What Is Cloud Identity Management?

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on March 26, 2024

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As businesses embrace remote work and the transformation to the cloud, the need for robust identity management is key. But what exactly is cloud identity management, and why is it critical?

Essentially, cloud identity management orchestrates identity and access management (IAM) in cloud environments and supports the shifting of authentication and authorization processes to the cloud.

To help you navigate the cloud with confidence and ensure your organization’s security and efficiency, we’ll explore the significance of cloud identity management, its benefits, operational mechanisms, and essential features.

What Is Cloud Identity Management?

Cloud identity management describes how organizations implement IAM controls in cloud computing environments. It includes policies, processes, and tools that protect critical resources on the cloud.

The main purpose of cloud identity management is controlling access to cloud-based applications and data. It guarantees employees have access to the assets they need to carry out their work. It also improves security by preventing employees from accessing assets they don’t need.

Unlike traditional identity management systems, cloud identity management tools can process permissions across multiple environments and devices automatically. This makes it more flexible than most on-premises solutions, which require manual controls.

Why Is Cloud Identity Management Important?

As organizations move more workloads into the cloud, the number of users accessing cloud-based assets increases. Manually managing user permissions through a traditional IAM solution quickly becomes infeasible.

Security teams that do not have robust, automated identity management solutions have to manually grant and revoke permissions to cloud assets. This leads to one of two situations:

  1. Slow manual permissions processes lead to production bottlenecks, or;
  2. Fast manual permissions processes introduce security risks since there isn’t enough time for vetting users properly.

This can also get in the way of remote work. Employees who try to log into the company network from abroad may be shut out by traditional access management policies. Before they can start working, they must wait for someone to approve their connection.

Cloud identity management resolves these issues by providing a scalable, unified set of tools and processes for automating access control. It gives organizations a robust set of identity management solutions, allowing them to take advantage of the productivity and scalability benefits that cloud computing offers.

Benefits of Cloud Identity Management

Cloud identity management provides a number of features that traditional solutions lack, like continual authentication and context-aware access. 

These features combine to provide organizations with valuable benefits to operational security and day-to-day productivity, including:

  • Improved security and data protection. Cloud IAM offers superior security compared to traditional solutions. It monitors access across multiple platforms and mitigates insider threats by supporting role-based access.
  • Simplified user provisioning and deprovisioning. Instead of onboarding and offboarding users manually, cloud identity management solutions let organizations automate the process.
  • Enhanced user experience and productivity. Employees spend less time waiting for approvals, and managers spend less time reviewing access permissions.
  • Centralized access control and policy enforcement. Security teams have immediate visibility into access control and permissions profiles for every user in the organization.
  • Scalability to meet organizational needs. Cloud-based identity management solutions are designed to grow alongside the organization. There is no need to augment the system with additional investments in on-site equipment.

How Does Cloud Identity Management Work?

Cloud identity management works by establishing a standard set of protocols for managing user access permissions. These protocols work on a role-based framework, allowing the policies to follow employees across multiple devices and locations.

Some of the protocols involved include:

  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is a popular protocol for on-premises directories like Microsoft’s Active Directory. It is one of the oldest protocols in the industry.
  • Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an open-standard protocol often used for single sign-on (SSO) features, which allows users to share the same credentials across multiple applications.
  • System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM) provides a standardized user schema for provisioning users in cloud-based productivity apps like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, and more.
  • OAuth is an open-standards protocol that provides secure access for web applications and endpoint devices. Social media platforms, consumer services, and payment processes use OAuth.
  • OpenID is a decentralized protocol that can secure multiple websites and applications simultaneously. Since it started using public key encryption, it earned wide adoption as an authentication layer for OAuth.
  • RADIUS authenticates and authorizes remote network access. It runs on the application layer and can report on network activity. While originally conceived for dial-up and DSL internet providers, it is now commonly used in secure web forms, Wi-Fi controls, and VPNs.

Key Features of Cloud Identity Management

Not all cloud identity management tools produce the same results. The best solutions address obstacles to identity and access management security with the following features:

  • Automated user provisioning and deprovisioning. Manual provisioning and deprovisioning tasks can take up a great deal of time. This reduces the time and resources available for pursuing high-impact strategic initiatives.
  • Role-based access control and permission management. Mapping users, assets, and devices to employee roles simplifies data governance and access management significantly. This makes it easier for security teams to manage users according to their identity.
  • Password management and self-service capabilities. Your IAM solution must include methods for enforcing good password policies, and provide secure self-service options to users who forget their credentials.
  • Directory services integration and synchronization. Many organizations still use the same directory services they used when they had exclusively on-premises infrastructure. Your cloud identity management solution must integrate easily with services like Microsoft Active Directory. 
  • Audit and compliance reporting. Generating customized reports should be painless and easy. Otherwise, audits may catch you off guard and take valuable time and effort away from high-priority security tasks.

Best Practices for Cloud Identity Management

Full-featured cloud IAM solutions enable security teams to overcome some of the challenges associated with secure access management. Organizations that adopt a cloud identity management platform will want to:

  • Implement strong password policies and authentication mechanisms. Craft and enforce policies requiring passwords to contain letters, numbers, and punctuation symbols. Enable multi-factor authentication on every account that supports it.
  • Review access and privilege management policies regularly. Establish robust policies for reviewing access provisioning and deprovisioning. Critically examine user privilege escalations to protect the organization from malicious insiders.
  • Conduct user training and awareness programs. Policies only work when employees know how to follow them. Encourage users to reach out to the security team when they have questions about insider threats and security policies.
  • Continuous monitoring and threat detection. Integrate your cloud IAM solution with a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platform that can contextualize authentications and login events. Have analysts review this data and investigate unusual activities.
  • Compliance with industry regulations and standards. Establish cloud-based identity access management processes that are compliant with industry-standard best practices like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

Choosing the Right Cloud Identity Management Solution

Your cloud identity management solution must fit your organization’s specific security needs. These needs vary from one organization to another, so pay close attention to some of the ways cloud IAM solutions augment your unique security risk profile.

Some of the factors you should pay close attention to include:

  • Scalability and integration capabilities. Your organization will grow over time, and your security needs will grow right alongside it. Make sure your cloud IAM solution can continue to deliver value well into the future, when you have more users and a more complex IT environment.
  • Vendor reputation and support services. You may run into issues integrating your cloud identity management solution. Make sure you choose a vendor you can trust to deliver timely, valuable support when you need it most.
  • Cost-effectiveness and return on investment. Your cloud identity management processes should ultimately improve the organization’s bottom line. Identify the relevant metrics and make sure your cloud IAM solution enables you to report this data and communicate it to stakeholders.

Get Started With JumpCloud

Deploying a cloud identity management solution helps streamline the process of securing increasingly distributed enterprise workflows. The right cloud IAM platform helps you improve insider risk management with automation and ready-made compliance solutions. 

A modern cloud identity management solution like the JumpCloud Directory Platform empowers you to:

  • Securely connect employees to their devices (systems, mobile, servers), IT applications (on-prem or the cloud), files (cloud hosted or on-prem) and networks via VPN or Wi-Fi
  • Leverage best in class security using Zero Trust principles
  • Limit management overhead and improve security and user manageability 
  • Connect your cloud servers (hosted at AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, or elsewhere) to your existing AD or LDAP user store
  • Comprehensively manage Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android endpoints regardless of location
  • Connect users to applications that leverage either LDAP or SAML-based authentication
  • Manage user access to VPN and Wi-Fi networks securely through a cloud RADIUS service
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) everywhere

All of these capabilities (and more) create a platform that connects users to virtually all of their IT resources regardless of provider, platform, protocol, or location, while also enabling admins to automate the onboarding and offboarding process and gain detailed visibility into all access transactions.

Try JumpCloud for free and find out how you can leverage modern cloud-native identity management technology to secure access across multiple cloud platforms and manage IAM efficiently.

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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