Auth & identity
September 16, 2022
Author: Stytch Team
Identity and access management (IAM) is a broad term used to describe how organizations manage individuals and devices and control access to sensitive resources. With IAM, an organization can authenticate digital identities, define which assets they can access, and manage these relationships over time.
In an increasingly online world — with more users, more devices, and more threats — IAM plays a critical role in helping organizations protect their data, promote growth, comply with government regulations, and much more.
IAM is utilized throughout large and small organizations because it offers a wealth of proven benefits for enterprise.
When unauthorized people have access to confidential and privileged information, an organization is at risk of costly data breaches and identity theft, among other issues. These concerns only grow as workforces remain highly distributed, and operate in fast-paced environments.
The primary purpose of IAM is to control who has access to information and assets, which is especially important if you are dealing with privilege creep (when access privileges expand unnecessarily) or large numbers of users being onboarded and offboarded.
With IAM, you can:
Cloud-based IAM provides additional benefits, including controlling access with browser-based SSO.
Consider all of the digital threats to your organization, including hacking, phishing, and stolen passwords. These risks are directly related to unauthorized user access. By allowing you to control, manage, and limit user access through a centralized system, IAM helps keep your information safe and mitigates your risks.
Humans make mistakes. Automating the processes that are used for IAM helps minimize (or even eliminate) the human errors typical in manual account setup, permissions, and tracking processes. In addition to improving security, automation saves your IT department time and money by reducing the number of help desk requests for password resets and related tasks.
IAM enables access to an asset based on the identity of the user, device, or thing (such as an application or API) that is trying to access it.
The process starts with identifying individual users (e.g., employees and customers) and devices (e.g., smartphones, laptops, and servers) that could potentially access data, systems, and other assets. Each individual or device is assigned one identity.
Enterprises then manage these identities through a centralized service, which may be on-premise or cloud-based. Managing identities includes adding users, modifying their information as their responsibilities change, and removing their privileges when they are no longer authorized. Every identity will be granted access to assets based on the roles associated with the individual and/or group.
Authorizing identities is typically an automated process based on the user’s location, role, job title, and other information. For example, a customer will have different authorization than an employee, and a vice president will likely have more access to more systems than a manager. Customer IAM (or CIAM) involves authorizing access for customers based on their identity, while workforce IAM typically applies to an organization’s employees, partners, and vendors.
An IAM system will also incorporate auditing and reporting processes, as well as ways to regulate user access. While passwords and software tokens were often good enough to regulate access in the past, in recent years organizations have adopted more advanced IAM technologies, including multi-factor authentication (MFA), privileged access management, biometrics, and machine learning.
Ideally, the end result is that users can access the information they are authorized to access — and only that information — throughout their relationship with the organization.
IAM is a flexible tool that can help organizations stay ahead of ever-evolving threats and attacks. However, as with any security protocol, there are additional factors to consider both before and after implementing IAM.
Ultimately, the goal is to balance ease of use with the security and compliance needs of your organization. Some of the challenges and risks of IAM include:
The broad applications for IAM throughout an organization make it exceptionally useful. However, this enterprise-wide impact can also make it challenging to define responsibilities, establish clear guidelines, and ensure that IAM is being properly implemented—especially since it may not fit neatly within a traditional security stack.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
IAM is a commonly used tool to help achieve compliance, given that it can regulate access to data (including vendor access), manage inactive accounts, restrict password access, and achieve other compliance-related mandates.
Many organizations are required to follow certain government regulations and guidelines, which may include:
With IAM, companies can demonstrate that data is being used appropriately (including following least privilege, in which users only have access to necessary resources), meet their compliance goals, and provide information for auditors as needed.
IAM gives an organization the flexibility to choose the digital authentication methods that best serve its purposes and goals. These digital authentication systems affirm a user’s identity and authorize their access to approved resources.
As authentication remains a primary concern throughout an enterprise, the benefits of IAM are clear. Stytch is an identity access management platform that provides a single, unified view of customer identity and activity across all channels and devices. It enables organizations to quickly and securely authenticate customers, authorize access to applications and data, and track and manage customer activity.
With our simple API and flexible SDKs, you get secure and high-converting authentication out-of-the-box but retain the ability to own the UX of your application. One of the key advantages of Stytch is the simplicity of our products. Our platform is easy to use for both administrators and end users and offers a comprehensive product suite that includes MFA and SSO capabilities. Sign up for a free account to get started, or contact email@example.com to discuss your IAM needs and learn more about how Stytch can meet them.