efforts and optimize employee productivity. 

1. Enhanced Security

Identity and access management solutions strengthen an organization’s security across the data environment by making it more difficult for threat actors to compromise employee credentials. Additionally, even if a threat actor manages to compromise a set of working credentials, IAM solutions make it more difficult or even impossible to use them; for example, if multi-factor authentication (MFA) is enabled, a stolen password is useless without the additional authentication factor(s). IAM solutions also make it more difficult for threat actors to escalate privileges within a compromised system. 

2. Optimized Productivity 

IAM tools help optimize productivity by making it simpler for employees to access the resources they need to do their jobs. For example, enabling single sign-on (SSO) for your entire network frees employees from having to re-enter their login credentials every time they need to access an application or system. Additionally, SSO minimizes help desk tickets for resetting lost passwords, freeing up IT administrators and staff to focus on projects that drive the business.

3. Supports Compliance

IAM supports compliance efforts by allowing organizations to demonstrate that only authorized personnel can access sensitive data. Identity Management Compliance require documentation for audit. This means that if your organization happens to be audited, having a strong and solid IAM program in place can demonstrate that order is in place to help to mitigate any risk of misuse or theft of sensitive data. An example of this would be HIPAA compliance. 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of standards to protect patients’ sensitive information from being shared without the patient’s consent or knowledge. Organizations that deal patients’ information must have security measures in place and follow them to ensure HIPAA compliance. HIPAA compliance ensures that the patients’ information is only available to those who have access to it. 

Choosing the Right IAM Solution

Organizations looking to build out their identity and access management strategy have several solutions to consider. Examples of popular IAM tools include single sign-on (SSO), privileged access management and enterprise password management (EPM). Let’s take a closer look at these tools.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

Single sign-on is an authentication and authorization solution that allows users to log into multiple systems and applications with a single ID.

A common example of SSO in action is when a user can log into a third-party website using their Google, Twitter or Facebook credentials. 

One of the main advantages of SSO is convenience. Users aren’t required to memorize different usernames and passwords. However, not all sites and apps support SSO, and that’s where a password manager can come in handy. Similar to SSO, password managers require users to memorize only one master password, which is used to access  a digital password vault containing all of the user’s other passwords. We’ll talk about password managers in more detail below.

Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Privileged access management (PAM) provides control over elevated (“privileged”) access and permissions for users, accounts and systems across an IT environment. PAM is used to restrict and monitor access to an organization’s most sensitive information and systems. 

While SSO focuses on general user access, PAM is more concerned about permissions, role-based access control (RBAC) and other tools to prevent the misuse of high-level credentials. ​​

Note that PAM should not be confused with privileged session management (PSM), which focuses on monitoring, recording and controlling privileged sessions. While PAM is about access control, PSM covers the time during which privileged access is granted to an account, service or process.

Enterprise Password Management (EPM)

Enterprise password management refers to the secure storage of credentials for organizational accounts, services, systems, applications and more. An enterprise password manager helps businesses monitor employee password usage, set role-based access controls,  reset and update passwords, and manage shared accounts.

Creating an Identity and Access Management Strategy for Your Business

In 2021, ForgeRock and Google Cloud commissioned a Forrester Consulting study to understand global security professionals’ challenges with their IAM strategies. According to IAM for the Hybrid Enterprise, over 80% of respondents have already adopted or plan to adopt/expand their cloud-based IAM initiatives in the next two years. 

Businesses do not have to choose one solution over the other, and in fact, they should not. A comprehensive IAM strategy combines SSO with PAM, an EPM solution and additional tools, such as MFA: 

  • SSO should include multi-factor authentication for maximum protection against credential theft, as well as RBAC to prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive resources. 
  • PAM solutions should include granular permissions.
  • EPMs should offer additional protection, such as dark web monitoring or secrets management

Keeper is an enterprise password management tool that provides all of these security features and more.

To read more about SSO, PAM and EPM and which identity and access management software is best for your business, download Keeper’s white paper.

Make Password Security a Critical Part of Your IAM Strategy

Breaches containing usernames and passwords increased 450% in 2020, totaling 1.48 billion breached records, according to the 2021 ForgeRock Consumer Breach Report. The report states that the United States is the costliest place to recover from a breach, with the average price of remediating data breach in the U.S. increasing 5.5% to $8.64 million.

Investing time and resources into IAM strategies can prevent data breaches in the future. 

Keeper can play a leading role in your company’s identity and access management strategy. Our platform enables a zero-trust environment and zero-knowledge security architecture. 

We also have Keeper SSO Connect, a cloud-based Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) 2.0 service that seamlessly integrates with existing SSO and passwordless solutions. Our admin console offers role-based access controls so that IT and security administrators can delegate access to appropriate team members.

To learn more about how Keeper plays a critical role in IAM strategy, read our previous article, How Keeper Overcomes IAM Challenges in Multi-Cloud & Hybrid Environments.

Get Started with Identity and Access Management with Keeper 

Protect your business and employees by building out your IAM strategy today. Keeper’s password management platform and additional products can protect your business from cyberattackers and strengthen your security posture. 

Reach out to a Keeper team member to request a features demo.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between identity management and access management?

Identity management focuses on managing the attributes of a user while access management focuses on controlling access to a user based on their attributes. For example, a team member can have attributes based around their department, role and duties. For example, a copywriter (identity) is a part of the editorial team. Based on this role, copywriters have access to editorial drives but cannot access payroll information, since this information is not needed to do their job.

Identity and access management ensures that only authorized users can access systems, applications, and data.

How can my business get started with IAM?

There are many IAM solutions available. Before diving into the first option available, take these steps to get started with IAM:

  1. Audit your business. Determine your organization’s audience and priorities. Focusing on how your company operates will help IT managers identify the best solutions for their team. 
  2. Determine the organization’s pain points. Find out which areas are struggling, and brainstorm ways to solve problems.
  3. Standardize processes. Employees may be using multiple applications for their roles. Assess what is necessary, and adjust strategies accordingly. Deploying an EPM solution like Keeper can standardize password management practices across all teams, improving both security and compliance.

Is PAM the same as IAM?

Some people may use identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management (PAM) interchangeably. However, these concepts focus on different areas within an organization. 

  • Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of policies and technologies that focuses on controlling users’ access to applications and information within the organization.
  • Privileged Access Management (PAM) is a subset of IAM that focuses on protecting privileged accounts. Privileged accounts are provided only to a small number of users who require access to backend systems, databases and confidential information.

IAM focuses on authorizing users who need access to general systems and data. PAM limits access rights to highly sensitive systems and data.

What are PAM tools? 

Privileged access management tools are solutions that help organizations provide secure privileged access to sensitive systems and data by limiting access to team members who need it. Examples of a PAM tool would be Keeper Secrets Manager and Keeper Connection Manager