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Why Organizations Need Identity Governance In their Journey to Digital Transformation

In March 2020, the enterprise business landscape drastically changed. Within two weeks, thousands of businesses closed, working remotely became the new normal, and malicious hackers took the opportunity to attack the increasingly vulnerable business systems. Enterprises, with poorly structured or monitored identity and access management system became a common target for cyber attackers. In such a long-lasting situation Identity governance and administration (IGA) is a critical component in reducing identity-related vulnerabilities and creating policies to manage access compliance. Now, more than ever, we need these two things to overcome the challenges of post-COVID-19 enterprise business security.

Why Identity Governance matters?

Organizations embracing digital transformation need a consistent framework for operationally managing and governing their rapidly expanding digital ecosystem and IGA is an important piece. At its core, the goal behind IGA is to ensure appropriate access, when and where it is needed.  IGA is the branch of identity and access management that deals with making appropriate access decisions. It allows your company to embrace the benefits of hyper-connectivity while ensuring that only the right people have access to the right things at the right times. When it’s done right, IGA improves the security and gives valuable insights about employee activity and needs.

In this article we will explain why Identity Governance matters and why it is a critical factor for the companies in their journey to the digital transformation.

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) is becoming increasingly important amongst Identity and IT Security professionals. This is an area that provides operational management, integration, security, customization and overall support for an enterprise IAM program. IGA combines the entitlement discovery, the decision-making process, and the access review and certification of access governance with the identity lifecycle and role management of user provisioning. Inappropriate and outdated access to the company resources is a commonplace in many enterprise IAM programs today and it creates substantial risk. A comprehensive IGA program across diverse constituencies can help identify and manage these risks and address compliance requirements. Organizations can implement IGA in phases, making it easier to adopt and will quickly find it provides a solid foundation for reducing risk and improving security.

  • IGA Delivers Timely and Effective Access to the Business

Identity governance and administrations give your users speedy and efficient access to the resources required to do their work. It makes it happen by leveraging tools such as single sign-on software equipped with functionalities like multi-factor authentication and more. This allows them to become and stay productive regardless of how quickly or how much their responsibilities change.

Likewise, IGA also authorizes business users to manage and request access, which reduces the amount of work in information security or IT operations teams. Your employees can meet service level requirements with automated policy enforcements without compromising compliance or security.

  • IGA Automates labor-intensive processes

Identity governance and administration cuts on operational costs by automating labor-intensive processes such as password management, user provisioning, and access requests. Automation helps IT administrators save time on administrative tasks and fulfill business needs of higher importance.

Many IGA tools provide a simple user interface through which users can self-assist their requirements and address service requests independently without IT admins’ intensive involvement. The tools provide a dashboard that populates with metrics and analytical data on user access controls, helping organizations optimize and reduce associated risks.

  • Regulatory Compliance

With regulations like the GDPR, SOX, and HIPAA the industries are focusing on access issues more than ever. Limiting and monitoring access to only those that need it is not only a crucial security measure, but one that is becoming critical to staying in compliance with these regulations.

IGA solutions not only help ensure that access to sensitive information like patient records or financial data is strictly controlled, they also enable organizations to prove they are taking these actions. Organizations can receive audit requests at any time. An effective IGA solution makes the required periodic review and attestation of access business friendly, effective, and comes with built-in reporting capabilities to meet relevant government and industry regulations. Taking a visual approach to the data can make this whole process more accurate and easier to deploy to the business.

  • Identify risks and strengthen security

Organizations face significant threats from compromised identities triggered by stolen, vulnerable, or default user credentials. With a centralized and comprehensive overview of user identities and access privileges, identity governance and administration solutions empower IT administrators to identify weak controls, policy violations, and improper access that can open the organizations to disruptive risks and rectify these risk factors before they escalate. It keeps track of user identities and allows you to detect compromised accounts, which enables you to strengthen your assets’ security.

  • IGA Monitors the Non-Employee Identities on Your Network

Making identity governance a business process priority means exerting concrete control over your network. You can use it to monitor and regulate the behaviour of your enterprises’ nonhuman and third-party identities, ensuring they participate only in the necessary workflows.

Identity governance can segment and restrict, enforcing discipline when programs try to take advantage of every leniency. In this case, you can view identity governance not only as a cybersecurity measure but as a way to keep your workflows uncluttered.

Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) provides the identity foundation that powers today’s most important security initiatives, including Zero Trust, Digital Transformation, and Cyber Resilience. With a comprehensive IGA program, you’ll have the critical capabilities and identity services to bridge data and product silos and adapt at the speed of change.

How Can Identity and Access Management Prevent Cyber Attacks?

In recent times the network cyber security is serious task and challenge for each organisation. The impact of an identity management cyber security breach could have its negative consequences on staff productivity, your IT network, and company reputation, and profit as well. Cyber security threats occur at an increasingly alarming rate and become a day-to-day struggle for every company which is a potential target. Especially, most preferred targets are critical infrastructure organizations such as financial and insurance institutions, government agencies, public utilities, airports, energy and healthcare organizations.

The common practice of the attackers is to use the Internet, remote access, and partner network tunnels to penetrate your network and facilities. Attackers take advantage of vulnerabilities, wherever they exist, using a variety of techniques and tools to probe networks, publicize targets, stifle operations, gain business advantage and promote causes. For that reason organizations must create an effective enterprise security strategic plan based on identity and access management, ongoing vulnerability assessments, automatic intrusion detection and enterprise response planning.

IAM as a determining factor of cyber resilience

IAM is the foundation upon which each enterprise’s cybersecurity infrastructure must be built. It must have a comprehensive handle and always updated view of the identities flowing across your IT environment. With IAM, you allow only the right people, devices, and services get the right access to the right applications and data, at the right time. Without strong access control your organization faces a considerable risk of suffering a catastrophic security breach. By having tight control over identities, you boost your cyber resilience. Strong IAM makes your organization able to absorb the constant, inevitable changes, that businesses experience: mergers and acquisitions, new technology adoptions, continuous staff changes, pandemics and so on.

Effective identity security usually involves having an IAM solution in place that allows IT admins to centrally manage user identities and their access to IT resources. By using an IAM solution, IT admins can enforce password complexity requirements, MFA, and securely provision/de-provision access throughout the network – components that are vital to any solid identity security strategy whether your network is in the clouds or on-prem.

How Can IAM Prevent a Cyber Attack?

So how could Identity and Access Management help the enterprises to avoid or reduce the damage sustained in the attack? In this blog post PATECCO recommends a list of practices on how IAM can prevent an organization from a cyber attack:

  • Manage your IAM infrastructure centrally

Make sure your IAM infrastructure can ingest all identities and from ID stores wherever they’re located—on premises or in cloud—and manage them centrally, so that when changes happen, such as someone leaving or joining the company or changing roles, you can sync and consolidate the identity types in real time, without lags in status updates that cyber attackers are always ready to pounce on.

  • Automating the access privilege provision

For every new employee who needs to be added, assign all the privileges based on their roles and business rules. It’s better to have workflow automation. Besides, in case of an employee resignation or termination, you should be able to ensure that all the privileges will be taken away automatically. This practice will help in limiting and preventing unnecessary privileges.

  • Provide privileged account controls

Compromised privileged accounts are generally responsible for the most damaging breaches. Privileged users are still vulnerable to social engineering and phishing for shared passwords and those risks must be mitigated with a robust set of controls. Cyber risks from excessive privileges often go undetected indefinitely, which can allow intruders to expand their own abilities and privileges via those compromised privileged accounts.

  • Establish strong password policy

PATECCO advices to prevent the use of weak passwords across your network and systems. This is because increasing the complexity of a password makes it difficult to guess or crack. If enterprises prevent the use of weak passwords by enforcing every employee to fulfill some criteria while creating a password. It is recommended to use special characters, numbers, capital letters. Such a practice helps against the brute-force attack.

  • Use of Multi-Factor Authentication

When adding an extra layer in security precautions, you make a cybercriminal’s action more difficult. Using One Time Password, token, and smart card for multi-factor authentication fortifies the security infrastructure. Furthermore, the application of transparent multifactor authentication for critical applications and privileged identities is essential in the modern enterprise or government organization

  • Continuous Authentication

It is supposed that sometimes the hackers can destroy even the strongest authentication and authorization protocols Granted, they may need special tools, experience, and time, but eventually they could do so. So what you need in this case is an IAM tool that helps prevent hackers even beyond the login portal.

This is where continuous authentication comes into action. It evaluates users’ behavior compared to an established baseline often through behavioral biometrics. Hackers may have the right credentials, but each individual types in a particular manner that is not easily replicated. This can help stop phishing attacks before they happen.

The sudden and mass shift to remote work we experience since last year, as a result of the global pandemic, is a good example of why IAM is needed more than ever. With a strong IAM system and process, an organization can reduce the risks from such an abrupt and disruptive change. And it is sure that the importance of IAM will keep growing, as IT environments become more hybrid, distributed, and dynamic and as business processes continue to be digitized. Without strong IAM, modern IT technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, containers, and microservices could not be as efficient and secure as you would like them to be. 

How to Manage and Protect Privileged Accounts?

In recent times a great number of organizations are highly concerned about the evolving threat landscape of cyber-attacks. This is due to the fact that large well-known enterprise organizations have fallen victim to cyber-crimes. Every year billions of records are stolen, identity theft increases, more credentials are abused and financial fraud is now extending into billions of dollars. This is the reason why senior executives are deeply involved in cyber security than ever before. While executives and CISOs continue trying to reduce the risk of these threats, compliance requirements are increasing, as well. The defence against cyber-crime should not rely on technology, but it must involve people, and therefore needs to be less complex and quick to value.

Start from the basics. Define what “privileged access” means in your organisation

The problem for many organizations is that they are not aware where to start and how they can easily adopt a privileged access solution that will lead them to success and maturity.  Most of the companies are just getting started with protecting and securing privileged access need to identify which privileged accounts should be targeted as well as ensuring that those who will be using those privileged accounts are clear on the acceptable use and responsibility.

Before implementing a privileged access management strategy it is recommended to identify what a privileged account is for your organization and to map out what important business functions rely on data, systems and access. A good practice is to classify or categorize privileged accounts. This helps for the clear identification of the privileged accounts’ importance to the business and makes future decisions easier when it comes to applying security controls. Like any IT security measure designed to help protect critical information assets, managing and protecting privileged account access requires both a plan and an ongoing program. You must identify which privileged accounts should be a priority in your company, and ensure that those who are using these privileged accounts understand acceptable use and their responsibilities. After defining and discovering your privileged accounts, it is time to focus on their protection. The privileged account access must be constantly and proactively managed, monitored, and controlled.

In what ways privileged accounts could compromise your security?

  • Unintentionally

Compromising the security is supposed to happen unintentionally. Unauthorized modifications to critical data can happen without thinking at any time. Besides, the files that store sensitive data can be shared without checking the legitimacy of the business need, getting you in serious trouble.

  • Maliciously

Privileged accounts have legitimate access rights, so if they engage in malicious actions, they would be quite difficult to spot. Malicious use of privileged accounts is a serious threat, since these users’ activity may not be closely monitored or they usually have the expertise to dodge controls and do maximum damage without leaving any trace.

  • By attackers

Cyber attackers use different kinds of techniques to obtain the powerful credentials of privileged accounts. Phishing, brute force or coercion are the most familiar.

Despite the steady recommendations and strict regulations, many privileged accounts still remain poorly protected, ignored, or mismanaged, making them easy targets. Having that in mind, here’s a number of essential policies that every IT manager or security administrator should follow to avoid compromised privileged account management:

1. Provide training to all your employees

It is important for all your employees to be able to recognize suspicious or unsecure behaviour. This aspect is crucial nowadays, since phishing and social engineering attacks are getting more sophisticated and more personal devices are being used for business purpose.

2. Limit IT admin access to systems

Developing a least-privilege policy is another good tactic. That means that privileges are only granted when required and approved. Enforce least privilege on endpoints by keeping end-users configured to a standard user profile and automatically elevating their privileges to run only approved and trusted applications. For IT administrator privileged account users, you should control access and implement super user privilege management for Windows and UNIX systems to prevent attackers from running malicious applications, remote access tools, and commands. Least-privilege and application control solutions enable seamless elevation of approved, trusted, and whitelisted applications while minimizing the risk of running unauthorized applications.

3. Develop a privileged account password policy

It’s critical to create clear policies that everyone who uses and manages privileged accounts can understand and accept. Put in place a privileged account password protection policy that covers human and non-human accounts to prevent unauthorized access and demonstrate compliance with regulations. It is better to use long passphrases and multi-factor authentication for human accounts. For non-human (services and applications) accounts, passwords should be changed frequently. PAM controls automatically randomize, manage, and vault passwords, and enable you to update all privileged account passwords automatically and simultaneously.

4. Choose the right solution

There are various PAM technology providers to choose from, offering different kinds of features and deployment options. Before choosing, it’s important to define use cases for privileged access in your environment and preferred solution capabilities such as service account management, discovery functions, asset and vulnerability management, analytics, file integrity monitoring, SSH key management, and more. Some organizations prefer a vendor-independent technology partner to help them test and evaluate potential solutions. When it comes to a successful deployment, professional security assessments are helpful, by identifying what your privileged accounts are protecting and objectively detailing current security policies, controls, and processes.

5. Monitor accounts with analytics

Privileged accounts should be monitored continuously in order to identify outsiders leveraging stolen credentials, insiders that are not following policies and procedures, and malicious insiders. Privileged user behavior analytics solutions help you gain insight into privileged activity with a behavioral baseline based on machine learning algorithms that consider user activity, account behavior, access behavior, credential sensitivity, and similar user behavior. In case a breach occurs, monitoring privileged account use helps digital forensics identify the root cause and identify critical controls that can be improved to reduce your risk of future cybersecurity threats.

6. Implement multi-factor authentication for employees and third parties

According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report, 80 per cent of breaches can be prevented by using multi-factor authentication. Implementing two-factor or multi-factor authentication for both PAM administrators and end users will guarantee that only the right people have access to sensitive resources.

7. Audit and analyze privileged account activity

Continuously observing how privileged accounts are being used through audits and reports will help identify unusual behaviors that may indicate a breach or misuse.  You should capture every single user operation and establish accountability and transparency for all PAM-related actions. The automated reports also help track the cause of security incidents, as well as demonstrate compliance with policies and regulations. Auditing of privileged accounts will also ensure you cybersecurity metrics that provide executives with vital information to make more informed business decisions.

8. Prepare an incident response plan

An incident response plan is urgently needed in case a privileged account is compromised. When an account is breached, simply changing privileged account passwords or disabling the privileged account is not acceptable. If compromised by an outside attacker, hackers can install malware and even create their own privileged accounts. If a domain administrator account gets compromised, for example, you should assume that your entire Active Directory, so the attacker cannot easily return.

The execution of these eight policies are not supposed to be an end-all solution to security – there’s always more to be done.The proper management of privileged access helps organizations prevent devastating data breaches and comply with regulatory requirements. But at the same time it can be difficult for security teams that are understaffed and struggling to maintain access information across complex IT infrastructures. By providing comprehensive and clear visibility into privileged accounts, implementing least privilege, investing in the right solutions, and monitoring activity, you can be able to prevent privileged accounts from being abused and effectively tackle security risks both inside and outside your organization.