How to choose the right IAM solution?

August 30, 2023
How to choose the right IAM solution?

For more than 20 years of working in the B2B sector, tight cooperation with partners on IAM issues became one of the key aspects for me and my team. I was frequently asked about how to find the right approach in selecting an IAM solution and what to take into account during the decision-making process. In this article, I decided to share some of my favorite check points that demonstrated their effectiveness in practice.  

What is identity and access management (IAM)?

Let’s start by defining the term of IAM. 

Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of policies and technologies that aim to secure user access to technology resources and manage permissions effectively. As the name says, IAM implies both verifying user identity (authentication) and granting them access to data based on that identity (authorization). These are the key concepts of identity and access management that allow system administrators to protect vital information within an organization. By assigning different roles to users, they can regulate who can access what resources in what time and with what permissions. 

The main functions of IAM solutions are: 

  • Keeping track of all the user’s login information
  • Handling user identity on the enterprise database
  • Granting and revoking access privileges

IAM is not only intended for employees–it also helps organizations establish secure relationships with their partners, contractors, and customers in enterprise management systems. With IAM, it becomes possible to streamline business processes through shared workspace while enhancing their security.  

Basic IAM tools

IAM solutions offer a range of tools and features that can be customized and extended to suit different business needs. Below are the most common of them.

Single sign-on (SSO)

SSO is a tool that allows a user to sign in to one of the organization’s applications and automatically get access to other related resources. For example, when you sign in to Google, you also get access to the rest services included in the Google suite, such as Gmail and Google Drive, without having to enter your credentials again. 

SSO benefits users by making it easier for them to use multiple applications without remembering different passwords. For organizations, SSO brings value by enabling them to collect actionable data about user activities and preferences across different applications.

Federated identity

Federated identity is a tool that expands the SSO coverage beyond the boundaries of one organization. It enables users of one provider (such as Google, Facebook, or Apple) to access applications from other providers with their existing identities. 

Federated identity is based on trust between different providers and standards that regulate their interoperability. B2B federation is a challenge, as it requires IAM solutions to integrate with different technologies and systems used by different organizations. 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA is a tool that adds an extra layer of security to user authentication. It requires users to provide more than one piece of evidence to prove their identity, for example, a one-time password generated by an authentication app or an SMS code sent to their phone. 

MFA is essential for protecting the organization’s data from unauthorized access, and most IAM solutions support it to some extent. However, MFA should also be tailored to the level of security needed for different operating scenarios. For enterprise IAM, you may want stronger MFA to prevent outsiders from accessing your private network. 

Anomaly detection

Anomaly detection is a tool that helps prevent hackers from breaking into systems through identity theft. Hackers use various methods to steal or guess user credentials, such as brute force attacks, credential stuffing attacks, or phishing campaigns. These methods target the login box, which is the main entry point to any enterprise system.

Anomaly detection is a feature of advanced IAM solutions that can detect and stop identity thefts before they cause damage. It works by monitoring various signals that indicate suspicious activity, triggered by unusual speed of traffic, deviation from normal login patterns (for example, location and browser), the use of compromised passwords or IP addresses with bad reputation.

7 things for businesses to consider when selecting an IAM solution

1. Evaluate the size of your enterprise and the user base.

When selecting the right IAM solution, consider the current size of your enterprise and the projections for the future. How will it evolve in 5 or 10 years? A global enterprise with offices around the world will require a different solution than a small local organization. 

Also weigh your potential user base. Include all employers, customers, partners, and non-human identities (any third-parties) that may expose your enterprise to cyber threats and affect your business reputation.

2. Define the targets to protect by the IAM solution. 

It may be a specific system or network, or everything connected to the network (data, users, systems, hardware). The scope of the resources to protect will significantly impact the complexity of the IAM solution. 

3. Estimate if your business has enough financial, human, and technical resources to implement an IAM solution; if your staff has sufficient knowledge and skills to independently manage the IAM technologies. 

If the answer is negative, consider establishing a partnership with an experienced managed services provider. Often businesses misjudge their human competence and deny the need of advanced technical skills in this area. This frequently leads to a significant increase in financial costs and security risks. 

Selecting a particular identity and access management solution is only the beginning. You will have to properly deploy it in your IT infrastructure, which will require time, money, and strong domain expertise to ensure robust cyber security. 

4. Identify types of your users (internal, external, mobile, etc.) and their needs (smooth onboarding process, MFA, etc.).

Before you start looking for an IAM solution, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What types of users do you have, such as employees, customers, partners, or suppliers?
  • How do you want to authenticate your users, such as with passwords, biometrics, or tokens? 
  • How do you want to manage your users' profiles, preferences, and consent? 
  • How do you want to monitor and audit your users' activities and compliance? 

By answering these questions, you can define the scope and requirements of your IAM solution from the user base perspective.

5. Make a list of all your development, staging, and production environments, including cloud-based, on-premises, and hybrid.  

You need it to correctly evaluate the scope of resources to cover by an IAM solution and the complexity of its implementation. Each environment may have different IAM requirements, for example: 

  • The credentials and permissions that users and devices need to access the resources.
  • The authentication and authorization methods that are used to verify identity and access rights of users and devices.
  • The policies and rules that govern the access control decisions and actions. 
  • The auditing and monitoring mechanisms that track the access behavior.

It’s better to document these requirements for each environment and compare them to simplify the selection process of an IAM solution. 

6. Make a list of all potential integrations with the IAM solution (applications, cloud platforms and services, etc.).

The reason is similar to that described in the previous point. Each integration may have different requirements, for example:

  • The protocols and standards that are supported by the IAM solution and the target system or application. 
  • The compatibility and interoperability of the IAM solution and the target system or application.
  • The performance and scalability of the IAM solution and the target system or application.
  • The security and compliance of the IAM solution and the target system or application. 

7. Study the current business trends and potential for future growth to plan the IAM solution scalability.

The planned IAM solution must be able to accommodate your business growth and fluctuation projections without additional hardware or infrastructure updates. 

Wrapping up 

Ensuring secure access to enterprise resources is a fundamental principle of cyber security in any organization. As businesses are focusing more on their customers and employees, identity and access management has become a key aspect of modern enterprises to enable all workflow participants to securely use various applications and services.

However, selecting the best fitting IAM solution for your business can be challenging, as there are many parameters to take into account, such as protection scope, implementation complexity, scalability, and integration.

At TYMIQ, we can equally help select an out-of-the-box IAM solution from a reliable managed services provider and empower the customer’s in-house team to develop and maintain their own IAM solution.

Learn how we approach Identity and access management

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