Step by step toward an IAM solution

January 2009 Cyber Security

Today, businesses and government agencies not only process data internally, they need to exchange data with external partners as well. To do so they must open their IT systems to customers and partners. This, of course, increases the risk that data could fall into the wrong hands.

Mike Small, principal consultant security management, CA
Mike Small, principal consultant security management, CA

A well-functioning identity and access management (IAM) system is at the heart of every IT security solution. It identifies users working with the IT systems, controls their access rights for processing data and utilising resources, and it prevents that access. Further an IAM system documents exactly what access rights a user has and who approved them as well as tracking what a user does when and with what result. Thus the company can always trace what happened even in the worst-case scenario.

Implementing a complete IAM solution can be a lengthy and complex project. Therefore it is advisable to take an incremental approach because this will reduce project risk and realise the fastest return on investment. It makes sense to begin with processes that will offer the greatest benefit or with those that pose the highest security risk.

As a guide, a typical step by step implementation of a comprehensive IAM solution would start with basic password management and finally arrive at a sophisticated, federated identity and access management solution.

Step 1: Managing User Credentials. Problems with passwords account for a large proportion of help-desk issues and support costs. A password management system enables the centralised management of user accounts.

Step 2: Basic Identity Management. This automates the new hire process for granting access to systems and resources is driven from the HR function and includes approval processes defined by the chief information/security officer. It also ensures that when employees leave the organisation their access rights are removed.

Step 3: Role-Based Management. Here there are clear definitions of what access rights users performing different roles are entitled to. The identity and access management system automatically synchronises changes in entitlements as users’ responsibilities and roles change.

Step 4: Federated Identity Management. Here identity management extends beyond internal IT systems to cover employee access to both IT and non-IT resources and for partner access via federated trust.

Finally, remember, developing an IAM strategy needs to be centred around the business first and the technology second. The implementation of an IAM solution set should be viewed as a step-by-step project. Adopting an approach based on best practices aligned with business needs will prove to be the most effective.

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