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Security experts estimate that as many as four out of every five data breaches are caused in part by weak or compromised credentials. Yet, many organizations continue to focus almost exclusively on conventional perimeter-based security measures that provide little or no protection against attacks that leverage stolen identities.

Perimeter defense is still important, but it is no longer enough. Because today’s remote workforce requires anytime, anywhere access to a growing range of applications, systems and other IT assets, organizations must govern that access with identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management (PAM) solutions.

IAM tools provide a framework for managing users and access privileges by bundling user provisioning, password management, strong authentication, single sign-on and other technologies into comprehensive platforms. PAM solutions go a step farther, providing control over privileged account credentials that grant administrator-level access to IT resources.

Ongoing management of credentials across disparate applications and resources is a critical function of IAM tools. Many IT teams resort to manual methods or spreadsheets, which can lead to data entry mistakes and delayed updates that create vulnerabilities. IAM tools automate these workflows, reducing the risk of unauthorized access to systems and data.

Poor Management Creates Risk

Unfortunately, these solutions have a reputation for being difficult to implement. The challenge is not just the technology — it involves engaging key stakeholders in the development of an identity governance strategy. Organizations must define roles and privileges and develop and enforce strong access control policies. 

Studies have shown that many organizations are shockingly lenient about identity security, particularly when it comes to privileged accounts. IT teams often share passwords for privileged accounts, and grant privileged access to third-party partners and contractors. That’s a high-risk approach considering these accounts provide administrator-level control over servers, security systems, network devices, databases, applications and more.

Additionally, users are often given administrator access to their desktop computers as a convenience. While this may reduce help desk tickets by giving users local control, it greatly increases the risk of cyberattack.

Lax management practices and careless password sharing create significant gaps in identity management. IAM and PAM can be quite effective, but only if they are applied strictly to all users on the network, without exceptions or exemptions. When applied rigorously, these tools enforce least-privilege access principles that ensure users are limited to only the data and systems necessary for their jobs.

Establishing Trust

Enforcing least-privilege access with IAM and PAM can also set the baseline for a “zero trust” security model. Unlike conventional perimeter-based security that automatically trusts all users, devices and applications inside the firewall, zero trust systems assume everyone and everything accessing the network is a threat until they’ve been properly identified and validated. Even after verification, all traffic is continually evaluated with a variety of inspection techniques such as event logging and correlation, anomaly detection, and resolution management.

Conventional perimeter-focused security measures are no longer sufficient to address evolving threats. Cybercriminals no longer have to hack into your systems — they are far more likely to log in using stolen or compromised credentials. Identity-focused security measures such as IAM and PAM can help, provided they are implemented, used and managed properly.

Rahi helps customers take a best-practices approach to identity management with specialized implementation, maintenance and support through our ELEVATE framework. Our cybersecurity team has a long history of supporting identity- and credential-based solutions for organizations of every size. Give us a call to learn more about identity-based security, the zero-trust model and protecting your environment from the latest threats.

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