Understanding IAM Security

Written by Molly Murphy on November 29, 2021

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How secure are your enterprise’s user identities, really

Answering that question comes down to how airtight your identity and access management (IAM) strategy is. While the broader IAM term refers to how your company manages who has access to which devices, files, networks, and applications, IAM security is a bit more specific. The term refers to the policies and systems you have in place to mitigate identity-related risk. 

In an increasingly remote world, having a foolproof IAM security strategy is critical to keeping your enterprise assets safe, while giving employees the access they need to perform their jobs. The first step to forming that strategy is understanding what IAM security is, how to implement it, and why you need to.

What is IAM Security?

IAM security is a holistic term that includes all the policies, processes, systems, and applications you use to keep your company’s user identities safe from malicious intent or even an inadvertent compromise. While IAM is everything related to IT admins enabling users to securely and frictionlessly access their IT resources, IAM security refers to how you do this in the most low-risk way possible. 

You can think of IAM security as the moat between your enterprise castle and the users who come and go. If the users are properly screened, permissioned, and provisioned, the moat is just there as backup. But if everything goes wrong and cyber invaders try to storm the castle, it’s the final line of defense. It’s the added layer of security protecting your company’s most valuable assets from getting into the hands of the wrong people. 

IAM Security Benefits 

Simply put, while there are several huge benefits to implementing an IAM security strategy, you really can’t afford not to. A 2021 IBM report found that data breaches cost companies an average of $4.24 million per incident, and that stolen credentials were the most common cause. As managers of an organization’s user identities, this puts the pressure on IT to develop stringent IAM security policies to protect against these cyber attacks. 

More Protection with Less Hassle  

Implementing a modern IAM security solution gives your company the gold standard of protection, and the automations available means it’s less hassle to maintain, too. 

Expect beefed up security with one-way hashed and salted passwords, multi-factor authentication, password complexity settings, and SSH key management. All of these can significantly impact an organization’s security posture, and dramatically reduce the chances of an identity breach.

Increased Efficiency for IT Teams 

Today’s IAM security solutions are a lot easier for IT admins to manage than their legacy on-prem counterparts. When developing your security strategy, consider your team’s current availability and workloads. Many modern IAM platforms offer automated and remote management systems, freeing up your team for more complex tasks. 

IAM Security Best Practices 

While there’s no one way to tackle your IAM security strategy, there are a few tips and tricks that ensure your organization has the best security, while putting minimal strain on your IT team. The secret sauce is finding the right remote software, implementing a zero-trust security policy, and requiring your users to have multi-factor authentication enabled on their devices. 

Go Remote 

This may seem obvious, but if your current IAM security strategy isn’t cloud-based, that’s your first move. Remote access is not only vital to keep employees plugged in while working from home, but it also allows your IT teams to troubleshoot and manage security policies from anywhere. 

When IAM security systems reside on-prem, remote end users must mork off the VPN to accomplish anything. This puts extra burden on IT admins to maintain this vital system and ensure reliability and speed, which comes at the expense of other initiatives. High-volume support tickets like password change requests become even more difficult when VPN access is required, forcing IT support through additional steps to resolve the issue while the end user waits in frustration.

Taking your IAM security processes remote means easy access for your employees, and seamless, continuous monitoring for your IT admins. It’s a win-win. 

Implement Zero Trust 

The shift from on-prem staff and servers to a hybrid workplace model, where users may be logging in from a home WiFi, a public cafe, or anywhere else in the world, means your authentication security needs a revamp. To do this, we recommend Zero Trust security.

Instead of automatic authentication, Zero Trust dictates that, before a user or device receives access to any systems, applications, or networks, their identity must be verified through a trust model at every step. Just because someone has the right credentials doesn’t mean they are the person who is authorized to use them. 

To implement Zero Trust policies in your organization, find every opportunity to inject a verification step in the access transaction. Admins should still create strict, complex password requirements, but using conditional access policies that grant access only to managed devices on trusted or private networks, or layering multi-factor authentication over the authentication process, will go a long way to prevent malicious users from leveraging stolen credentials. 

Enable Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is one of the simplest and most effective ways to create a solid IAM security strategy. It automatically adds additional security to a user’s identity by requiring multiple credentials for verification. It typically involves entering your password or pin, plus one or more additional qualifications, like answering a security question, entering a code sent to another device, responding to a push notification from an authenticator app, or even providing a biometric signal like a fingerprint or retina scan.

MFA factors are designed to be things the user has, is, or does – separate from password information (which anyone could know). While passwords that appear in data leaks may be easy to enter, it’s significantly less likely that an attacker would know your password and have access to your cell phone to read a verification code, or be able to guess a rotating six-digit TOTP code, for example.

You may have heard of two-factor authentication. It’s the most common type of MFA, only requiring one additional verification factor after the password. While two-factor authentication is preferred by a lot of companies for its balance of security for the company and convenience for the user, you can set up as many required verification steps as you want for increased security. 

Choosing the Right IAM Security Solution

In today’s ever-evolving hybrid workplace, striking the right balance between privacy and protection is more critical than ever before. IT teams need to make remote access efficient and manageable, without compromising on IAM security. 

The best solution for top-notch protection is a cloud-based IAM management solution like JumpCloud. The platform lets IT admins seamlessly manage their entire IAM security strategy in one convenient location. 

If you’re interested in learning more, drop us a note. We’d love to chat about how you can leverage JumpCloud’s Identity-as-a-Service platform, or try it yourself by signing up for a free account. Your first 10 users and 10 systems are free. If you have any questions, access our in-app chat 24×7 during the first 10 days and a customer success engineer will be there to help.

Molly Murphy

Molly Murphy is a Senior Content Writer at JumpCloud. A self-professed nerd, she loves working on the cutting edge of the latest IT tech. When she's not in the [remote] office, Molly loves traveling, rescuing animals, and growing her all together unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter.

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