What is Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

Identity and access management (IAM) is used by organizations to manage digital identities and prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data. IAM solutions give companies the ability to commission and decommission user profiles and provide each profile a customized level of access to digital corporate infrastructure.

Cybersecurity is fast becoming a critical business consideration for many modern organizations. With enterprises rapidly embracing digital transformation and hybrid work models, it’s crucial for companies to limit, authorize, and authenticate access to digital assets. IAM solutions allow organizations to manage access across applications, databases, and cloud services by building on a zero trust architecture to provide and revoke access to specific user profiles.

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What are the common components of identity and access management?

IAM solutions have a suite of features to identify, authenticate, and authorize access to company assets such as laptops and databases. Several key technologies enable organizations to do this effectively: multi-factor authentication, and privileged access management, adaptive authentication, and single sign-on. Modern IAM providers embed these technologies in existing or bespoke cybersecurity solutions depending on the specific needs of the client. 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA): This component of IAM requires individual users to authenticate themselves using more than one method. While most employees have login user credentials to gain access rights to company systems, MFA requires users to go through additional authentication after inputting a password. This additional authentication can come in the form of biometric authentication or a security token. 

Privileged access management (PAM): This system uses existing employee databases with a defined set of access policies based on profile types. Once job roles are defined and the security protocols for each are decided, this system uses those rules to provide access to corporate systems for users with the appropriate profile type. 

Adaptive Authentication: This component continuously monitors user access at the application level based on real-time factors such as geolocation, device posture, risk profiles, and more, and is able to react in real-time to different triggered conditions.

Single sign-on (SSO): This login system grants access to services, systems, data, and applications once the user profile has been authenticated a single time, without requiring the user to log in to each of those systems individually.

Identity access management vs privileged access management (IAM vs PAM)

There is some confusion about the perceived overlap between IAM and PAM. IAM refers to a general security system that manages access to all company assets, including but not limited to devices, databases, applications, and systems. 

PAM is a subset of IAM, referring to providing access to a group of users who need an elevated level of permissions to conduct daily business activities. Groups such as HR or legal teams might need greater access privileges to certain files and documents. PAM allows companies to set up specific rules that allow users with specific profiles to receive that access without having to go through additional security hoops on a regular basis. 

What’s the difference between an identity provider (IDP) and an identity broker?

When deploying IAM solutions, business leaders can come across important terms they are not familiar with. Identity providers (IDPs) and identity brokers are two such terms. It’s important to understand these terms to understand the basis on which IAM solutions work. IDPs are the source of digital identities used to authenticate users. IDPs use important identifiers such as usernames, first names, last names, job codes, and phone numbers to link individuals with their user identity profiles. 

Identity brokers are intermediary services that use multiple IDPs to provide access to a variety of services and applications. Identity brokers allow companies to build trust between IDPs and link information from databases to application and service providers. 

Why is IAM important for cybersecurity?

Each component of IAM comes together to build a comprehensive and cohesive system, but why is secure remote access so important for cybersecurity?

Identity brokers are intermediary services that use multiple IDPs to provide access to a variety of services and applications. Identity brokers allow companies to build trust between IDPs and link information from databases to application and service providers. 

Immediately revoke access to compromised profiles or devices

Despite the effectiveness of IAM tools and a zero trust approach in securing company infrastructure, cybersecurity incidents are inevitable. These compromises can occur as a result of unpredictable factors such as human error. In these instances, businesses need to react promptly. Effective access control systems allow organizations to quickly identify compromised profiles and devices and revoke access to them. This limits the amount of damage malicious actors can do and provides the platform for IT teams to close security gaps quickly.

IAM helps maintain high levels of compliance across entire organizations

With personal data privacy becoming an important concern for many users, companies must treat the information they store with the appropriate care. Companies often possess extremely sensitive health, financial, and personal information about their employees. Identity and access management systems allow companies to meet regulatory requirements when accessing and sharing that information.

Automate authentication protocols for an improved employee experience with IAM

While each of the above protocols can help businesses maintain high levels of security for the organization, they can create a significant amount of friction for employees wishing to conduct daily operations. Employees who are required to go through a complex authentication process each time they need to access company infrastructure can become frustrated and disillusioned with these processes. Modern IAM solutions that employ adaptive authentication, SSO and PAM systems to control access can significantly simplify these authentication processes and improve the employee experience


Who should employ identity and access management solutions?

IAM systems can be used by any modern business that engages with the digital economy in any way. However, there are specific use cases in which IAM is absolutely critical. 

Companies with sensitive data to protect: Businesses store, share, and analyze a significant amount of information daily. However, this data usually contains sensitive information that is privileged and should only be accessed by authorized members of the organization. IAM solutions allow companies to easily define parameters around which endpoints and users can operate and access information. This helps prevent data breaches by reducing the likelihood of unauthorized users accessing sensitive information. 

Companies embracing hybrid or remote work models: As the hybrid workforce grows,  more employees connect with company assets through unsecured networks or compromised devices—often without knowing it. As such, it’s important for business leaders to use IAM solutions to provide and revoke access using a zero trust approach where appropriate. 

Companies that use multiple systems from numerous service providers: Many companies use services from multiple cloud-based providers, making it difficult for IT teams to manage access to each of them individually. Using an IAM solution from a trusted identity broker allows admins to manage access to each of these services from a single, unified application. 

Citrix solutions for identity and access management

As new work models and increasing digital transformation expand the attack surface for malicious actors, enterprise cybersecurity solutions must evolve to cover every vector through which users access corporate assets. Secure access solutions from Citrix help maintain operational efficiency and effectiveness while adopting a zero trust cybersecurity principle. With Citrix Secure Private Access, businesses can deliver zero trust network access (ZTNA) to corporate apps using SSO and adaptive authentication.